City authorities, fishmongers in stand-off over rental fees

MBARARA – Authorities in Mbarara City say they have so far lost revenue of Shs 18 million that was supposed to be collected as rental fees from fresh fish vendors operating in the new Mbarara Central Market since September 2022.

On the other hand, the fishmongers have vowed not to pay the monthly Shs 100,000 rental fees, saying it is too high.

Mbarara City authorities threatened to evict the fish vendors from the market early this week over non-payment of rental fees, but the market tenants insist they won’t go anywhere, with some saying they have occupied the market for over 20 years.

Justine Natukunda, chairperson of the fish vendors confirmed that since September 2022, the fresh fish dealers have not been paying the monthly rental fees, citing the high costs involved in the business.

Natukunda explained that previously, council was charging fishmongers rent of Shs 30,000 per month but after reconstructing the central market, it was increased to Shs 100,000 per kiosk.

Justine Natukunda, chiarperson of fish vendors in Mbarara Central Market (Photo by Joshua Nahamya).

She argued that the new market was constructed for the low income earners whose businesses are mainly meant to cater for family needs.

“We petitioned the city council to reduce it to at least Shs 50,000. They refused. We cannot afford that pay and that is the reason why we have spent all this time without complying,” Natukunda said.

Craish Rugema, the publicity secretary for fish vendors, appealed to Minister of Local Government, Raphael Magyezi and premiere Robinah Nebbanja to intervene in the matter.

Simon Seith Mwijuka, chairman Mbarara City Traders Association [MBACITA] also said he would stand with fish vendors to get justice.

“These vendors can’t afford Shs 100,000. At least they are ready to pay Shs 50,000,” Mwijuka said, adding, “Why would you increase rent for a low-income earner from Shs 30,000 to 100,000? Even if you are the landlord, you don’t increase rent abruptly like that.”

However, Mbarara Central Market Association chairman, Emmanuel Muhumuza retaliated that fresh fish vendors are not special from all the vendors thus appealing to them to clear the council dues.

“The issue of fresh fish vendors has not just started today. It has been on and we negotiated council which reduced their rent from Shs 150,000 to Shs 100,000. Instead of paying, they have gone for strikes and demonstrations,” he said.

Fishmongers in Mbarara Central Market want authorities to reduce rental fees (Photo by Joshua Nahamya).

Assy Abirebe Tumwesigire, the city town clerk, explained that the council need the money to maintain market by paying the utility bills.

“We cannot reduce the rent fees, if we do, we will not have enough money to pay utilities such as electricity, water, and cleaning the market. The potential rental collections from the market is Shs 38mln per month but we spend about Shs 30mln on utilities like electricity, water, and cleaning the market itself,” he said.

The town clerk said his office will not compromise and that any vendor who fails to comply will be forced to leave the market by Monday next week.

“We have given them an ultimatum and by next Monday those who will not have complied have a choice to walk out of the market to a place where they can do their business without paying rent. We shall take over our facilities with effect from next Monday,” Abirebe said.

Mbarara Central Market is one of the newly constructed markets across the country, with support from the African Development Bank [AfDB].

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