Vendors block MPs from visiting major market in Mbarara City

MBARARA, March 11, 2024 – Mbarara Central Market fish vendors recently tried to block Members of Parliament from accessing the newly constructed market, saying the rent charged is too high for them to afford.

The MPs on parliament’s Public Service and Local Government Committee met resistance from about 15 fish vendors while on their recent visit to the new market to assess its impact, which is in line with the legislators’ oversight role.

While carrying placards, the angry fishmongers vowed not to pay the monthly rent of Shs 100,000 which every vendor with a kiosk in the market pays. It took the intervention of the police to calm the situation.

Previously, the city council was charging Shs 30,000 per month per kiosk but after reconstructing the new market, rent fees were increased to Shs 100,000 per kiosk.

According to Justine Natukunda, Chairperson of the fish vendors in the market, they want rent fees to be reduced for them because they incur other high costs for electricity and water.

“Our deep freezers consume electricity of about Shs 10,000 per day, a unit of water is Shs 11,000 and we usually use two units, meaning Shs 22,000 a month. If you add all these costs to rent, it means every month each fish vendor spends Shs 422,000 and that is a lot of money,” explained Abas Nsengimana, another fish vendor in the market.

Kraish Rugema, Publicity Secretary for fish vendors criticised the city authorities for ignoring their pleas over time to have the rental fees reduced.

“We petitioned the city council to reduce rental fees to at least Shs 50,000 per month per kiosk. They refused, and we are protesting for the third time now because we cannot afford to pay Shs 100,000,” Rugema said.

However, Robert Mugabe Kakyebezi, Mayor Mbarara City told the MPs that the city council has so far lost over Shs 28mln to the fish vendors who have not been paid rent since September 2022. “After the grace period in June 2022, these fish vendors have not been paying rent, meaning that as council we have lost a lot of money,” Kakyebezi said.

He accused the city town clerk of failing to implement the rent fees supposed to be paid by the fishmongers.

“If other vendors are paying the same rental charges put by the city council then why not the fish vendors?” Kakyebezi said. If they [fishmongers] don’t pay I will go to the market and tell the rest not to pay,” Kakyebezi explained, saying the fishmongers were given A grace period in which to pay rent but it ended this month without them complying.

He also asked the parliamentarians to amend the Markets Act, 2023 so that it can cater for the vendors’ leadership.

“I have heard about this new Market Act putting aside the leadership of the market but the town clerk and the so-called market master cannot manage the market vendors. Let them do the technical part but the arrangement of dealing with vendors must be within the mandate of the vendors’ leadership because they know themselves,” Kakyebezi said.

Allan Buhanda Karakure, Senior Commercial Officer Mbarara City appealed to the MPs to consider the time frame the vendors should remain operating in the market to allow new vendors to utilise the market.

“As a country we are not coming out with a clear guideline on how long someone should be a vendor in the market. Otherwise, we are creating a scenario where someone will be a vendor for life,” Karakure said.

On his part, Mbarara Central Market Association chairman, Emmanuel Muhumuza said fish vendors are not special from all the vendors, thus appealing to traders to clear the council dues.

“If as a market association I am paying rent and equally all the other vendors are paying then why are fishmongers refusing to pay rent,” Muhumuza said.

Despite the ongoing protests, Faisal Ssali Kikulukunyu, Principal Development Officer Ministry of Local Government challenged the fishmongers to pay rent if they want to operate in the market.

“Let these people [fishmongers] not disturb us, the market is for everybody let the willing people join. If you are not remitting for the services you are enjoying, then the city should take you on,” Kikulukunyu said.

On his part, Jimmy Lwanga, Acting Chairperson Public Service and Local Government Committee also asked the market vendors to pay rent

For his part, Assy Abirebe Tumwesigire, the City Town Clerk, pledged to enforce rent payment so that the city council can recover its money from the non-compliant fish vendors. “We are going to enforce the payment of rent fees from fish vendors and I appreciate your guidance,” Tumwesigire said.

Mbarara Central Market is one of the 12 new regional markets constructed across the country with financial support from the African Development Bank [AfDB] to contribute towards poverty reduction, and economic growth through enhanced marketing of agricultural produce and other merchandise.

It was also built to increase agricultural production, enhance the income of vendors, create employment, and boost customer satisfaction and revenue generation.

The market was constructed at a cost of Shs 21 billion and accommodates 195 vendors. It has facilities like restaurants, stalls, and lock-ups among others.

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