A plan by Uganda Prisons Service to give away the large chunk of land currently hosting Luzira prison in exchange for a completely new and bigger prison located away from the main business environment of Kampala, whose construction started in 1900 and ended in 1927, has become overcrowded owing to a four fold increase in the number of prisoners now totalling about 8000.
He said: “In the wisdom of Uganda Prisons Services, it was concluded that that prisons land is now prime land, it can have a satellite city. Therefore, if we got somebody, an investor – whom we don’t want to give us money, but goes in the radius of 20kms, gets land, builds it according to our design, as soon as he finishes building, he gives us the keys, we give him the land where Luzira is currently located.”
Baine said the plan is not particularly new as it was done in Nakasongola where the prime land that used to host the prison was given to a lady investor ‘who built a very beautiful shopping mall’ and in return she built a bigger and modern prison capable of accommodating more inmates (1000) than previously.
He also cites South Africa, where he says the model of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) is popular and involves private investors sourcing funds for erecting prisons infrastructure and after construction, they hand over the facilities or manage them on behalf of the government.
Baine said that following approval of the plan by Cabinet, some people have already expressed interest in the project, although they are not considered serious enough.
“People have shown interest but not serious. This is a very complex process because it requires getting land that is not less than 300 acres. It requires facilities that can accommodate about 20,000 inmates, staff houses and rehabilitation centres, and should not be beyond 20kms from Kampala to enable prisoners access Court,” added Baine.
“We feel the security is not right in the middle of the city. For example, if someone came and wanted to attack Luzira, how would we defend it? It is all surrounded by people and industries.”
Baine rejected claims by Mukono Municipality Member of Parliament Betty Nambooze that the proposed relocation of Luzira has been identified in Mukono district.
But asked what will happen to the proposed new prison if development and urbanisation reaches there, Baine replied: “Those who will be there will decide but for us, we are trying to find a solution that can last at least 50-100.
Baine argues that Luzira cannot easily be expanded at the moment because of financial constraints to build entirely new structures.
“That prison [Luzira] was built for 2000 inmates. Now it is handling 8000 prisoners. The only way you can expand it is by demolishing it and rebuilding a new one but where will you put the inmates?”he quipped.
While he acknowledged that Luzira still has a lot of excess land for expansion, he said that they do not have the money to embark on such a project.
“Yes you can build but where is the money? Luzira’s budget is Ushs 86 billion yet we require about Ushs 240 billion. With that kind of budget you can’t do an extension because you need a trillion or so to transform Luzira into what you want. And when you look at its location, if someone built a satellite city there, Ugandans would benefit more than the prison, if we’re to be patriotic.”
The plan has been met with cautious welcome while other policy makers criticise it as yet another plot to gift well-connected persons in government with public land.
Lubaga South MP John Ken Lukyamuzi openly rejected the plan as another plot to transfer a valuable public asset into the hands of a few individuals.
“I don’t support that plan. Quick transfer of prisoners to courts of law is a constitutional right. This plan is likely to tamper with this provision,” Lukyamuzi adds that the plan risks taking such a vitally important national institution down the same road as Diary Corporation, Shinnon Demonstration School and other privatised institutions that went into the hands of individuals for peanuts.
This project is likely to be affected by corruption as we have seen with many other government transactions.
“That location should be retained and government must stop dancing with economics to confuse us,” said Lukyamuzi.
His colleague-, Aruu county MP Odonga Otoo, however welcomed the idea of transfering Luzira to a more remote place. But Otoo insists the land should be retained by government and instead used to build government offices such that most government offices are located in one place.
Otoo argues that this would reduce on traffic jams in Kampala which he attributed to many people trying to access government offices.
“If we had the country at heart, we would relocate Luzira to a remote location. [If that were to happen] we would use the Luzira land for putting up government offices,” Otoo explains that in Malawi and other countries, most government offices are centralised in one place which eases coordination and communication.
Otoo says: “Giving land to a single investor to put up a shopping mall or houses would not be in the country’s best interests. We have seen how public land has been given to individuals. Look at Shimoni land now. Someone has built a shopping mall and is calling for tenants so that he can raise money to finish it.”