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Gulu main market closed as vendors protest high rental fees

Vendors found the market closed on Monday-Photo By Simon Wokoarch

Gulu – The authorities of Gulu main market closed the market in protest against the implementation of new rental fees by city authorities.

Last Monday, Gulu market vendors and their leadership decided not to open the gates to the market until city authorities addressed them.

The Chairman of Gulu Market Vendors Association, Mr. Omaya Patrick told theCooperator in an interview that the market will remain closed until the issue is settled.

He accused the Gulu City Authorities of increasing rental fees without consulting the market vendors.

According to Omaya, the rental fee for stalls was increased from Shs10,000 to Shs 40,000 while lockup shops moved from Shs 70,000 to Shs150,000 and Shs 500,000 depending on their positions to attract customers.

However, he also accused the Council of failing to control the developers whom he says are renting out their lockup shops to vendors between Shs 400,000 to Shs 500,000.

“What is annoying vendors are the developers, we’re not sure of their contract with the city authority. To make matters worse, they are subletting the facilities to the vendors. They pay the city council a penny but exaggerate prices when subletting out their lockup shops. One guy is renting at Shs 200,000 from the council and subletting at Shs 500,000. We wonder who the real owner of the facility is” he said.

He also noted that Council had summoned them for the signing of the new tenancy agreement at the municipal yard instead of the market. It was expected to begin on the 15th of November 2021, a decision he says has escalated the crisis in the market and sparked off the protest.

“Today, they told us they are starting the signing of agreements from the municipal yard. As a market management committee, we proposed that the signing should be done from here. We have a conference hall here at the market. We shall use all means to compel them to do the signing from here. We only want them to come and clarify a few issues then the market will be opened,” Omaya added.

The vendors have also asked the city authorities to explain why the Council has failed to remit back to the committee 18% of the revenue collected from the market to support its maintenance.

This according to him, is in line with the market management guide from the Ministry of Local Government that, part of the revenue collected be saved and given back to the market for maintenance.

“The walls have some cracks and the market management guide which came from the ministry stated very clearly that out of the total revenue generated from the market, they should save 18% for market repairs and any eventuality in the future. It is now five years and we haven’t seen the money.”

Several vendors who spoke to theCooperator described the decision as unjustifiable looking at the current situation of Covid-19 with many of the vendors now struggling to do business.

Ms. Dorcus Kay Elima, who deals in cosmetics and is a salon operator in the market says, she had to acquire a loan of Shs 700,000 to settle the outstanding rent arrears she accumulated during the first lockdown and now struggling to recover the losses she incurred during the pandemic.

Florence Akello, a mother of 6 children and a former LRA abductee who sells vegetables in the market urged the Council to be considerate and look at the new fee structures before implementation.

“This market is the father of my 6 children, I returned with them from captivity and I can’t trace their homes. We pray that the Council understands us,” Akello said.

Beatrice Acayo, another vendor and a tailor in the market says, her rent increased from Shs 20,000 to Shs 70,000 even when she is only allocated a portion in the corridor.

However, Christine Atimango, one of the developers, noted that many of the developers have not recovered the cost incurred in developing the market before the government took over in 2016.

“We are not against paying the tax but we are saying the tenancy agreement be carefully looked into in a way that will not deprive us,” she added.

The Resident City Commissioner (RCC), Denis Odwong Odongpiny proposed a grace period of 10 years in the tenancy agreement to give an enabling environment to the developers for joint ownership of the market with the Council.

“We are aware that many of the technocrats have allocated themselves lockup shops and now they are renting them out to vendors at Shs 600,000, others are clergymen but we can’t now dispossess them. It will lead us into a legal battle,” Odongpiny added.

However, Alfred Okwonga, the Gulu City Mayor says, the matter will have to be discussed and settled in a full Council meeting.

“Nobody can make a decision now on the new tenancy agreement, this is a matter for Council to discuss and take a position,” Okwonga said.

The market was however constructed by the government at the cost of Shs 29 billion under the Market Agricultural Trade Improvement Project and commissioned in 2016 with the expected capacity to accommodate 4,000 vendors but the record from the market indicates 1,200 vendors have failed to return to the market when the lockdown was eased.

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