Soroti vendors threaten to sue Soroti City authorities

SOROTI – Pressure is mounting on Soroti City authorities as the Minister for Local Government, Raphael Magezi gives them a three weeks ultimatum to resolve the mess in stalls and lock-ups allocation process at the recently operationalized Soroti Modern Market.

The Shs 24 billion market constructed by TECHNO 3 Uganda Ltd under the second phase of Market and Agricultural Trade Improvement Program – MATIP2 was commissioned in November, 2020 by His Excellence President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni while soliciting for votes in Teso region for 2021 general poll.

This is part of $94m (about Shs.316b) loan, which the government of Uganda secured from the African Development Bank in 2016 for the construction of eleven (11) modern markets across the country.

The market was constructed specifically for the low-income earners and the vendors, who were operating in the old market that was demolished in March, 2018.

In September this year, city authorities together with the lock-up allocation committee chaired by Richard Opiding, relocated more than 1,300 vendors from container village, a temporal settlement after months of disagreements between city authorities and the market vendors.

However, weeks after the vendors occupied the market, a group of ten (10) vendors who missed out on lock-up spaces through their lawyer Opio and Company Advocates petitioned city council authorities under Section (2) of the Civil Procedure Limitation Miscellaneous Provision Act Cap 72 for allegedly breaching the contract.

The intended Plaintiffs include; George Akojoi, Isaac Auta, John Epudu, Samuel Pasama Opio, Michael Otigo, Catharine Aanyu, Mary Amagoro, Richard Ebwonyu Peter Eluengu and Stephen Othieno.

They accuse the allocation committee and the city authorities for allocating spaces to only landlords who built on council land and those who hired lockups from council before construction of the new market at their expense.

In their one petition, received by the Soroti City Clerk, Ambrose Ocen on 10th October, 2021, says that they are the legal owners of the lockup spaces and deserve equitable interests in the shops operating in Soroti old market under the stewardship of their intended defendants.

The petitioners add that by the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) executed in 2016, they, Soroti municipal council by then and other vendors agreed to vacate their respective shops at Soroti old market to pave way for the construction of a modern market.

George Akojoi, the lead petitioner told theCooperator that under the terms of the said Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), they were to be given first priority to occupy and utilize the modern completed facility.

“But, to their dismay, Soroti City Authorities and the lock-up spaces allocation committee gave out lock-ups to vendors who were not part of the initial registered vendors at their expense,” he added.

Akojoi, further claims that several attempts to settle the matter with the intended defendant were futile, nobody gave them attention prompting them to seek help from the courts of law.

“We have tried all our best to settle this matter at a lower level but since no one seems to be willing to listen to our plight, we now intend to drag them to courts of law for redress,” he said.

Through Opio and Company Advocates, the intended plaintiffs now demand that each of them be allocated a lockup in the market as per the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which they signed with the intended defendant.

According to Opio and Company Advocates, if Soroti City Council fails to honor the request of the intended plaintiffs, they will demand for Shs.100, 000,000 each for general damages with interests and costs.

This is in compensation for the deprivation, trauma, psychological torture, pain, ridicule and shame that they have suffered in the course of the matter.

Efforts to get a comment from both the Chairman Market Vendors George William Eriebat and Richard Opiding the Chairman allocation committee for comments were futile as they declined to comment on the matter.

However, Damali Asekenye the Principal Community Development Officer who spearheaded the allocation and shifting process to the new market facility described the move by the intended plaintiffs to sued Soroti City Council as a waste of time and resources.

“We successfully handled category one and two which comprise of vendors who built lock-ups on council land and those who hired council-built lock-ups and rented them out to sub tenants who are now complaining” said Asekenye.

She advised the complaints vendors to amicably settle the matter with market and Soroti city authorities.

“I would like to advice the people who have gone to court to come back and settle this matter with us amicably because the Memorandum of Understanding that they are carrying clearly indicates that they were not tenants to council but they also rented the lock-up in Soroti old market from the land lords who hired lock-ups from council. That therefore means, these sub tenants who are running to court will have no evidence of ownership of lockups in the old market to defend their suit,” she added.

However, the Minister for Local Government, Raphael Magezi said he has received complaints from some vendors whom he didn’t name who have been calling him accusing Soroti City Council authorities over bribery, double allocation of lock-ups at Soroti modern market.

He said that according to the information, some of the civil servants and politicians allocated lock-ups to themselves and their relatives who are not part of the registered vendors.

The Minister therefore gave the Soroti City Council authorities a three weeks ultimatum to solve the matter before 15th November, 2021.

He warned that in the event that they fail, those involved will face the wrath of the law without compromise.

According to Magezi, no council official is supposed to occupy space in the market yet non civil servants who are the rightful beneficiaries are not accommodated.

The Minister described the tendency of civil servants and politicians allotting themselves lock-ups living out would be beneficiaries as corruption of the highest order which can not be tolerated.

Meanwhile, the Soroti City Clerk Ambrose Ocen, said that his office is going to hold a meeting with the complainants, lock-up allocation committee and the city leadership to forge a way forward.

“We don’t want the issue of lock-ups to create disharmony between complainants and city authorities, a reason the conflicting parties must come to understanding,” he added.

But Moses Attan Okia, the Soroti City East MP faulted officials in the city for playing double standards in the allocation of lockups to the vendors in the new market.

Attan, noted that the irregularities in the allocation of lock-ups in market if not handled properly, will cost Soroti City Council huge sums of money over breach of contract.

Soroti main market has more than 1,300 lockups and stalls and is expected to employ more than 5,000 people directly and indirectly in terms of suppliers of goods, vendors, and others providing auxiliary services like transport.

In addition to stalls and lockups, the market also among others has CCTV cameras linked to the Soroti Central Police Station, cold rooms and service centers, 500,000 liters water tank, butcheries, chicken cages, tailoring, pharmacies, financial institutions and small-scale value addition units.

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