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Government plotting to giveaway National Theatre land to Parliament

Analysis

Government plotting to giveaway National Theatre land to Parliament

Artistes during a demo against National Theatre takeover

Artistes during a demonstration against the planed takeover of the National Theatre takeover

An investigation by The Sunrise can reveal that Government is considering converting the land currently holding the Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC), for the purpose of erecting an office block to accommodate offices of Members of Parliament. But the plan provides no alternative land or structure where the UNCC may be relocated.

Ugandan Artistes have spent the previous couple of weeks fighting a proposal to give the national cultural premises to an investor for apparent redevelopment. There have been inconsistent statements from government officials on who is to redevelop the land and for what purpose.

Our investigation has led us to documents of a high-level technical committee which earmarked the National Theatre as the target space for erecting a building to house the growing number of MPs because of its proximity to Parliament.

The documents show that the high level committee sitting on August 16, 2016 considered the National Theatre as an option following a request by the Speaker of Parliament to the President on August 21, 2015 to urgently look for additional space for MPs in view of the increase in the number of constituencies.

According to the documents, the Parliamentary Commission wants offices adjacent to the Parliamentary Building because it would be convenient for the MPs to attend sessions and securely park their vehicles.

Absenteeism by MPs in previous Parliaments has been described as a major cause of delays to pass bills, although this is disputed by some of the MPs who accuse the government of prioritizing non-essential ‘political’ bills instead of critical business that could help rescue the economy.

The documents indicate that although the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga had earmarked the two office blocks currently occupied by the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Uganda Prisons Service, which are facing the Parliamentary Building on the Northern side, the committee discovered that touching the Lands office was out of the question because the building is hosting a critical National Land Information system that was funded by the World Bank.

“The Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development should not be relocated due to the important infrastructure which was set up by the World Bank, and the possible withdrawal of funding by the World Bank,” the committee stated in its resolution.

The committee found it OK to relocate Prisons to the Ministry of Finance as a short-term solution to Parliament’s reported accommodation crisis, at least in the meantime. And Prisons authorities have reportedly given a no objection to the plan. But the Prison’s space is not sufficient for Parliament as it can only create space for 104 offices and 30 parking slots for cars.

The committee considered two longer term solutions; 1) Parliamentary Commission building its own offices to accommodate all MPs outside Kampala, 2) Parliamentary Commission pursuing the acquisition of land occupied by the National Theatre.

The option of Parliament building their own office block has been on the cards before and at some point there was talk of erecting a building in the gardens of Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) close to Parliament.

The government, through senior politicians and technocrats of the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development, recently came out to back the plan to encroach on National Theatre’s land. State Minister for Gender Peace Mutuzo claimed a private partner was to erect a 14 floor block while the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary showed in a meeting an artistic impression of a 20 floor twin towers erected in the area.

According to Francis Peter Ojede, the Director of UNCC, the institutions Board of Trustees approved a plan to give away the land to a Private investor, allegedly to build more ultra modern theatres on lower floors with offices on upper floors.

It is not clear at what point the government chose to drop the idea of Parliament financing its own project in favour of a private investor. What is clear is that whoever is to redevelop the place is targeting Parliament to come and rent the same space for commercial gain.

As analysed by The Sunrise of last week, Theatres are usually built without pillars cutting in the stage, the avoidance of pillars is a critical concert for security and safety.

Rage

The plan to allocate the National Theatre Land either to the Parliamentary Commission or a private investor as the Ministry of Gender prefers, has attracted rage from artists and members of the public.

Some have described it as a selfish attempt by politicians who have no appreciation or regard for the development of culture by the present and future generations.

Nuwa Wamala Nnyanzi, an internationally renowned painter and artist has described the plan as an unacceptable encroachment on Culture space in Uganda.

“Everyone got their space. Parliament has its own space and we have ours. Who has stopped them from xpanding vertically? At the current rate of Parliament’s expansion, they will takeover the whole of Kampala,” says Nnyanzi.

Nnyanzi, who is the Vice Chairperson of the National  Art and Cultural Crafts Association of Uganda (NACCAU), is bitter about the government’s failure to recognize the financial as well as social economic and moral contribution of art and culture to Uganda, despite the fact that artists pay taxes, document, preserve and conserved Uganda’s culture.

“Every show that is staged in this country, URA gets millions of money in form of Value Added Tax (VAT). For us as NACCAU, we pay over Ushs40m every quarter in rent besides creating lots of jobs. For the period we have existed, we have paid over one billion shillings in rent, but every time we are being asked to show the contribution of art and culture to Uganda’s development.”

Nnyanzi argues that government has deliberately decided to sideline culture and art by refusing to invest in the development of the industry. “They don’t want to invest in us. Why don’t they let us to develop ourselves rather taking away from us?”

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