New Kigali mayor speaks out on public consultation, city transport, affordable housing

For a few months now, the City of Kigali has been in the news over certain decisions many felt needed to be taken after thorough public consultation. In an interview with The New Times' Collins Mwai, the new Kigali City Mayor Pascal Nyamulinda explains approaches he intends to use to address the concerns, among other challenges such as central sewerage system.
Nyamulinda speaks to during the interview with The New Times. Nadege Imbabazi.
Nyamulinda speaks to during the interview with The New Times. Nadege Imbabazi.

For a few months now, the City of Kigali has been in the news over certain decisions many felt needed to be taken after thorough public consultation.

In an interview with The New Times' Collins Mwai, the new Kigali City Mayor Pascal Nyamulinda explains approaches he intends to use to address the concerns, among other challenges such as central sewerage system.


Excerpts below


You take office at a time when the City authorities are not very popular largely because citizens feel they are not consulted on a number of directives and decisions. How do you plan to improve the city’s interaction with the general public?


Our style of management will be different from what people think. We will make sure that not only here at City of Kigali level, but at district level as well, we will make sure that we work with district mayors consult the population. We are in public office and we will make sure that our actions are public, transparent and work with the people. Nothing will be done without consulting among ourselves, stakeholders in the various sectors and the general public. We will make sure that what we have agreed upon is implemented fully.

What will be your priorities while in office as City mayor?

There may be things that may not have been appreciated generally by the public in some aspects such as service delivery. If the reason for not serving people was lack of follow up, we will make sure that there is follow up. If the cause of the issue was corruption, we will make sure that it is not there. If it was bad governance, we will make sure that it is no longer there. We will make sure that people are happy and are served.

Builders at a construction site in Kigali. Timothy Kisambira.

Early this year, many business operators in Kigali were issued with letters giving them a three month deadline to relocate from residential premises to commercial premises. With 4 days left to the lapse of the deadline, is the city going to follow through with the implementation of the directive amidst the concerns that have been expressed?

Yes, we are coming to the end of the period we gave to businesses and other nonresidential activities being conducted in residential houses. There are a few that have come to us requesting extensions and we have dealt with each issue on a case by case. However, many have moved and others will meet the deadline.

The issue has multiple implications, security, financial and business implications; That is why we are making sure that it is implemented. We are working with business people who were affected as well as owners and managers of the buildings available for rent.

During the extensions, we looked at the requests case by case considering the reasons given by those seeking an extension. There were cases where people had not only signed contracts but also paid money to the building owners.

We intend to follow through on the directive and implement it because we need to abide by the land use plan.

This will help reduce the pressure of businesses that are operating in residential houses but also address the issues of traffic flow, noise pollution and stretch of public infrastructure in the neighbourhoods.

For years now, Kigali residents have been promised that a Central Sewerage System was in the city’s plans. However, not much has been done towards it.

It has actually been a problem that we do not have a central sewerage collection system as a city. That is one of our priorities. We are currently working with different stakeholders, including WASAC, who are coordinating the project. We recognise that the issue is big especially for a city that is growing very fast. We need to try and get the project done fast.

We are presently in the advanced stages of the study that is being coordinated by WASAC and we have also started the mobilisation of funds for the project. It is among the priority projects we are following up and very soon we shall inform you about the way forward

Is there room for private sector and international investors considering the cost and high technical capacities required during implementation?

It is an expensive project, the problem is that we are trying to build the system in an existing city. Most major buildings were planned and constructed without any sewerage system, it is really expensive to work in such an environment. We are looking for different partners who can invest in the sector.

In the most recent World Bank Doing Business Report, Rwanda dropped from 37 to 159th position globally in dealing with construction permits owing to red tape. Any plans to simplify the process and cut on time it takes?

We are currently at 25 days (to issue construction permits). We are trying to lower the number of days. We have managed to use of ICT to facilitate those applying for construction permits. Now applications are done online and there is a transparent way of following up applications

However, there is still room for improvement in further reducing the days to acquire a construction permit, use of ICT and sensitisation about the master plan.

Across the city, there are concerns by residents who are yet to develop their properties as they wait for the completion of master plans in their various neighbourhoods. How much further do they have to wait?

We have the General Kigali City Master Plan which was adopted in 2013. We should have others for the districts, which are detailed master plans. For some districts we have already approved them but there are districts where some neighbourhoods do not have complete plans. We are encouraging them to complete them and avail the plans to members of the public so they can go ahead with the implementation.

The implementation of the city master plan is on course. We are presently implementing the 1st phase, which started in 2013-2018 and it is mainly targeting developments in the city centre-Plateau area. We are continuing with working closely with the developers and the general public in the implementation of the master plan. In the implementation of phase 1 of the master plan we have attained 70% and we are optimistic that we shall hit the target.

The city has often been said to be somewhat high handed when implementing the master plan. What’s your take on this?

Well, the master plan is still new and many people are still learning about it but for the first time we have a blueprint for the city development and in order to address the issues our city and even other cities are facing we have to follow the master plan

We shall continue with the sensitisation of the public and also dialogue on the implementation of the master plan.

There are some responsibilities that fall under the city while others are developers’ tasks. The general public and investors have their part to play in the implementation. We try to work together to have a city that is planned and one that is as per the master plan.

About three years after the City authorities and Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Authority issued contracts to three public transport companies, there are some persistent challenges that have seen public transport often termed as inconvenient. How is the city going to address the challenges?

The city public transport system has attracted complaints which are widely known.

There is a lot that has been achieved. Public transport sector is now more organised and some of the bottlenecks have been addressed.

There are still issues of queues at the bus stops and terminals at peak hours and buses that delay. We are presently working with RURA and the transporters to improve the quality of services rendered by the transporters and also introduce discipline in the sector. In the medium term we plan to introduce special bus lanes that will reduce the time buses spend en route and also prioritise public transport over private one.

The city has done a lot over the years to improve on the challenges, including by working with the transport companies. The city has also been working with RURA to reduce the time spent by members of the public waiting for buses. What we are trying to do is to create some bus lanes so that will reduce the time spent by commuters.

The City has in the past months been deploying multiple strategies to deal with street vendors but the issue is still persistent. What is being done to ensure they are kept in check?

Well the issue of street vendors is a complex one. Just for background purposes; street vending is illegal and it is harmful to legitimate businesses–street vendors don’t pay taxes and they undercut legitimate business because they outcompete them. They pose a security threat because they operate in the roads, they also cause a hygiene problem because they litter where they operate.

As the City and (urban) districts we constructed 12 markets last year that have taken in over 9000 former street vendors.

There is a national programme to develop secondary cities and these will reduce pressure on Kigali.

There are also wider national social economic programmes that cater for the citizens and we encourage the people to join these programmes instead of engaging in illegal activities.

A spot check by The New Times established that a number of buildings are yet to meet fire safety standards issued in 2014. What would you say is the state of Kigali’s fire safety preparedness?

In a city like Kigali which is growing very fast, we ought to be proactive in security measures. We are working with Rwanda National Police to increase awareness on fire safety and also conducting inspections of public buildings to review their preparedness in fire safety. Fire safety and security are integral components in the occupancy permit issuance requirements and this has helped public buildings to be more prepared.

The city’s population is fast growing and not proportionate to existing affordable housing. How are you going to increase low-cost housing?

The city is keen on affordable housing and we want to make sure all income groups are catered for. As the city, we want to make sure that everyone can have a house. We are bringing on board partners and developers who can develop property that is affordable. We have since found some who can put up a house of about Rwf5 or 6 million.

We are working with different partners who are investing in affordable housing. These include RSSB and BRD and we expect this year to commence on projects of over 4000 affordable housing units.

We also have national policies and strategies in place that facilitate investors to go into affordable housing so we are very optimistic that we shall see the increase of the number of affordable housing on the market.

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