Eng Andrew Kitaka, the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) executive director, recently made one year in office, a period he describes as full of challenges and opportunities. In an interview with The Observer as we look ahead in the year, Kitaka offers his insight into the political, social and economic factors of the city but has his emphasis on the transport sector, particularly to decongest the city.
It's a year since you assumed the position of executive director, what has been your overall experience?
The past one year has been full of challenges and opportunities. Kampala being the only city in a country of 44 million people means it plays a major role in the economy and it is, therefore, very important that the city is functional to serve the country. So, it is such a huge responsibility and Kampalans have such high expectations to have a city they can be proud of.
However, funding remains a big challenge for me and there is a lot of undesirable human behaviour in the city which takes us back in terms of repairing the infrastructure. Things like vandalism of road signage, rubbish bins, solar batteries, and lights... people even pour garbage in the streets.
This makes our work difficult. There are also deep-rooted stakeholders in this city, like those operating the transport system who do not want any change because that is their preserve yet things need to change to improve the livelihoods of people of Kampala.
We've had some challenges in doing this because we got a budget cut of our funds. We normally get Shs 30.5bn to maintain our roads in the city, which is also not enough, but we got a cut of Shs 8bn in 2019 and matters were not helped by the heavy rains that have battered the roads. So, we needed to carry out a number of emergency repairs that have set us back a bit.
The good thing is that KCCA is a respected brand and many development partners want to work with us such as World Bank, JICA, Africa Development Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates and many others.
But isn't KCCA is self-accounting in that it collects money and has got powers to spend and account?
It's true we collect money that is non-tax revenue but it is not enough. It can pay salaries, waste collection, maintain the fleet but it is not enough for infrastructure. We still need support from government.
By the way, this road fund money is a levy on fuel that is specifically for road maintenance. The original idea was that this money would directly go into the road fund but this has met a lot of resistance from the ministry of Finance. So, the entire fuel levy goes to the consolidated fund and then it is appropriated from there. If we had direct access to it, then it would be enough to maintain roads in Kampala.
Nonetheless, we still get some money from property rates and in the first half of this financial year alone, we have collected Shs 18.7bn. The total revenue is also increasing and we are projected to get Shs 100bn. Even this remains little to handle the infrastructure situation in the city.
The recent rains have battered Kampala infrastructure to the extent some roads have become impassable. How could this happen?
We regularly get advice from the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) but of late, there is a lot of uncertainty in the prediction of weather. Seasons have changed. So, there is still need to refine this information to plan better.
To counter that, we have coordinated with UNMA for a project called the climate change project to install weather stations in the five divisions. We are also installing air quality metres to measure the quality of air in the city.
But all is not doom about the rains because they have exposed the urgency and necessity to redevelop some roads under the Kampala City Roads Rehabilitation Project which is valued at $288m due to be funded by the Africa Development Bank.
It is going to see 67 kilometres of roads such as Seventh street and Six street in Industrial area done. Routes like Old Port Bell road and New Port Bell road are supposed to be widened to four lanes. So, if government agrees to take up this loan, it will make significant change in the city. We have also prepared a road project with DFID to resurface roads and implement the drainage master plan.
Apart from the damage by rains, why are do our roads easily give way and we have repairs done all the time?
There is a challenge when repairing old roads. When the public see the emergence of fresh potholes after repairs, they may think it is shoddy work but we can only do so much for an old road due to limited funding because many of Kampala's roads need overhauls. Do you let the road become impassable because you are waiting for big money to rehabilitate it or should you keep it motorable by applying some patches?
A point comes where it is no longer viable or economical. It is like an old shirt with many holes. For instance, the upper Kololo terrace was over-patched and we are now doing an overhaul. That's what is needed on most of Kampala roads.
Looking back, what has KCCA achieved under your tenure?
In spite of those challenges, we've had a number of achievements in the past one year. There were some really bad roads and we set a six-month programme that repaired Binaisa road in Mulago. Meanwhile, ever since we improved Waliggo road that links Gayaza road users to Baha'i through Komamboga, it has reduced jam on Gayaza road.
Also, we started off five roads under KIIDP II (Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project) with some funding from the World Bank. We are already upgrading the Sembule road that will be a dual-carriage way up to Lweza and is scheduled to be completed in the second half of next year. That will change the dynamics of the areas around such as Kabuusu, Kabowa and Bunamwaya because they will forget dust and traffic jam.
There is also the Lukuli-Munyonyo road that will ease traffic in Makindye area. Then there is John Babiiha road (Acacia) which is going to be widened to have four lanes up to Kamwokya as well as the road from Spear Motors junction to Ntinda. There is also Kulambiro road that is going to be upgraded to tarmac. All of them should be completed by September next year, weather permitting.
This whole project is worth $175m and it has helped us to improve roads, junctions and drainage master plan of the city and also institutional strengthening. We are also doing the city address model to give all houses in the city numbers as well as naming roads to ease navigation in the city. We have also re-valued properties in the city, plus the new aerial imagery of the city to help in planning.
Then we also have the drainage project from Bwaise to Lubigi that is going to be widened to allow water to move faster. So, in 2020 we are going to be very busy.
In the city, we are also working with UNRA on the Kampala flyover project.
As for the traffic flow, we have a grant from JICA to improve 30 junctions in the city to become signal-controlled. That means we will remove some roundabouts and also construct a traffic control centre here at KCCA whose role will be to monitor the entire Kampala road network in a digitalised form.
In other words, if we see there is a pile-up somewhere, it will be easy to adjust the green time and the vehicles move. It is going to manage traffic in the city and it will be the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa.
So many things are happening but we need to talk more about them because people don't know what is happening. I know people normally believe when they see something but I can assure you all this is going to happen and people should have hope and assurance things are improving.
The informal business sector continues to be a challenge for the city dwellers. How do you plan to overcome the congestion?
Well, we all know how street vendors continue to be a menace in the city centre but we are in final stages of getting a permanent place for them. On the outskirts, we are scoring big by improving work spaces. We have finished the construction of a new market in Kasubi and will shift more than 1,000 vendors and that will enable us to improve the traffic there.
I'm sure you've also seen how Bwaise has changed over the last year from being a nuisance to the route of choice because of the good traffic control there. We've also built a new market in Kitintale to move the vendors from the roadside. Another market is at Busega in conjunction with the Local Government ministry.
All these markets have been done to suit our people who want to trade on the ground floor or first floor. We learnt this from the experience of Wandegeya market that doesn't suit some vendors. In fact, it could have some remodelling with time.
How is your relationship with the Kampala political wing and how best can it improve?
I've tried to maintain a cordial relationship with the political wing but of course they also have their own interests for their constituencies. Now that we are nearing an election year, everybody wants to show something yet for us we plan strategically to have an economically viable city.
Sometimes ours and their views clash but we always agree. The politicians always want visibility when projects are being launched and we have no problem with that. Of late, there have been some hiccups in the political wing that have been precipitated by underlying factors I will not delve into but I'm sure all will be addressed in the interest of the city.
How was your relationship with the outgoing Kampala minister Beti Kamya and what do you expect from her successor Betty Amongi?
My relationship with the outgoing minister was professional and that is what I expect from the new minister. I've never met the new minister but I don't have any fears or misgivings of the new minister. We've talked at length on some issues with her before, though.
What is your take on the amended KCCA Act?
The new act introduces more checks and balances and this is good for the institution, especially the introduction of the position of KCCA speaker. The lord mayor has been doing both scheduling meetings and conducting the debate in the authority but it has not been a good atmosphere because if the lord mayor has interest in something, he would have to push for it.
But that is not to say the lord mayor will be a ceremonial figure because the law, among others, gives him powers to prepare the budget as well as many other functions. So, it will be important to have a speaker independent of the lord mayor, just like parliament speaker chairs parliament sittings even when the president is around.
Meanwhile, KCCA has lost a number of lawsuits of recent, how do you plan to address this?
I found most of these lawsuits in place but we are taking serious measures to avert this whereby before we go to court, we have exhausted all avenues of negotiations. We are also making sure that internally, these cases are reported to management to know whatever is going on.
Meanwhile, we transferred our money onto a single treasury account as a measure to avoid garnishee orders. Ever since we moved the money, our outflow has greatly reduced.
One of the things making Kampala difficult to operate is the non-operationalization of the Physical Planning Act as well as the Building Control Act. What are you doing about this?
We've already had a meeting with the board charged with implementing these acts and this year, we are introducing reforms in KCCA regarding plan approvals. Our plans go through a lot of scrutiny before approval from the city's physical planning committee but I cannot rule out people flouting these rules during implementation.
For instance, we may approve a plan which has an underground parking and then you find someone changes that into shops during construction. KCCA has only five building inspectors who are inadequate and we are already thinking of outsourcing from the Uganda Institution of Professional Engineers to help us with this inspection. But there are also many buildings that have adhered to our rules.
How do you plan to address the issue of public transport, particularly the mess of boda bodas?
We have already concluded plans to introduce high-capacity buses to replace matatus but we have to put there supporting infrastructure. The projects I've talked about are to include bus lanes, shelters, and bus stops to make them efficient.
We are encouraging taxi drivers to plan accordingly and avoid being shocked. As for boda bodas, we are going to create a civic zone where boda bodas cannot park. We are encouraging them to form groups or Saccos to create a sense of responsibility and these groups or companies like Safe Boda will help us in regulating the industry. Believe me this is not just about talk.
All this sounds rosy and promising but how sure are you that what you say will be implemented?
The difference this time is all the key stakeholders are speaking the same language... ministry of Works and Transport is spearheading this, the administrative units outside Kampala such as Mukono and Wakiso are on board... Even the taxi operators have realised it is no longer viable to work in the city centre. We are also working with the Uganda Railways Corporation in this.
I'm glad people have realised we need a complete overhaul. So, we are hoping that a company called Tondeka is going to operate these buses under a service contract. We expect this to start in September and the traffic jam will be no more.
My contract ends in October and if there is one thing I'm passionately dying to change before its expiry, it is the infrastructure and transport network of the city.