The City Council of Nairobi won few friends last week with the shock announcement that it planned to more than double parking fees in town and the rent charged on council houses.
From touts and matatu drivers and owners to commuters, motorists and consumer rights groups, there is consensus that City Hall has not done enough with the revenue they already collect to warrant raising the fees.
Residents’ associations described the move as a slap in the face for rate payers who are unhappy with what they view as mediocre service from the council.
And residents got a reprieve on Friday when Nairobi resident Henry Nkure obtained a temporary stay from a court that stops the council from putting the new rates into effect for the next 30 days.
His case was allowed to stand after a residents’ association withdrew a similar case it had filed. According to court papers, Mr Nkure argues the increment went against the rules of natural justice.
Kenya Alliance of Residents Association (Kara) chief executive Stephen Mutoro is also pushing for the quashing of the decision by the council to increase its parking fees within the Central Business District on eight grounds, including the unilateral and arbitrary nature of the action, the short notice given and the lack of consultation with the public.
The Kara boss said NCC had failed to prepare and publish up-to-date audited books of accounts. “As such it is unclear how the current parking fees and additional revenue will be utilised,” he states in the affidavit.
According to the new rates, the parking fee for saloon cars within the city centre would be Sh300 a day, up from Sh140. Lorries weighing three to seven tonnes would be charged Sh1,000, up from Sh800. But parking fees for motorcycles remained at Sh50.
Motorists parking their vehicles at malls and shopping centres throughout the city would pay Sh200, up from Sh140 for saloon cars and Sh500 and Sh2,000 for lorries and trailers respectively.
The seasonal monthly parking fee for motorbikes was increased to Sh1,000; tuk tuks Sh2,000; private cars Sh3,000 – up from Sh2,000 – and taxis Sh3,500, up from Sh2,000. The fee for 14-seater matatus has been raised from Sh2,200 to Sh4,000 and for 43-seater buses from Sh4,000 to Sh8,000.
Motorists parking their vehicles in designated non-automated areas in the city centre would pay Sh400 a day, up from Sh200. Those parking in automated areas, including the Aga Khan Walk and High Court lots, would pay an entry fee of Sh50 and Sh15 for every additional 30 minutes.
Local government permanent secretary Prof Karega Mutahi refused to discuss the proposed rates.
Matter in court
“I cannot say anything at the moment because the matter is in court. Whatever I say right now may be seen as contempt of the judicial process,” he said.
But, in a rare show of unity, rivals Matatu Welfare Association and Matatu Owners Association agreed they would not heed the council’s directive to fork out additional fees.
“We cannot allow them (City Council) to take money which might be used in a less than transparent manner. This time they have to account for what we have given them before they can ask for more,” Simon Kimutai, chairman of Matatu Owners Association, said.
Following the publication of the new rates and charges in a Special Gazette Notice No. 12582 dated October 15, 2010, the Matatu Welfare Association announced plans to withdraw their vehicles from the roads beginning Saturday until Sunday in protest.
If the new fees were not reversed, MWA members would have no option but to raise fares by 50 per cent, chairman Dickson Mbugua told the press.
The move by the City Council has also attracted condemnation from Nairobi Metropolitan minister Njeru Githae as well as the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Local Authorities, Wajir North MP Hussein Gabow.
The MP said the new fees are punitive and discourage doing business within the city. Mr Gabow has asked for a ministerial statement from the Deputy Prime Minister and Local Government minister Musalia Mudavadi on the unilateral action by the council.
“It is quite unfortunate the council took on this decision at a time when its services to residents are seen as wanting, parking lots have run out of space and most are dilapidated,” he said.
Similarly, the Consumer Information Network lobby group has called on town clerk Philip Kisia to be considerate of city residents, citing a lack of justification for the increase.
“We do not see any justification whatsoever for the increase. Your argument that costs have gone up and the need to finance your wage bill is not convincing,” Samuel Ochieng of Consumer Information Network wrote. “As consumers of a service, we also need to see value in service we are paying for and be convinced that its value for money,” he added.
Human rights activist Ndung’u Wainaina said Article 35(3) of the Constitution stipulates that people have right to access information that in in the public interest. “This, read together with Article 10 and the article on consumer rights in the Bill of Rights, City Council of Nairobi must be put to account,” he said.
But despite the heated reaction, Mr Kisia remained unmoved. He said the fee the council is proposing is comparatively lower than what commuters and motorists pay in the cities of the developed world.
“If you want world-class infrastructure you must pay for it. There is no parking space in a central business district anywhere in the world where people park their vehicles from morning to evening without any specific agenda in the CBD,” the town clerk said.
“Paying Sh300 for parking space in the Nairobi CBD, Westlands and Upper Hill is not so bad considering the fact that people in other countries pay more. In other areas it will be about Sh150,” he added.
He cited the examples of Central London where the fee is about Sh4,000 and in Milan, Italy, where it is Sh2,000, explaining that Kenyans should not complain about the council’s decision since the amount is an “undercharge”.
“Pricing must be segmented. Where there is high demand you must charge appropriately.” Mr Kisia said the council had done the right thing, adding that parking in the CBD was meant to accommodate business people.
“You should not spend the whole day in the CBD doing a lot of nothing. CBD ni ya whisky sio busaa (CBD is for people of means who take whisky, not cheap liquor),” he said.
But comparing London or Milan with Nairobi could be misleading since those cities have modern and efficient public transport, sufficient parking spaces and adequate security, and the authorities are accountable to the residents.
Additional reporting by Ashley Lime