Writer: Simon Peter Asiimwe
According to Wikipedia, a city is a large human settlement that can be defined as a permanent and densely settled place with administratively defined boundaries. Cities generally have extensive systems for housing, transportation, sanitation, utilities, land use, and communication. Their density facilitates interaction between people, government organisations and businesses, sometimes benefiting different parties in the process, such as improving efficiency of goods and service distribution.
On Tuesday, 28 April 2020, Parliament chaired by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga approved the creation of 15 new cities in Uganda, in line with Article 179(1) (A) of the Constitution on alteration of boundaries and Section 7 (2a) of the Local Governments Act CAP.243 on declaration of cities.
The motion by the Minister of Local Government, Hon. Raphael Magyezi, was approved during plenary for a resolution to alter boundaries and declare the new cities.
An overwhelming number of 313 Members of Parliament present during the plenary sitting voted to adopt the motion, surpassing the 50 per cent + One or 224 Members required by the rules to carry the day on any motion or item on the Floor of Parliament.
It was only Tororo District Woman MP Sarah Achieng Opendi who is also the State Minister of Mineral Development that voted against the motion arguing that the country’s finances had been constrained in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
Uganda has had only one city Kampala but boasts of new cities including Jinja, Mbarara, Gulu, Mbale, Arua, Fort Portal, and Masaka that were operationalized on 1st July 2020.
The second cluster of cities to be operationalised by 1st July 2021 will be Hoima, Lira and Soroti, followed by Entebbe that will take effect as a city on 1 July 2022. The last cluster will be Moroto, Nakasongola, Kabale and Wakiso cities that will be operationalised on 1 July 2023.
Just four months down the road, the same House that approved the creation of the cities has now rejected a move by Finance State Minister, David Bahati, to provide finances for running newly approved cities in the country through a motion and instead demanded for a substantive amendment to the Appropriation Act.
Minister Bahati had tabled a motion for a resolution of Parliament authorizing Government to transfer funds initially appropriated for municipalities to be given to the newly created cities.
During the House sitting on Thursday 6th August 2020, the Members of Parliament raised an objection, noting that it is unlawful for the Minister Bahati to seek to amend the Appropriation Act the legal framework for the national budget without a specific Bill.
By the nature of my work, I have had the opportunity to visit all the new ‘cities’ and I must say that most if not all do meet the standards of a city status. They have no planned housing system, an efficient transportation network, in addition to very poor sanitation and hygiene.
The utter incoordination exhibited on the floor of Parliament explains that these cities were hurriedly passed without adequate planning but rather for political harvest ahead of the 2021 general elections.
Just like the unending creation of districts, it makes no economic sense to continue creating new political entities that cannot sustain themselves. A city comes with inevitable expenses and the world is in the grip of COVID-19 pandemic impact.
The creation of new cities is not based on any kind of study or policy decision. It is largely on shallow political sentiments and tribal appeasing just the way Masaka was all of a sudden added on the list after a public complaint by a cultural leader.
Before the opalization of the second set of cities on 1st July 2021, the demand for and the granting of new cities must be thoroughly scrutinized to avoid creating of a white elephant that will put more burden on the ordinary taxpayers.
Just like some of the newly created districts can barely pay public servants or even put up administrative structures, political expedience seems to have overshadowed economic wisdom in the approval of some of the new cities.