SHUTOUT: ‘Rowdy Tenants’ At National Theatre Face Eviction As Government Puts In New Measures To Revamp The 57 Year Old Facility

Philip Luswata, the director Theatre Factory and Francis Peter Ojede (Inset) The National Theatre

By Patrick Jaramogi

Tension has been brewing between “rowdy tenants” and the Management of the Uganda National Cultural Center (UNCC) popularly known as the National Theatre. The Investigator has unearthed a ploy by former disgruntled managers and staff to put to ‘shame and damage” the institution that has been grappling with preserving, promoting, popularizing and developing Uganda’s Art and Culture.

Government has over the years tried hard to ensure that the 50years + facility reaches the standards it befits of a cultural promoting institution. But this has not been possible due to the paltry funds that the facility gets from Government.

The Investigator has established that the 57 year old facility that employs over 40 staff only gets a paltry UGX 27 million each year from Government under the Ministry of Gender. This money that often comes very late is not enough to run the facility. The management has over the years been sustaining the premises with collections from rent for the offices space, bars, restaurants, theatre entrance fees, garden hire, craft village and the parking among others. The Investigator established that though government releases only UGX 27 million, the autonomous body generated UGX1.8 last financial year from its own. But this still in not sufficient.

Government intervenes

As the need for improving the premises intensified and government was not ready with the funds, the new management of UNCC sought the intervention of the Chief Government Valuer on how to increase revenue.  Last year the Chief Government valuer basing on the market trends and current inflation made adjustments to the rent within the National Theatre and Nommo Gallery. The new rates didn’t however go down well with some tenants according to Francis Peter Ojede, the Executive Director. Ojede took over management of the facility in December 2013 from Joseph Walugembe. The management is appointed by the board of directors of UNCC. The board is appointed by the Minister for Gender and labor.

According to the new rates, imposed by government, old tenants at the National Theater were being charged UGX 33,000 per square meter of a room. The new rates now stand at UGX 45,000. A normal room with about 30 square meters that used to cost UGX 990,000 (About shs1 million) now goes for UGX1,350,000.

Issues arising

According to management, bad blood begun to brew when the UNCC management became tough on rent defaulters. The tough stance saw many old tenants like the popular Philip Luswata of the Theatre Factory affected. According to the accounts documents that the Investigator saw, Philip Luswata, a director with Theater Factory had accumulate rent arrears of 9 months totaling about UGX 9 million shillings. Ojede says that efforts to get the rent arrears from Luswata proved futile forcing the management to “shut down:” his offices “until he paid up”

“We feel we need money to operate well. But if our tenants don’t pay for so long, we can’t do much. And yet when we do the right thing, they rush to the media to tarnish the image of Uganda National Cultural; Center,” said Ojede.

Commenting on the issue of charging theatre goers hourly parking fees, Ojede clarified that parking from 6pm (overnight) when the theatre shows begins is absolutely free. According to Ojede, National Theatre is able to collect between UGX 800,000 to UGX 1 million each day from Monday to Friday something he says has helped the institution pay the accumulated URA tax arrears from the previous UGX 1 Billion to just slightly UGX 300 million at the moment.

When contacted, Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) acknowledged that they had reached an agreement with National Theater on how to pay the accumulated arrears.  “I can say that they (UNCC) are doing very well in paying the arrears,” said one of the URA managers who preferred not to be named. “It is not true that we demand National Theatre UGX 1 Billion, its about UGX 300 million only which they are paying,” said the Tax Revenue Manager.

The Uganda National Cultural Centre whose official acronym is UNCC, is a Ugandan statutory body that was established on the 8th October 1959 by the Uganda National Cultural Centre Act, a 1959 Act of Parliament (amended 1965). The Uganda National Cultural Centre, a semi-autonomous body was then officially inaugurated on 2nd December 1959.

The Uganda National Cultural Center has the mandate to run the National Theatre located along Dewinton Road and the Nommo Gallery in Nakesero.

Luswata reacts

After he was thrown out for failure to pay rent, Philip Luswata, the director Theatre Factory along with other artists wrote a 61 page dossier to the President complaining of alleged mismanagement of the facility. (President’s Office has however denied receiving any such documents).

Issues raised by Luswata and team

  • Managers of the National Theatre are not competent and lack background on art
  • Outstanding obligations from previous management accruing from VAT, PAYE to URA has multiplied since Francis Peter Ojede assumed office in 2013
  • Tax arrears to URA has shot up to UGX 1 billion
  • The premises has turned out into a dating club

Gender Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana responds

Earlier last year Luswata and a team of other artist had a meeting with Bigirimana who recommended that the board sorts out the issues raised. He among others called for a joint meeting between the UNCC management and the artists.

Board Reacts

Wilson Usher Owere, one of the newly appointed Board Members of UNCC told the Investigator that as a new Board they have the mandate to transform National Theatre. “We shall not allow people to use the facility for free yet they want the place revamped,” he said on Monday. Owere said it is just a matter of time before Ugandans start seeing new transformations.

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