The City Council of Nairobi’s plan to more than double parking charges was on Wednesday headed for a steep climb after three lobby groups said they were moving to court to challenge the decision.
Timothy Muriuki, the Nairobi Central Business District Association (NCBDA) chairman, said the lobby would move to court by end of business on Friday to seek an injunction against the new rates that come into force on Monday.
“It is haphazard and unilateral. We will be moving to court as this is a matter of public interest,” said Mr Muriuki.
Stephen Mutoro, the chief executive of the Kenya Alliance of Residents Associations - a consumer lobby - and Henry Ochieng of Consumers Federation of Kenya said they would team up with NCBDA to resist the new charges.
On Tuesday the City Council of Nairobi announced that private motorists will beginning Monday pay Sh300 to park their cars in the CBD per day up from Sh140, saying it needed the extra money to finance its annual budget which increased to Sh12 billion from Sh9 billion last year.
City Hall is facing a Sh3 billion budget deficit that it said is one of the reasons behind the planned increment of parking fees.
The three citizens’ organisations argue that City Hall did not consult on the matter which is of huge public interest making the courts the only avenue for redress.
Should opponents of the new fees succeed in stopping their application, City Hall is expected to face a long season of disruption and labour disputes as part of the new money was to help offset a ballooning monthly wage bill that rose by a tenth to Sh530 million only recently following the signing of a new workers agreement.
Mr Muriuki said workers and businesses in the city centre stand to suffer big losses as the majority of potential visitors and shoppers cut the frequency of their visits to the city centre.
Town Clerk, Philip Kisia, did not show any indication of back-tracking on the order, which was made through a gazette notice.
“You can’t stop anyone from going to court. I wish them good luck,” said Mr Kisia.
Justifying the Tuesday announcement of increase in parking charges, City Hall said costs of construction materials had gone up “by 30 per cent” in the past one year.
The council also announced an increase in rents for residential houses located in specified areas of Nairobi by at least Sh2,000 a month.
Mr Muriuki said the new rates will give city council employees who are accused of printing fake parking tickets a chance to seek more bribes from motorists.
“They’ll definitely increase the amount they demand from motorists to help them avoid full payment of the high fees,” said Mr Muriuki in an interview on Wednesday.
Mr Mutoro of KARA said City Hall needed to tell residents how it has been spending parking fees collected in previous years before increasing the rates.
“Mr Mudavadi (the Local Government minister) should shelve this proposal, which will only serve to line pockets of individuals who print parallel parking receipts,” said Mr Mutoro.
He said the Karen Lang’ata Residents Association (KLRA), had in 1999 succeeded in stopping the city council from charging land rates on residents of the two estates after it argued in court that the civic body did not maintain audited books of accounts.
The court ruled that residents of the two estates, who were complaining of receiving poor services, deposit money in an escrow account.
Besides the parking charges, Nairobi residents are forced to pay between Sh20 and Sh50 to parking boys every day to guarantee the security of their vehicles.
Other are forced to park their vehicles in private parking garages where they pay double the city council charges.
Mr Kisia, however, maintains that security of vehicles is not the responsibility of the city council but the police.
“The contract between City Hall and the motorist is the parking space only,” said Mr Kisia. City Hall is estimated to have about 12,000 employees most of who perform manual tasks such as sweeping the streets, trimming the lawns and guarding.
This skewed staffing has earned City Hall the dubious distinction of maintaining a bloated workforce with lacklustre service delivery.
The council has also regularly featured in the list of Kenya’s most corrupt institutions.
Businesspeople say corruption remains a major obstacle to doing business in the city, besides poor infrastructure.
With an annual salaries burden of about Sh7.2 billion against a revenue base of Sh10 billion from land rates, business permits and parking fees, salaries take close to 72 per cent of City Hall’s total expenditure.
Mr Mutoro said City Hall should partner with private investors to put up more parking spaces in the city instead of merely rushing to make life difficult for motorists through high fees.
“Instead of charging more to justify their payroll, the council should have created more parking spaces,” said Mr Mutoro, adding that one way of increasing parking spots is to revoke licenses of businesses operating at basements of city centre buildings meant for parking.
Though the council has held that private motorists contribute to congestion in the city centre by parking their cars for full days, Mr Ochieng of the Consumer Federation of Kenya said the poor public transport network did not give city residents a reliable alternative means of transport.
Consumer organizations should be given a chance to be part of the decision making process at City Hall, he said.
The NCBDA chairman said charging motorists who come to the CBD for only a few hours at a full day’s rate locks out business opportunities in the city centre.
He urged the council should privatise the parking services in order to attract private capital to finance modernization of the city’s parking system.
“The council should by this time have electronic parking meters which charge people by the hour,” said Mr Muriuki.
Such electronic meters already exist at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and shopping malls such as the Sarit Centre.
Mr Muriuki said they would offer a solution to the corruption problem as they would eliminate handling of cash by attendants, and cut down the wage bill as less workers would be required to supervise parking in the city.