Former Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Executive Director, Jennifer Musisi has for the first time provided details of a plot to take her life while she serving as Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Executive Director,
August 2017, the then Kampala Capital City Authority executive disclosed she had received death threats from unknown people.
In the letter dated August 8, addressed to the Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, Musisi revealed that there were ongoing concerns over her personal safety a result of which she has been advised to restrict her movements while her security is being reviewed.
“One time a grenade was found under my car,” said Musisi, speaking to a rapt audience at the Ash Center, where she is the inaugural City Leader in Residence with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, which is housed at the Center.
“It was shocking to see the extent to which the resistance could go—blow me up because I’m trying to organize the management and finances of the city.”
“Why are they trying to kill me?
In December of last year, Musisi stepped down after almost eight years running the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) where she bolstered city services and overhauled the authority’s finances. “She has a global reputation for strong urban governance, integrity, fighting corruption, organizational leadership, and building service delivery systems in institutions that are crippled by resource constraints and corruption,” said Jorrit de Jong, Lecturer in Public Policy and Management at HKS and faculty director of the Bloomberg Harvard program.
“I don’t consider myself a technocrat. I just want to get things done”
With her background building revenue collection and human resources systems for the URA, Musisi set about overhauling Kampala’s municipal government. Even the seemingly straightforward task of tallying up the number of active city employees proved to be a challenge. “There were almost no records. No one knew how many staff were in the organization. There were some staff on the payroll. Others were not on the payroll. Others were temporary,” Musisi recalled.
After pressing Uganda’s central bank to conduct an audit of the city’s various bank accounts, bankers found 151 previously unknown accounts belonging to the KCCA, holding over $13 million—a staggering sum for a city that was at the time collecting only $11 million in annual tax revenues. In contrast, Philadelphia, with a roughly equivalent population, collected $4.6 billion in revenues in its most recent fiscal year.
To tackle the city’s financial shortfalls, Musisi terminated contracts with revenue agents who were inefficient but, nonetheless, were given, or took, a cut of the tax proceeds they collected on behalf of the city. In the new system, the KCCA made it easier for residents to pay their tax bills directly through the banks and built a modern revenue management system to help with billing, assessing, and payment.
While Musisi’s reforms resulted in a growing municipal budget and improved services for everyday Kampala residents, those who previously benefited from the city’s archaic and corrupt tax collection system did not relinquish the status quo easily. “The agents that were collecting taxes for the city were very powerful… and had been collecting the taxes for decades. They felt an entitlement,” said Musisi. “They thought I was joking.”
The revenue agents, loath to lose their cut of the city’s taxes, next turned to graft, assuming that Musisi and her colleagues would rather line their own pockets and backtrack on their reforms. “They offered me huge bribes, really huge bribes. I said, ‘I always said I don’t do bribes.’”
“Then they started threatening our lives,” she said. “Why are they trying to kill me? I’m the good guy here. It was shocking to see the extent to which it could go, with violent attacks targeting my staff because we’re trying to organize the finances of the city.” Her colleagues had guns pulled on them, their homes invaded. Security for Musisi and her team was increased. She told a shaken staff that this was their opportunity to transform Kampala for the better. “The bad guys can’t win. That was what kept us going.”
“She went straight for the most critical function of government,” remarked de Jong, referring to Musisi’s decision, after taking the reins of the KCCA, to forgo scoring easy political wins and instead tackle a complex structural issue such as revenue reform. “Without revenues, you can’t do anything, and without addressing the corruption you can never build trust,” he added.
Without an increase in revenue, Musisi would never have the funding necessary to address the city’s infrastructure problems, build and renovate schools, improve the quality of public health care, or fix the litany of other urban ails that plagued Kampala.
“We knew that without funding we could not do much, and with that funding we could really get the low hanging fruit, begin fixing the city.”
Musisi has been hailed as an “incorruptible technocrat” by Uganda’s press for reforming Kampala’s municipal tax collection and procurement policies, but she bristles at the characterization. “I don’t consider myself a technocrat in the real sense of the word. I just want to get things done.”
Musisi added, “When you have a desire to get things done, you just begin to innovate because you’re looking at the end and then working through whatever you need to work through to reach that end.”