Tuesday, October 15, 2013

UGANDA'S CAPITAL SHOWING “YES WE CAN”



Last week was a big week for KCCA.

There was the now annual Kampala Carnival, a colourful parade up and down the city’s main thoroughfare, which culminated in fireworks display. There was the commissioning of the Wandegeya market, a multi storied complex which stands, where once was a dingy, congested market that accounted for a significant part of Kampala’s food needs. And then there was the commissioning of the rehabilitated New Taxi park.

While these events have been greeted with much pomp and fanfare, quietly in the suburbs of the city developments have been going on almost unnoticed (probably drowned by the heckling of politicians) – garbage is being collected, roads have been laid and lit and the army of yellow cleaners every morning have become a ubiquitous sight. Slowly but surely our city is styling up.

And we the residents of Kampala wonder where has Jennifer (she is now in the league of people who are known by their first names only!) been all our lives.

But the improving respectability of the city is the visible change, under the surface a lot of heavy lifting is going on at the authority.

Last week it was announced that Kampala’s revenue collections had almost doubled to sh56b last year from sh30b the previous year. Interestingly taxis – those road users we love to hate, accounted for sh12b of this while in the previous year they forked out less than sh5b. As if that is not enough the city expects to collect about sh70b this financial year.

To say that these jumps in revenue collections are impressive would count as the understatement of the century and points to the vast potential of this city, which accounts for more than 50% of the country’s economic activity. 

But the question has to be asked so where was all this money going? Because it’s not as if economic activity has doubled in the last year to justify this jump? At worst these revenues were collected and stolen by public officials, probably explains the 151 accounts the city used to run prior to KCCA. At best the businessmen of these city were not paying their dues and these served as a subsidy to their business.

Either way the party is clearly over and we the residents of Kampala think it did not end soon enough.

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds," Albert Einstein once said.

That maybe true of the friction KCCA has come against in trying to set things straight, but it’s probably more a function of the entrenched interest groups that have held the people of Kampala hostage for decades fighting to keep their privileges.

The irony of it is that KCCA is being lauded for doing what it is supposed to do. The city’s administration had sunk so low that now when somebody comes and does the basics – keeping the city clean, repairing roads, collecting revenues they look like superheroes.

It reminds me of former National Water & Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) boss Dr William Muhairwe who sometimes was amused at some of the publicity he got, because as he said, “We are just doing what we are supposed to do.”

The history aside what KCCA is showing is that we as a city, as a nation as a people are more capable than we think. That resources for our own transformation are within reach if only we can have the vision and will to reach out and take them.

There is still a lot of work to be done, after all you do not unwind decades of neglect, incompetence and corruption in a year or two, but the momentum being set is promising.

A few years ago some people looked the organisation of KCC at the time with a view to raising money via bonds for the city council to finance some of its urgent development projects. What they found was a morass of -- to put it mildly bad accounting, it was not clear how much the city collected in revenue, and if it did whether it was charging optimal rates and the expenses were a deliberate labyrinth, impossible to make sense. But they had an inkling of the revenue potential of the city and advised that the day administration gets its act together the sky will be the limit.

That time might have come.

But we know that the special interest groups have only made a tactical withdrawal and are likely to come back with even more vehemence than before. Whether they take back the city is really up to the ordinary citizens of Kampala.


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