Government should ensure new markets realise their potential

Government deserves a round of applause for the Markets and Agricultural Trade Improvement Programme (MATIP) under which the old markets, some of which had or have served since the 1930s, have been or are being replaced with new ones. SoGovernment deserves a round of applause for the Markets and Agricultural Trade Improvement Programme (MATIP) under which the old markets, some far, seven markets (Wandegeya, Jinja, Mbale, Fort Portal, Hoima, Lira and Gulu) have been rebuilt, and there are 11 others (Arua, Mbarara, Busia, Tororo, Soroti, Entebbe-Kitoro, Kasese, Moroto,Masaka, Kitgum and Lugazi) for which the Ministry of Local Government has already secured funding and is now receiving bids.
Incidentally, Kabale market features in the Environmental and Social Management Plan for the second phase, and the ministry hasn’t explained why it subsequently replaced it with Entebbe-Kitoro, which wasn’t part of the plan. As for the people of Kabale, their MPs inclusive, they are probably too busy celebrating the Cabinet appointments of sons of the soil to find the time to demand answers. And yet, when you look at the matter with plain logic, you realise that a modern market does more for the people of an area than the ministerial appointment of a native.
To appreciate the importance of markets, you only need to remember the cliché that agriculture is the backbone of Uganda. With the steep rise in the population, especially the urban population, agriculture is more important than ever before. And markets encourage and enable the shift from subsistence to commercial agriculture. If government wasn’t doing anything about the old markets, which wereare characterised by congestion, filth and dilapidated structures, the calls for commercialisation of agriculture would be hollow. The new markets, being storied concrete structures, are not only strong but also efficiently utilise space, in some cases tripling the potential number of vendors and yet eliminating congestion. They have modern drainage systems, which ensure good hygiene and fresh air. Unlike the old markets, which were typically unsightly, the new markets are pleasing to the eye, and inspire, among the users and the wider urban populations, a sense of organisation and ambition. The new markets should also sharply raise the revenues of local governments, putting them in better position to deliver services.
One of the lessons we have learnt from the first phase of the MATIP is that the programme will not deliver its full potential unless government ensures that there are rigorous quality management systems during the construction phases of the markets and acts on corruption with a firm hand. Last week, we read in Daily Monitor that the Jinja Market, which was completed in October last year at the cost of Shs36 billion, is already leaking, destroying the property of the vendors. These are the first rains since the market was completed, and it is leaking! Earlier, it had been reported that the same market had developed massive cracks.
Then there is corruption which has reared its ugly head in the allocation of stalls and kiosks, prompting some vendors, such as those of Mbale, to riot. As I have already noted, one of the major benefits of the new markets should be to increase revenues of local governments, putting these governments in better position to deliver services. But if these local governments can’t show integrity in the allocation of kiosks and stalls, if they are demanding bribes as the incensed vendors are claiming, then the hope that increased revenues will translate into better services may be on shaky ground.
As the government awards contracts for the second phase of MATIP, due diligence should be exercised, quality management systems should be a major consideration, and the Inspector General of Government should increase vigilance. Otherwise, a programme which promises a great deal, may in reality deliver little.
Mr Twinamatsiko is a civil engineer with Kisana Consults.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor