The challenges faced by the newest Ugandan cities are remarkable in their complexity and urgency. For these cities to thrive, they must be solved right now, not next year. Being cognizant of this, Fort Portal which was declared Uganda’s tourism city on July 1, 2020, is seizing every opportunity; economic, social and environment to kick-start sustainable growth and development.
Administratively, the city has two divisions; north and central with current estimated population slightly above 60,000 people. Central division which is the main business hub, comprises three divisions of former municipality (west, east and south) and annexed Ibale Parish from Burahya county of Kabarole District. North division comprises annexed Sub-counties from Burahya County of Kabarole District that include Karambi, Bukuku and Karago Town Council.
With more people pouring into the city, the leaders are now mostly concerned with addressing the housing gap that has become apparent. The city council headed by Mayor Edison Asaba Ruyonga, recently passed resolutions aimed at creating a good environment that will attract investors and development partners such as the World Bank.
One of the major strategies the city has adopted to attract property developers is reducing property tax from 12 to five percent. The collection of property tax is charged in fulfilment of the periodic statutory requirement of the Local Government (Rating) Act 2005. The money collected caters for the infrastructural development, among other services.
The Act gives local governments leeway to charge from five to12 percent on commercial properties in the city. The appropriate percentage is set by elected leaders depending on the income which commercial properties make. But the percentages as charged by different cities vary. Asaba says this decision was partly motivated by the city’s failure to qualify for full funding from Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development (USMID) which would have enabled the city to build resource-efficient infrastructure. The city’s population was too low to meet the required percentage for the funding.
Yet, even with that minimal population, the city is unable to provide adequate housing. To reduce the current housing gap that has resulted in high renting costs for both commercial and residential houses, the city leaders have tasked investors to construct more houses.
Albert Aheebwa, the city speaker, says the investors are free to build any type of building in the city, provided they are approved by the authorities. This is what has led to the influx of numerous construction in and around the city. When completed, the properties will bridge the current deficit in housing for commercial, residential houses and possibly bring down the high rental fees.
Currently, on streets such as Balya Road, rent for commercial properties per month ranges between Shs500,000 to Shs900,000 depending on its size, location while on other streets a single room goes from Shs200,000 and Shs700,000.
For residential houses, a double room a few metres away from the city centre goes for Shs150,000 and Shs200,000 while single rooms go for between Shs100,000 and Shs150,000. The authorities are optimistic that when the challenge of the housing gap is addressed and the cost of renting both commercial and residential houses has reduced more people will be encouraged to reside or open up businesses in the city. Even with the housing deficit, the city has a thriving tourism industry that has attracted a number of businesses that include banks, hotels, super markets and tourism sites that are steadily growing.
Apart from its rich culture and tourism sight, Fort Portal is known for its fertile soils and favourable climate that supports agriculture. As a result, the city is an important market and processing centre for cotton, groundnuts, sesame, maize, coffee, tobacco, castor-oil seeds, tea, tropical fruits, and vegetables. These are accommodated in the farmers markets around the city.
However, there is need for a more modern market and as such Kiculeta area in the central division has been earmarked to be the home of a Shs2b market funded under the Agri-led programme.
“We want to have as many markets as we can such that people can come to sell their goods here, we want to ensure that the city has enough fresh food for residents and tourists,” Asaba says.
Last October, the city authorities scrapped the collection of daily dues from market vendors and introduced an annual license.
According to Asaba, daily dues were an inconvenience for business people especially those with little capital who operate on the streets.
Before scrapping daily dues, vendors in the city were charged between Shs1,000 to Shs5,000, depending on the type of business. For instance at Kabundaire market, which is a food market, all vendors currently pay an annual license fees between Shs 50,000 and Shs 320,000 depending on type of business and its capital.
“Ours is a low tax regime, we want everybody running a business in the city to be taxed fairly. For example in the past, Matooke vendors were paying daily dues of Shs3,000 which comes to Shs1m a year while shopkeepers only paid annual license fees of not more than Shs500,000 which was not fair at all,” says Asaba.
The Fort Portal City senior physical planner, Samuel Musana, says the city’s physical development plans are in their final stages and when completed, they will guide the urban authority in zoning the city. He says this will help them form the city structure by setting aside specific areas for residential, commercial, industry and manufacturing sector, minerals development, tourism development, natural resources conservation and environmental protection and utilities development.
In this financial year, the city received funding under the USMID programme to work on three roads in the city. The three roads include Milllene, Mugoma-Kahugabunyonyi and Water Supply.
The other road networks that have been worked on by the urban authority include MT Road, Kaboyo, Ruhandiika Street, Golf Course and the completion of drainage channels on Kibogo Roads that connect to Fort Portal-Kamwenge Road. There is also completion of a four kilometre stretch from Mpanga market to Kasusu which goes through the city centre. According to local leaders, all these new tarmac roads have started to improve business in the city.
The new city still has chunks of undeveloped land in central and north divisions, and most places, especially those on the outskirts such Kagote, Rwengoma and Kahungabunyoyi, Butangwa, Karambi, Kitumba and Nyabukara are experiencing mad rush from investors. All these areas have investment opportunities for both residential and commercial purposes because of their proximity to the city centre. The increase in demand however, is slowly but steadily increasing the value of land. For instance, a 50×100ft piece of land now goes for Shs30m to Shs50m or above depending on its location, which is almost double of what it used to cost just a few years ago. Central division chairman, Richard Muhumuza, says the city has agreed to make the processing for permits needed by investors fast and easy.
“We need these investors so we decided that the persons dealing with approvals of the building plans should not take more than two months,” he says.
Being the main business centre of the Rwenzori region, the city authorities are vigilant about its security status. Working with the government, the city has been installing CCTV cameras in vantage positions to address the problem of urban crime. According to security operatives, the installation of cameras will help boost business because investors will be assured of security.
Last month, the ministry of ICT under National Information Technology Authority (NITA), commissioned internet connectivity in Fort Portal. The Rwenzori West Regional Police Commander, Norman Musinga, says with the new connectivity of internet to their CCTV cameras it will make their work as security agencies easier to identify and apprehend criminals.
“As police, we are happy with the connectivity of the internet to our cameras and other offices because now we can transmit the images of criminals to the national command centre from crime scenes. This can help us identify and apprehend criminals in the shortest time possible,” says Musinga.