UGANDA, Fort Portal | Real Muloodi News | Fire outbreaks in Fort Portal City have been blamed on the congestion of the Kisenyi slum along Fort Portal-Bundibugyo road.
Last month, on February 18th, 2022, at 11:50 p.m., hundreds of traders were left counting their losses after a fire burned many kiosks in Fort Portal City’s Kisenyi cell. Luckily, in this latest incident no deaths were reported.
The Rwenzori West Police spokesperson, Mr Vincent Twesige, says the fire destroyed stores, refrigerators, electronics, lumber workshops, motorbike replacement parts, a hotel and property worth millions.
Mr Twesige adds they are still doing more investigations to determine the actual origin of the fire that left most of the homes burnt to ashes.
“We highly suspect the cause of the fire to be illegal power connections to the owners of some kiosks because when it started, people around heard blasts,” he says.
One of the eyewitnesses, Mr Joseph Mpoza, tells “We watched the buildings getting burnt, we tried our best to save some property but we could not do much. What annoys us is that police came late to contain the fire.”
According to him, if the police fire department had come on time, they would have saved multiple homes.
“I was shocked to hear our leaders telling us that they had contacted police from Mubende and Kasese to come to help contain the fire. It’s a shame how the whole police of Fort Portal only has one vehicle to contain fire,” he says.
Conversely, police spokesperson Twesige asserts the fire department did arrive in time, however the fire had already burned several residences. They attempted to rescue what properties they could.
“Our police fire brigade arrived at the scene in time, but we found that fire had burnt many buildings,” he says.
Recurring Fire Outbreaks in Fort Portal City
This latest fire incident in Fort Portal is now the city’s third devastating fire incident in two years.
In 2019, a fire broke out in Rwengoma ward’s lorry park. One person died, and properties worth millions were destroyed.
Then in early 2020, Brightman Executive Lodge was destroyed by fire. The fire quickly spread to adjoining hardware and electronics stores, burning items worth millions.
Physical Planning Enforcement Needed
According to City Town Clerk Moses Otimog, the city’s recurring fire breakouts are a wake-up call to officials, particularly in slum neighbourhoods.
He asserts that they will ensure that all developments in slum areas adhere to physical planning standards.
Businesses in Fort Portal City’s slums include garages, lumber workshops, restaurants, hotels and bars, and laundry bays. There are also three gasoline stations in the area which was hit by the fire last month, and a rapidly increasing number of residential dwellings.
However, the businesses and residences are crowded and of poor quality. One must squeeze through narrow passageways to find their way.
According to Edson Ruyonga, Mayor of Fort Portal City, there are plans to shift the timber workshops to another region to reduce overcrowding in the slum.
Ruyonga says that it is difficult for the police to reach fire accident sites due to poor housing planning.
Samuel Musana, the acting Fort Portal City Physical Planner, says illegal constructions are putting citizens’ lives in danger.
Musana claims that the government has plans to improve slums, but is hampered by competing land interests.
The Rwenzori West Police Spokesperson, Vincent Twesigye, urged municipal officials to build more access roads required for such incidents. He notes that firefighters spend a lot of time attempting to reach various workshops in the heavily packed area whenever there is a fire.
What Went Wrong, and The Way Forward
In 2020, the government approved the operationalisation of 10 new cities; Fort Portal, Arua, Gulu, Hoima, Jinja, Lira, Masaka, Mbarara, Mbale and Soroti.
However, operationalisation of the cities occurred at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when Uganda’s private and public resources experienced a sharp decline.
The fiscal capacity of city administrations is critical for city planning and management. However, the Minister for Local Government, Raphael Magyezi, says that currently, urban local governments can only raise 17% of their budgetary needs, and have to rely on the central government and other external sources to fund the gap.
According to Local Government Finance Commission statistics, the 10 new cities can barely raise enough cash to construct two kilometres of tarmac roads, unless helped by either external or central government grants.
The Head of the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) in Uganda, Dmitry Pozhidaev agrees that this is an accurate reflection of the financial situation at the local government level. However, he says there is great potential for the local governments to raise more capital to finance city planning and enforcement.
The same year that Fort Portal was elevated to city status, UNCDF launched a pilot program aimed at automating the revenue administration system for local governments, dubbed the Integrated Revenue Automation System (IRAS). Fort Portal participated in the year-long pilot of IRAS, along with Nansana and Gulu.
IRAS is integrated with Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) systems to enable revenues to be collected electronically, and be channeled through URA bank accounts on behalf of local governments. This enhances the safety of funds through automation, and also reduces the cost of administration due to the reduced need for human resources.
Pozhidaev says in Fort Portal, the pilot led to a 26% rise in local revenue collections in a year.
This year, the Ministry of Local Government is undertaking property valuations in the newly created cities, using an IRAS module for electronic data capture. The project is targeting properties to be taxed in the next five years.
Property rates (property tax) is levied on commercial properties. It is a tax on all immovable property or buildings that are commercially managed like schools, rented houses, rented shops, factories, hotels, universities and any part of which is used for the purpose of business, even if it is owner occupied.
However, the tax does not apply to owner occupied residential dwellings, or to vacant land.
The comprehensive GIS enabled property valuations project is being supported by USAID, as part of the Domestic Revenue Mobilisation for Development (DRM4D) programme.
Property rates is an important contributor to local budgets, and the additional revenue generated is expected to boost the ability of the Fort Portal City Authority to properly fund the management and enforcement of city planning, preventing a reoccurrence of the devastating fires that have plagued the city.
The valuation activity has already commenced in Fort Portal, and will span a three month period. The goal is for the city to begin to realise revenues from the exercise from July 1st this year.
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