By Moses Mulondo, Moses Walubiri & David Lumu
As the 2016 political terrain takes shape, the Government has created 12 new municipalities, in addition to the 43 recently created counties.
This is likely to increase the number of elected Members of Parliament in the next House from the current 375, to 429. Citing section 7 (2) (a) of the Local Governments Act, Adolf Mwesige, the Minister of Local Government, tabled the motion to create the municipalities before Parliament.
The 12 municipalities, which retrospectively took effect on July 1, are Kira, Nansana, Makindye- Ssabagabo, Kisoro, Mityana, Njeru, Kitgum, Ibanda, Koboko, Mubende, Kumi and Lugazi.
Makindye-Ssabagabo will not get an MP because it is already a constituency.
Mwesige cited the need for effective administration and organised delivery of services to the people, proper planning and expansion of the areas to ensure orderly development as the bedrock behind the creation of the municipalities.
He also explained that the proposed municipalities had met the requirements in the Local Governments Act.
The conditions include having the capacity to meet the cost of service delivery and office accommodation, existence of a physical development plan for land use, reliable water sources and reasonable financial base.
Others are availability of social services (health and education facilities), existence of land for effective planning and expansion and a minimum of 100,000 inhabitants. There are currently 204 town boards, 174 town councils and 22 municipalities.
Sources estimated that at least sh10b is required to give effect to the creation of these municipalities, a cost that has drawn mixed reactions from lawmakers across the political divide and urban planning experts.
MPs demand more municipalities
During the debate on the motion, MPs from areas which missed out made futile attempts to block the motion.
First was Buyaga County MP Ignatius Besisira, who sought to block the local government minister on the basis that a motion brought in 2012 for the creation of new districts had never been implemented.
Besisira’s remarks received applause from mostly MPs hailing from Bunyoro and other regions that missed out on the new municipalities.
The Deputy Speaker, Jacob Oulanyah, ruled that although the executive has decided to maintain the moratorium, Parliament would have to debate the report on the new districts today. But the minister poured cold water on Besisira’s move when he stated: “The Government has resolved to maintain its moratorium on the creation of new districts.”
After the minister had presented the motion, Oulanyah gave the shadow minister for local governments, Betty Nambooze, the floor.
“We support this motion in principle, but we detest the manner in which these municipalities are being created. I think Koboko has been simply created to reward youth minister Evelyn Anite with a constituency for having spearheaded the sole candidature campaign,” she argued.
The Mukono Municipality MP further said: “The motion leaves out traditional and strategically located towns like Kapchorwa, Luwero and Kamuli, which deserve municipality status.”
Simon Aleper, the Moroto municipality MP, noted: “We need to have balanced development. Karamoja is lagging behind in terms of development. I propose that we amend the motion to include Kotido on the list of the proposed municipalities.”
In response, Mwesige said: “The creation of these municipalities followed a study. There is a criterion we followed. It is not just petitions. We carried out a study that considered all town councils in the country, including Kotido, which does not have the minimum population of a 100,000 inhabitants. Kotido has only 50,000 people.”
The Opposition chief whip, Cecilia Ogwal, stated: “Regional towns which were created by Idi Amin (former president) should be on the list for regional balance. Apac had qualified for municipality status and was number 12, but you have left it out.”
Jinja Municipality MP Paul Mwiru supported the motion, but noted that the planning function in many of the existing municipalities had been neglected.
“I request that next time you bring a similar motion, you should include towns in Busoga,” he opined.
Riding on the mood in the House of various MPs arguing that their towns had been left out, Abdu Katuntu (Bugweri) proposed that the motion be referred to the relevant committee for investigation and for the consideration of the petitions of various stakeholders.
“The minister is the only one who is privy to the study, which was the basis for the new municipalities. There could be other towns which meet the criterion he has given us. This can only be possible if the relevant committee handles the issue.”
After Katuntu’s submission, the Speaker halted the debate and deferred it to Thursday.
On Tuesday, Oulanyah notified members about his plan to send the House on recess next Tuesday. He had indicated that the motion on new municipalities would be passed without referring it to the relevant committee to allow MPs ample time to prepare for the forthcoming political parties’ campaigns and general elections.
Some argue that the creation of new municipalities will increase the cost of public administration.
Others say it presents opportunities for better service delivery, a great deal of inclusive politics and job creation in the areas.
For instance, in a July 21 letter to the Minister of Finance, Mwesige said: “The creation of municipalities makes economic sense in that it will attract investments and spur organised urban development. This will lead to an increase in the number of residential, commercial and industrial buildings, which will generate more local revenue.”
What planning expert says
According to Dr. Amin Tamale, an urban planning expert and lecturer at Makerere University, the Government should have approved the national urban planning policy, before rolling out the municipalities.
Describing the creation of municipalities as a good initiative, Tamale said without the urban planning policy, the municipalities will remain ad-hoc and a political statement crafted to not only increase the cost of public expenditure, but also a complex venture to manage.
“It is a good decision. It is recognition that our development policy must be refocused on urbanisation. For many years, our policies have been emphasising rural development at the expense of the growing urban settlement.”
Article 197 of the Constitution states that a municipal council shall consist of an elected chairperson or mayor, one councillor representing each parish or ward in the municipality, two councillors representing people with disabilities, two youth councillors and women councillors forming one-third of the council.