Proposed city reforms stir mixed reactions

MP Frank Habineza contends that there should instead be a law where the City of Kigali is accorded a specialised status other than stripping the districts of their legal status.
MPs engage the Ministry for Local Government and City of Kigali authorities last week. Government is pushing for a wide range of reforms in the way the City of Kigali is managed and organised. Sam Ngendahimana.

The draft law seeking to make the City of Kigali a stronger structure governing all of the jurisdiction of the capital will require that all three urban districts—Gasabo, Nyarugenge and Kicukiro—lose legal personality. 

This would loosely translate to cessation of districts’ independent governance with the city’s mayor, along with a committee of appointed members making decisions for the whole city.

The Minister for Local Government Prof. Anastase Shyaka, who tabled the draft law before Parliament, last week, reasoned that the proposed changes will ease the planning and implementation of the undertakings of the city.

Concerns such as contradiction of the decentralisation process and a possibility of complications in accessing city services however, have been listed as difficulties that could arise if the proposed law is passed.

The Chairman of the Democratic Green Party, MP Frank Habineza, contends that there should instead be a law where the City of Kigali is accorded a specialised status other than stripping the districts of their legal status.

He argues that districts have signed several contracts and are under several engagements with many institutions on behalf of the Government; hence a sudden change like this could mean legal clashes that could highly cost the Government.

“There are other institutions which rely on the legal entity of districts, for example district hospitals. Losing legal entity might cause legal problems and may also cost government a lot of money. That’s why I think that while the City of Kigali gains a higher status, the districts can still remain with their legal entity,” he says.

Habineza raises another concern of patronising decentralisation whereby some of the people’s rights in choosing their leaders will be taken away.

The proposed law suggests that a district will have an Executive Organ composed of a District Chief Administrator and the Deputy District Chief Administrator, who are appointed by the Head of State.

Minister for Local Government Shyaka addresses the parliament last week. Sam Ngendahimana.

“Decentralisation was going to another level, services were getting closer to the people and people were choosing their leaders and this entrenched democracy. But the new changes are going to undermine all this,” Habineza says.

He is, hence, of the view that emphasis should be put on strengthening local authorities at the cell level and providing them with more resources.

But Ladislas Ngendahimana, the Secretary General of Rwanda Association of Local Government Authorities (RALGA), says that the aim of the proposed law is to enhance service delivery in the City of Kigali which will in turn augment development.

“The way the city is set up today; there is what it cannot accommodate because you find that its eminence (structure and operations) is not different from that of districts apart from the fact that it oversees the districts,” he says.

Ngendahimana believes that the draft law presents the city with an opportunity of accessing capital market, a prospect he says will catapult the city to immense development because resource mobilisation will be easier.

He says that since this structure has been in place for over 15 years, changes are inevitable.

For the proposed changes to be effective, Ngendahimana suggests the need for proficient human resource and apt financial resources.

“The City of Kigali is going to be a hybrid. There will be leaders who are appointed and those who are elected, this will distinguish it.”

He adds that proposed changes will allow for easy planning, coordination, monitoring and executing of the city’s activities.

“When the law is passed and the implementation instruments are availed, our role will involve doing capacity building and advocacy; awareness and ensuring smooth facilitation of the entire process,” he says.

“As RALGA, our vision is to ensure that citizens and leaders be partners in development. When the law is passed, there will be changes in structure and how services are delivered but I am sure the responsible parties will ensure a smooth transformation that will take citizens’ interests into account,” he adds.

Bigger ambitions ahead

Lonzen Rugira, a political analyst, says that the draft law implies that Kigali city is moving towards bigger projects and ambitions that will be coordinated centrally as opposed to being coordinated at decentralised levels.

He says that these are the kinds of ambitions any capital should have.

“Previously, we have had a city that behaved like a province and the legal framework that operated like any of the provinces. It lacked a status that would allow it to do so many things, such as resource mobilisation,” he says.

Rugira notes that even though there is a possibility of contradictions with the decentralisation policy, “we shouldn’t ignore the substantial advantages attached to the changes.”

“Kigali had an implementation capacity that was limited to the district level which created problems with planning, because you cannot plan what you are unable to implement. The city could not plan without the required implementation capacity that was decentralised at the district level; this contradiction is hence going to be removed.” 

He observes that what is likely to transpire is that capital intensive projects, such as road construction and energy generation, are going to be removed from the districts and that these being overseen at the central level means efficiency.

“I think there are greater advantages for this because if Kigali city is going to be a true metropolitan, it has to make sacrifices to focus on great ambitions. However, this should not be done at the expense of the services that have direct impact on people’s daily life.”

He says, what needs to be done, going forward, is for Kigali city to take over decision-making whereas the entities that have been called districts, remain focused on what the decentralisation policy is doing, which is bringing services closer to the people.

“So these entities should remain within the systems of the decentralisation policy while Kigali city takes up higher ambitions it is trying to achieve, if it loses focus on one of these, there will be confusion, that is why leadership is important. Leadership has to be able to reconcile these contradictions.”