- In December 2012, City warns billboard owners giving them 6 months to comply with 2012 regulations
- New law comes into force on 17th October 2016 limiting the types of billboards allowed in Kigali
- One group of advertisers lose court battle to stop the City of Kigali from issuing tender
- Lack of unity as some big players like Akagera Business Group and Alliance Media participate in tender
- After losing the court battle, the dissenters appeal to RPPA & PSF in desperate attempt to stop the tender and the implementation of the 2016 by-law on advertising in Kigali
There has been a lot of media coverage of the dispute pitting the City of Kigali authorities against owners of billboards within the city with varying media reports.
The majority of the reporting only presented small parts of the story while some appear to lack knowledge of its background thereby giving an incomplete or even an inaccurate account of the cause and history of the wrangle over the removal of billboards in Kigali.
How it all started
According to the city authorities, the existing billboards had become public nuisance, caused visual pollution and were a potential source of accidents. They lacked homogeneity (with different size billboards placed in the same location or same road); they obstructed vision and were a source of distraction for road users; some of them were a risk to people and property because they were placed too close to roads and other busy areas like markets and taxi parks and lack of regulation of billboard content meant that “some contents of the billboard maybe objectionable due to our cultural and historical backgrounds.
City authorities wanted to bring order and sanity to the erection and maintenance of billboards. They wanted the outdoor advertising harmonized and regulated. They wanted to ensure that outdoor advertising in the city complimented and even enhanced the “Brand Rwanda.
For easy regulation, the city wanted to draw on the model for management public transport by RURA and sign contracts private operators to install and manage outdoor advertising billboards in the City. That would make it easy for city authorities to implement the law and enforce compliance.
That put the city authorities on a collision course with some of the players in the advertising market who saw any form of regulation as not just an interference but a real threat to their lucrative business.
Advertisement Rules in the Kigali City
Instructions N° 05/12 of 28/10/2012 of the Kigali City Council relating to advertisement rules in the Kigali City had been in force since publication in the Official Gazette n° 11 of 18/03/2013.
However according to authorities at the City of Kigali, outdoor advertising companies, most of whom are members of the Rwanda Outdoor Advertising Association (ROAA), failed to comply with those regulations. They failed to modify or upgrade their existing billboards to make them compliant and continued to erect more in contravention of the bye-laws.
The law was updated by Instructions N° 01/09 of 15/09/2016 of the Kigali City Council reviewing Instructions n° 05/12 of 28/10/2012 of the Kigali City Council relating to advertisement rules in the Kigali City putting more emphasis on the safety of roads and road users, the image of the city, and giving Kigali City authorities more powers of regulation over outdoor advertising billboards.
The most notable changes in the two by-laws prove this point to the 2016 by-law limits outdoor billboards to just three types; Electronic/Digital billboards, Tri-vision billboards and Directional/Indication Billboards. It effectively phasing out the most common large flexi-billboards.
It also points to article 22 of the 2016 by-law requires that “Any billboard implanted must have insurance against accident.
Article 20 of the 2016 by-law also requires any message to be submitted to the City of Kigali for prior approval before it can be put on a panel
More significantly, perhaps, article 21 of the 2016 by-law which moves the right to issue permission to advertise in the City from the District to the City authorities and it also requires submission of a written request together with structural design and description of materials to be used;
Crucially, article 21 gives the City of Kigali “the right to issue a tender notice for the installation of billboards and only successful bidders will be allowed to install billboards, and institutions who need advertising services shall hire them from the successful bidders”.
The Public Tender and Failed Law Suit
It appears the City of Kigali had initially invited bidders to tender no 048/15-16/C/OCB/OB/COK for Supply and Installation of Outdoor Advertisement Billboards but was opposed by a group of seven companies arguing that according to the 2012 law on advertising in Kigali, the city authorities did not have the powers to award the tender!
This must have prompted the Council of the City of Kigali to set about revising the law.
Instructions N° 01/09 of 15/09/2016 of the Kigali City Council reviewing Instructions n° 05/12 of 28/10/2012 of the Kigali City Council relating to advertisement rules in the Kigali City was published in the Official Gazette n° 42 of 17/10/2016. The new law gave the authorities the “powers to install and manage its own billboards or award a tender to a private operator to manage them”!
Hence the City of Kigali issued notice for tender number 008/16-17/OS/OCB/OB/ COK for the Installation and management of outdoor advertisement billboards.
However, the tender was immediately challenged by a group of seven companies, represented by M. Abayo Law firm, challenging the legality of the tendering process. The seven companies are: Aflink Advertising Ltd; Mrd Outdoor World ltd; Pan African Advertising ltd; Data pro Graphix and Fabrications Systems ltd; Irony Media and Communications ltd; Rwanda Events Management ltd; and Ur Multi Business Ltd.
On 28th October 2016, four days after the deadline for submission of the tender, the above group wrote to the Mayor of the City of Kigali copying various authorities, including the Minister of Local Government, the CEO of Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the CEO of Rwanda Governance Board (RGB).
They argued that the City of Kigali did not legally have the right to issue notice and award the tender. They demanded immediate cancellation of the tender number 008/16-17/OS/OCB/OB/ COK allegedly because the City of Kigali did not have the authority to issue notice for, and award, the mentioned tender.
With that letter, and by copying the said authorities, the group sought to mobilize political support to exert pressure on the city of Kigali to abandon a valid tender process conducted legally in accordance with the laws regulating public procurement!
Moreover, they took the City of Kigali to court seeking an injunction to stop the tender process.
They lost the case with court ruling in favor of the City of Kigali!
Bizarre Appeal to RPPA
What followed the loss in court hinted at either desperation or a lack of knowledge of the law and protocol or both!
Following clearance by the court, the City of Kigali pressed ahead with the tender process. The CoK Tender Committee met in session on 08th November 2016 to evaluate the bids submitted and provision notification letters were subsequently sent to all companies that had participated in the tender.
On November 15, four days after the date of provision tender notifications letters, Aflink Rwanda Ltd, owned by one Paul Bakuru, appealed to National Independent Review Panel, requesting for a review of the tender number 008/16-17/OS/OCB/OB/ COK in which they did not participate and was already past the evaluation stage!
According to article 40 of the Law N° 05-2013 of 13-02-2013 modifying and completing the Law N° 12-2007 of 27-03-2007 on public procurement.
A prospective bidder or actual bidder may, at any stage of the procurement proceedings and in accordance with this Law or other procurement regulations, apply for a review of any conduct in the procurement proceedings.
An application for review shall not be acceptable unless it identifies a specific act of omission or commission contravening this Law or any other procurement regulations”
Neither Aflink Rwanda Ltd nor Bakuru personally had participated in the tender in question. And, since the tender was already under way and past the submission and evaluation stages, they would not be “prospective bidders”!
Therefore, on what basis did they appeal to the National Independent Review Panel (NIRP)? Moreover, the tender process had already been challenged in court. The court ruled in favor of the City of Kigali, giving them the green light to proceed with the tender process.
PSF dragged into the dispute
Meanwhile, on November 9, Rwanda Outdoor Advertising Association (ROAA) wrote a letter to the Chief Executive Officer of the Private Sector Federation (PSF) requesting for advocacy citing: “among the issues to be discussed is the decision taken by Kigali City Council to put down all billboards and replace them with Digital Billboards effective immediately”
In the letter ROAA purports to be acting “along with its print and suppliers partners in the industry” in “seeking to have a business dialogue” with the PSF.
The ROAA letter clearly had falsehoods and some blatant lies: Firstly, they claim to represent all companies involved in outdoor advertising “along with its print and suppliers partners in the industry”. According to facts this is not true.
Secondly, the letter claims that Kigali City Council took the decision “to put down all billboards and replace them with Digital Billboards effective immediately” This is also false because the law regulating advertising in Kigali came into force on October 17, 2016 giving one month for all non-complying billboards to be removed!
On November 15, the CEO of PSF wrote to the Mayor of Kigali City requesting city authorities to meet with the PSF and ROAA citing “the need to leniently avoid causing loses (sic) to the business operators in this sector towards smooth implementation of Government decision”!
The PSF requested the city authorities “to put on hold this decision on the removal of billboards in the city of Kigali as we wait for the meeting above mentioned”!
Before deciding to intervene, was the PSF aware of the history of this dispute?
Was the PSF aware that the City of Kigali had had discussions regarding advertising in Kigali with members of ROAA since December 2015?
Could the PSF have been overstepping the line by asking the city authorities to stop implementation of the law to hold yet more discussions with people who were only interested in sabotaging the same law?
According to a City of Kigali press statement, the owners of non-complying billboards had been given six months from December 2015 to comply with the law!
Who are ROAA?
According to sources, the City of Kigali introduced the idea of forming an association in order to give a unified voice to the billboard owners and to facilitate dialogue with the city authorities.
According to city sources, a small group of billboard owners immediately united in asking the city authorities to give them regulatory powers. They wanted to have the powers to decide who joined the billboard business. They wanted to ring-fence the advertising business.
Indeed, according a City of Kigali press release of September 2016, the City met members of the Rwanda Outdoor Adverting Association and they agreed to implement the standards with in a two weeks period, sources state that the members of the association acted selectively, and removed only the billboards belonging to non-association members.
A blog by the association in the wake of the dispute with the City of Kigali says that “the body “was founded in September 7, 2016 and “brought together 15 outdoor advertising firms currently operating in Rwanda.
It lists the following companies as it members: Data Pro Graphics & Fabrication Systems Ltd; Pan African Advertising Ltd; Akagera Business Group; Aflink Advertising Ltd; Creativity Beyond; MRD Outdoor World Ltd; Grand Media; Alpha Media; Cides Media; UR Multibusiness Ltd; Alliance Media; Irony Media & Communications Ltd; Select Kalaos; BrandActive; and Rwanda Events Management Ltd.
It is not clear whether Rwanda Outdoor Advertising Association (ROAA) is legally registered with Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) in accordance with the Law N°04/2012 of 17/02/2012 governing the organization and the functioning of national non-governmental organizations.
Does ROOA really represent the collective interest of all businesses engaged in outdoor advertising in Rwanda?
It is clear that they don’t represent all players in the advertising business as some big names are not listed in its membership. EF Outdoor Ltd, BrandSmart, Creative Communications, Touch Media Design, AZ Media Plus, Legacy XP, etc. are among the bigger players that are not members of ROAA!
Moreover, even among those listed as members there appears to be a lot of self-interest and a serious lack of unity.
While the majority of the 15 companies listed as members of ROAA boycotted the city tender for billboards, Akagera Business Group and Alpha Media did submit bids!
Only after the submission date for the tender number 008/16-17/OS/OCB/OB/ COK for the Installation and management of outdoor advertisement billboards (exactly after four days on 28th October 2016), did the seven of the 15 members of ROAA, through M. Abayo law firm, wrote to the mayor of Kigali as that the tender be stopped!
Could it be that they only resorted to challenging the tender process after failing to meet the stringent requirements for bidding? Rwanda Eye established most members of ROAA who own of billboards are not tax compliant and they struggled to meet the requirements for bidding. But this is not surprising since the main cause of the dispute with city authorities was the failure to comply with regulations.
That is what prompted the authorities to revise the regulations to give the city more powers and control.
Even those members of ROAA that participated in the tender were disqualified mostly for failure to provide tax clearance certificates from the three districts making up Kigali City.
In the case of Akagera business group, who failed to get tax clearance from Kicukiro district, this is least surprising with the company already battling Rwanda Revenue Authority battle over a Rwf 1 billion tax dispute according to The East African.
It would be double standards and hypocritical for some members of ROAA to participate in the city tender on billboards only to turn around and oppose it after losing out due to failure to meet the requirements!
Was ROAA formed mainly as a coalition to oppose the City of Kigali’s drive to implement the regulations on billboards in the City?
ROAA cannot claim not to have had dialogue with Kigali City because they were only willing to talk as long as the city authorities bent to their wishes, such as letting the association manage the removal of non-complying billboards and changing the terms of the tender to favor them.
But once the city authorities refused to bend to their selfish interests and demand for self-regulation, they united behind ROOA to fight the implementation of the new regulations.
First they tried to use political pressure to stop the tender by appealing the ministry of local government, RGB and RDB.
Then, they sued the City and lost. After losing in court, they dragged PSF into the dispute and whip up a media storm to mobilize sympathy.