25 November 2012

Rwanda: Q and A - Kigali May Soon Have Bus Rapid Transit System - City Mayor


THE growing shortage of public transport within Kigali City may soon necessitate authorities to put in place the Bus Rapid Transit system to mitigate the problem.

This, together with issues of housing shortage, new investment projects and the fate of entertainment spots of K-club and Papyrus, is compounded in an extensive interview by The New Times' Felly Kimenyi, with the Mayor of the City of Kigali, Fidele Ndayisaba. Below are the excerpts.

The New Times (TNT): Can you start by telling us the status on the implementation of Kigali City Master Plan?

Ndayisaba: We are on a correct path. The master plan is the tool guiding our city's development and I can proudly say that every new development in this city is in adherence to the principles outlined in the Kigali City Master Plan.

Our master plan defines guidelines to respect in all development activities and not only housing as is always wrongly perceived, the underlying rationale is wealth creation... putting in place enablers for economic development. For example we are working on a road network of 40 kilometres among other activities.

Key among the major components of the master plan is to designate areas for different activities and ensure that all amenities are in place to facilitate the investors. For example the Special Economic Zone where we have completed putting in place a sound infrastructure like road network.

Another place is Ubumwe Site, which used to be called Lower Kiyovu.. Here, we have put in place roads, not only within the site but others connecting the area to other parts of the city.

We have not only concentrated on roads, but also other facilities like the sewerage system, electricity and water have been completed at the Special Economic Zone and cabling is ongoing and will be completed soon.

We are developing other sites as well with other stakeholders, for example we are in the process of expropriating some plots in Kagugu, Kinyinya and Batsinda all in Gasabo where we have a very big residential housing project with the Social Security Board, and the houses will be in different categories, ranging from low cost to high end.

TNT: Tell us about progress on some of the major commercial projects that are being developed around the city...

Ndayisaba: Commercial projects coming up include the hotel developed by New Century Development to be operated by the Marriot Group which is at completion stage and we have Sheraton Hotel to be developed in Nyarutarama in the former Kigali City Park. We have partnered with New Century Development to develop this project called Kigali Century Park. The project also includes ultra-modern villas fully fitted with entertainment facilities. The land on which this investment will be set up is being cleared for construction to begin.

Adjacent to Sheraton Hotel, we will have Hilton Hotel whose construction also starts pretty soon.

Other notable commercial projects, especially in the Central Business District, some are already on course, others are still on paper but with good progress. Just mentioning a few we have the Akagera Building (area surrounding former Akagera Motors), Acarcia House (former ORTPN), Kigali Executive Apartments at the Orinfor site among others.

In the Ubumwe dedicated place for CBD, we have several investors who have already bought land and are working on designs and we expect to have the investors break the ground and construction starts soon.

These are just but a few projects but we have hundreds of major projects either already underway or still under development and these are spread across all the three districts of the city.

TNT: We have many ambitious projects but the general feeling is that some of them are moving quite slowly, a case in point being the Downtown Project and Kigali Convention Centre whose completion is long overdue...the land where the post office was has lied idle for a long time...

Ndayisaba: For those particular projects, like the Downtown, when the land was acquired, the master plan was not fully ready, they had a good project, but along the way, they had to review the project to match it with the master plan, and that took time.

But now, the master plan is ready, they have redesigned and they are moving on safely and the first commercial complex has been designed, we have given them the construction permit and they already hired the contractor. Other components of the project like the bus terminal are already underway as we speak.

For the Convention Centre, it has indeed taken time because it is a big project. It's the first one in the country, if not in the region but the first phase consisting the hotel they are putting final touches. We visited it recently and advised that the remaining process be expedited, same applies to the conference centre. As per the current plan, I am positive that by December next year, the facility will be ready and open. Indeed it has taken time but given the size and concept of this project, it is not something that you would want to rush.

For the former post office site, we wanted to be careful in choosing the appropriate investor to develop it within the reasonable and acceptable time instead of rushing it and having the investor stall the process along the way.

We have now got some interested investors; we are completing due diligence to move on with the project as it is planned.

TNT: Don't you think there was a rush in bringing down the post office building, which was fairly new? Couldn't a developer have been sourced while the structure remained in place since it was already being under use?

Ndayisaba: The razing of the building was in good time given the kind of the investment we want there...to vacate the place was one of the incentives to the prospective developer.

This place is unique in our city, it is prime area given its location. It is the entrance of the city from the international airport; the development on this area is more like a mirror reflecting development of our city.

And the delay does not signify lack of investors to develop the area, we have had many of them but careful selection was required to procure an investor with the required financial capacity and the desired plan.

We have more than one investor that fits the specifications and we are making a final check to decide the winning bidder. There are other procedures to fulfil because this is a government land but I am positive that before the end of this year, the final developer will be confirmed.

TNT: Different reports have continuously decried the rigours in the acquisition of construction permits. Are these justified?

Ndayisaba: For some projects, indeed it takes long to get the construction permit. However, this is not something that should be globalised.

The reason mainly is the way the designs are made; some require revisiting and reviewing to ensure they adhere to the required standards. If the architect for the investor did not fulfil the requirement and our technicians recommend some modifications, they take time to return them and investors blame it on us.

But the problem really should largely be attributed to the shortage of architects in this country. With all the construction projects we have, not only in the city but in the entire country, the architects are still very few. You find a single firm working on multiple projects that are big and require a lot of time.

And I think this is an opportunity for people who want to make money because this remains a field that lack human resource. People offering such services should seize this opportunity and come and register with the Rwanda Architects Association and boost this sector. Government is doing all it can to develop the required human resource but the first intake from KIST (Kigali Institute of Science and Technology) is only due for graduation next year.

We want to speed up the development yes, but then we don't want to compromise on quality.

TNT: How many days does it take for a design fulfilling all requirements to get construction permit?

Ndayisaba: It takes 30 days and it is clearly manifested in our Client Charter...when it takes a day over this specified time for the project fulfilling all requirements to get the construction permit, people in charge are brought to account. But up to now, this has not happened.

As a way of ensuring that the investors conform to the set guidelines at first submission of their designs, we have embarked on a sensitisation exercise to educate investors and architects on the minimum requirements like road reserves, zoning guidelines and so forth...these are things we cannot close our eyes to and give permit.

We are trying not to make the same errors that were made in the past.

All that said, we have embarked on reforms to cut down on the number of days it takes to process the permit and these include using of Management Information System, and introducing Information Technology to make provision for online application of the permits and by January, these facilities will be up and ready for use much as it may require education to facilitate architects to be able to use them.

TNT: City Authority has in the past few months had a run in with investors claiming to have received permits for construction and occupation, only for them to receive threats of having their business closed. Case in point is Papyrus Bar and currently K-Club Discothèque...

Ndayisaba: It is not like that, when you get the permit, you get your full rights that cannot be in anyway infringed upon. The problem is people who want to implement the project differently from what was approved. I think even if you are to ask these particular investors themselves, they will confirm this.

There was confusion a few days ago, where the investor (Papyrus) was saying that he had received the occupation permit but which was never the case, what had been approved was something different and even if you go to our one stop centre, you will find there his letter which he wrote asking for change of use.

He had not implemented the project as was approved, both in the construction and the conformity permits. Mid way through the implementation of his project, he got an idea of a night club which was not part of the original plan submitted and we advised him to make a fresh request in this respect which is subject to assessment and recommendation on what needs to be done because, incidentally this is in a residential neighbourhood and there are some conditions to comply with.

We have given him these conditions to fulfil so you see it is not our problem but the investor's.

As we are promoting investments, we are also a regulator; we cannot let investments come up in a disorderly manner.

One may ask why he had the occupation permit before fully completing but there are some initiatives we take to facilitate business, when a building nears completion we allow them to operate with recommendations of what needs to be done for full completion.

So it was after this that he decided to change the plan.

The issue of the K-Club, the plan that we have, the place where the club is was designated for office space and there was no request whatsoever by the subsequent occupant for change of plan.

Investors should always own up to their mistakes.

TNT: But the place has previously been a night club in the name of B-Club...

Ndayisaba: This one was also not authorised and people should not misconstrue the fact that it took long to correct a mistake, that it would make it right in the long run, everything should have an end.

In this particular case there is an issue of safety and security of people. There is a lot of misleading information about this case but it was established that it not only put the people's lives at risk but also the investment itself.

TNT: What is wrong with the Kobil investment in the area of K-Club that was ordered closed months ago and remains closed...

Ndayisaba: The Kobil Gas Station was never awarded permit for construction. Both the station and the building were constructed both by an investor called Leonard Kananura and architectural designs are there for everyone to see.

The first floor of the building was designated for shops, the second floor (where the club is accommodated) was for offices and third floor was for a beauty centre. There is no indication of a petrol station on this site.

He applied for an occupation of the station and it was never approved because there is no construction permit in the first place. You cannot get occupancy permit for a structure that was not approved.

Similarly, there is no approval for the change of plan for the building to accommodate the club.

These two businesses are good and we are supportive of them but they do not fulfil the necessary requirements as per regulations and are in the wrong place.

TNT: There is the issue of fire safety, how are you dealing with ensuring safety of buildings, especially those that host thousands of people...

Ndayisaba: We have a checklist that we have given to owners of big buildings and this is also part of correction of the past mistakes, especially for old buildings and I am happy to say that most have already complied.

For the new building, it is a prerequisite to have them (fire safety gadgets) in place before being given occupancy permits and this is what happened to the New Nyarugenge Market which was ordered closed for some days because they lacked such facilities.

For the government buildings, we are working with the Ministry of Infrastructure to have them fitted with these safety facilities.

TNT: Fire experts say that fire safety requirements are not backed by law, an example compelling buildings to have insurance cover...

Ndayisaba: Some regulations you do not need law to enforce it because for instance having someone to ensure their building it is fully to their benefit. It is also to the benefit of insurance companies to make business out of this by encouraging property owners to ensure their property.

What I can however say is that there is no crisis, compared to other developing cities like ours. Timely intervention by our fire fighters is also something that should be commended in the few outbreaks we have had.

For Cadillac Nigh Club it was hard to put out the fire because of the nature of the structure, being made of wood and grass and this should be another lesson because of the vulnerability to fire such structures has, so caution should be made.

TNT: How far is the campaign to phase out businesses or offices operating in residential localities?

Ndayisaba: This is another form of correcting the mistakes that were made previously. I can say that we are making good progress and this is in the way of changing the perception of people.

The idea may not have been having these establishments routed out of their areas of operation, but to have structures serving the purpose for which they were constructed.

So most of these businesses, we recommended what needed to be fixed to allow the buildings serve the purposes they are serving like ample parking space, sanitation facilities among others, most have so far complied, while a few of them were ordered to relocate because there was no room for modification.

TNT: How is the city going about the escalating shortage of low cost housing?

Ndayisaba: We have some major investors we are working with...we for example have a partnership with Rwanda Development Bank and Shelter Afrique where a site known as Akumunigo in Nyarugenge we have 39 hectares that have been earmarked for affordable houses.

We also have another project with Rwanda Social Security Board we facilitated them to get land and 95 per cent of the housing units will be low cost.

We are also engaging developers to venture into this because there is a business opportunity and are also working with other government institutions to see if we can introduce some kind of incentives to attract investments in this area.

There is a documented strategy we are jointly developing with the Ministry of Infrastructure to guide these kinds of investments.

Another way we are dealing with this is to continue embarking on wealth creation of our people to ensure that people get the financial capacity to afford housing.

TNT: How are you going about making use of the Condominium Law to mitigate housing shortage?

Ndayisaba: This legal framework is one of the tools to encourage investors in this category. All these projects mentioned will be using this law because we want to optimally use the land and the infrastructure we have.

We are also encouraging mixed use of housing especially in the Central Business District...people to leave in the city and this will also mitigate the problem of transport from the CBD to different suburbs.

TNT: How is the city trying to solve the problem of public transport within the city?

Ndayidaba: Recently we got the much-needed policy on land transport and this is going to guide us in the long and short term implementation of different strategies we have in the offing.

We are working on having adequate vehicles and infrastructure and the policy will play a central role as a guiding tool.

A case in point is where the regulator, which is RURA (Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency), will be only licensing public transport companies and not individuals because it is easy to work with a company with dedicated lines than individuals.

We started with four lines that are critical with many travellers and these are; City Centre through Gikondo to Kabeza, the second line is the City Centre, to Kanombe, the third one is City Centre through Kimihurura to Kimironko-Zindiro and the other one is from the city to Nyanza through Kicukiro and they have to stick to these lines. Others will follow.

The principle is having an organized transport system and this policy is kind of an ingredient for investors to see a business opportunity in the public transport sector.

I should also take this opportunity to thank both the passengers and the transport companies for positively embracing this new system. You see the way people lining up without any law enforcer.

We are also working on infrastructure development by widening the road network within the city suburbs to ensure that people get public transport from as near as possible.

As a long term strategy, we plan to have facilities like the Bus Rapid Transit system but this will require modifying our roads to have dedicated lines for buses and all these are provided for in the policy.

TNT: Any particular plans to decongest the city of the growing traffic especially in the central business area?

Ndayisaba: The CBD is normally supposed to be congested, because this creates business viability and that is why facilities like Kigali Central University Hospital will eventually have to be relocated because it becomes problematic for an ambulance for example to be able to navigate through the traffic. At the moment it is fine but it will be hard in the near future much as it is ok for now.

Congestion is good for business, when you have people staying in one place for long, they can be able to browse through the shops. We want density and it is provided for in our urban planning.

Actually we still have capacity...we want to optimally use the infrastructure we have. What we want to encourage in the future is for people to use public transport to be able to easily access the services being offered in the CBD.

For example we are going to have a state-of-the-art cinema that will open in January at the City Tower, these are the kind of services we expect people to access and this will be stimulated by creating more density.

TNT: What is the estimation of the population of Kigali City?

Ndayisaba: As we wait for the results of the population census, the estimated population is between 1.2 and 1.5 million people.

TNT: And finally what would you want to say in conclusion?

Ndayisaba: As we approach the end of the year, I want to take this opportunity as the Mayor to wish the population of Kigali City, happy New Year, and calling upon them to collectively embark on path of prosperity which we have taken.

I also call upon investors from within and outside the country to seize the opportunity created by the rapid growth of our city to make money, and this also a chance to urge investors to follow the set guidelines because going contrary to the law may hurt their business either in the short or the long run. Thank you.

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