MBALE/Masaka. Residents and elders in Bugisu sub-region are angry at a Cabinet decision postponing the operationalisation of Mbale Municipality as a city until 2021.
Mbale was among the 15 municipalities approved as regional cities but it was not included in the first lot, which is scheduled to start operations in July, 2020.
The cities in the first lot are Arua, Gulu, Jinja, Fort Portal and Mbarara.
The decision has since provoked anger from the residents in the sub-region and other neigbouring districts.
The frustrated residents, including Mbale municipal councillors and youth leaders, called for separate emergency meetings on Wednesday in which they expressed their dissatisfaction with government.
They also accused their area Members of Parliament (MPs) of lacking lobbying skills.
Mr Salim Namajje, the Mbale District NRM youth chairperson, said it is very sad that Mbale can be put on hold after a long wait.
Mr John Werikhe, a resident and an elder, said the decision to put Mbale city status on hold, which he termed as a disgrace, should be revoked or else it will cost the ruling party and area leaders in the coming elections.
"You cannot leave out Mbale which is a known traditional and strategic town in this region. This is totally unfair," Mr Werikhe, said.
Mr Hussein Wamboya, another elder, said Mbale deserves a city status because it is a regional business centre for several sub-regions, including Bukedi, Teso, Karamoja, Sebei and Lango.
"Mbale is a strategically located municipality. We has several main linking routes to international borders. Our leaders ought to have known this," he said.
President Milton Obote once referred to Mbale as the "Jewel of East Africa".
The town, once the cleanest in East and Central Africa, is located on the foot of Wanale ridge of Mt Elgon, which is 8,000 feet above sea level. Geographically, it covers 2,435 hectares.
Mr William Nazeba, another resident, said it is their MPs in the ruling party that have failed them.
"Our MPs, who claim to support NRM government, are all timid. They have failed us," he said.
The Mbale municipality deputy speaker, Mr Yasin Kawanguzi, said Cabinet was biased.
"Yes they have granted us a city but we want it in the first lot. We are more than ready," Mr Kawanguzi said.
Mbale Town has two city divisions of Bungokho and Industrial Area. Bungokho Division comprises Northern Division, Nakaloke Town Council and the annexed neighbouring sub-counties of Bukonde, Nakaloke, Namabasa and Namanyonyi.
Industrial Division comprises Bugema-Nauyo Town Council and Bukasakya and Bungokho-Mutoto sub-counties. The town now has functioning street lights, drainage system and well-designed road marks.
Mr Mutwalibi Zandya, the Mbale Municipality mayor, said it is unfortunate that government decided to hold the decision to turn Mbale into a city.
Bamasaba Cultural Institution leader Bob Mushikori also blamed leaders in Bugisu sub-region, saying they have not shown maturity.
Ms Lydia Wanyoto, the NRM Women League chairperson, said there is no need to worry because the debate over the cities is still ongoing.
"Mbale is one of the traditional cities and the conversation is not concluded but my only concern is whether we are prepared for it," she said.
The Mbale District NRM chairperson, Mr Muhamood Masaba, urged his people to be calm.
"We are going to get the city even if it is in 2021 and we should be happy for that in the meantime," he said.
The Mbale District chairperson, Mr Bernard Mujasi, said Mbale was not on the list of the first towns to become cities because other towns had leaders with influence.
The Bubulo West MP, Ms Rose Mutonyi, however, said the MPs from Bugisu sub-region have met the Speaker over the matter.
"We missed on the list to get a city in the first lot because the Cabinet took a decision where MPs were not involved. We will fight in Parliament to make sure Mbale is included," Ms Mutonyi said.
The Mbale Municipality MP, Mr Jack Wamanga Wamai, said MPs from the region are working hard to see that Mbale is among the first towns to become cities.
Local Government Tom Butime said all the nine municipalities, including Mbale, meet all the minimum requirements for cities and will be upgraded in phases.
Lukaya for municipality
Lukaya Town Council leaders have embarked on a process to have the town elevated to a municipality.
Led by Lukaya Town chairperson Gerard Ssenyondo the local leaders believe elevation of the town to municipality would improve service delivery and create more jobs for residents.
"Currently, we cannot extend some of the services to our people because of the increasing population. I am happy that the council has already endorsed our proposal and we are going to follow all the steps to achieve what we want," he said in an interview with Daily Monitor on Wednesday.
Lukaya Town Council population is estimated to have grown to 50,000 inhabitants from less than 7,000 people 25 years ago, according to Mr Ssenyondo.
Mr Ephraim Ssekubwa Luyombo, the town council speaker, said elevation of the town to a municipality was long overdue, insisting that they already have in place all the requirements stipulated in the Local Governments Act.
"Other towns like Mukono, Mityana, Bushenyi, Ntungamo, Sheema and others which were at the same level with Lukaya since 1994 are already elevated to municipalities," he said.
To be elevated to a municipality, a town must at least have among others; a population of 100,000 people and with capacity to meet the cost of service delivery, office accommodation, a physical development plan, reliable piped water services, a reasonable financial base and land for effective planning and expansion.