By Moses Nuwagaba
On 10th August 2014 national celebrations for the Africa day of decentralization and local development were held here in Kabale under the theme; “developmental local governments, my responsibility”.
While we were making preparations for a successful function, I also took time off to analyze fundamental pillars on which Uganda’s 1997 decentralization policy was meant to thrive, to establish existing gaps within our contemporary model and to reflect on what would be appropriate rejoinders we need to improve its performance.
For starters, decentralization means redistribution and dispensing of government functions and powers away from the central authority. For Uganda, in particular, the districts were meant to be quasi-independent with power to initiate policy, plan, budget, collect revenue and to render services to the people. They however remained subordinate to central government.
The first seventeen years of this policy have registered innumerable achievements for Ugandans including: strengthening democracy of electing leaders through popular vote; involvement of councilors and other people’s representatives in planning, finance sourcing and management of certain public services like district roads, water; and in construction of markets, health facilities, schools, etc. There is a lot however that needs to be done to deepen political, fiscal and administrative decentralization.
On local democracy, one of the cardinal pillars on which this policy was meant to build and thrive was the people. It’s now well over ten years, the latter have not elected their LCI leaders. The existing LCIs may be legally occupying offices but, for people to fully submit to their authority, they must renew their legitimacy.
This anomaly, when assessed at a single village level, looks minor but now that it is the phenomenon in over 60,000 villages of Uganda, service delivery and accountability increasingly get paralyzed. Remember, local village chiefs who would provide a fallback position in case of the need to enforce security and to implement government policies no longer exist.
Also, government policy entitles LCIs to 25% of the local revenue collected by their respective districts. This practice is long abandoned. This revenue component has, instead, become pocket money for district and sub county authorities who continue to retain it in the name of co-funding, co-financing, co-etc. Inadvertently thus, this financial alienation means that one of the principal ways in which villages interfaced with government is fully blocked.
My other observation is that there is excessive and exaggerated emphasis, by administrators and politicians, on what districts can obtain from central government. Very little is discussed on how the districts can tap into the country’s private-sector-led and export-oriented economic policies. Many leaders, including MPs are now consumption rather than production preachers.
I think, in addition to economic liberalization, we need a clear integrated approach that budgets for and allocates specific attention and functions to the business community, cooperative movements and the local industry.
Districts should, for example, prioritize use of ICT and other avenues to showcase investment opportunities they harbor. Inevitably their focus will gradually shift from grants and loan seeking to, attracting, foreign direct investment. This approach creates jobs and also progressively augments district revenue.
Lastly, Apostle Paul once said that “man eateth where he worketh” (2Thessalonians 3:10). Our decentralization policy, in its current form, overtaxes districts with hardworking people and rewards those with lazy ones. We no longer have a district experiencing war in Uganda. Why then would we entertain affirmative action in allocation of funds from central government?
In my view, allocation of, say, development grants should be commensurate to revenue collection of individual districts. Save for proceeds from natural resources, this Peter carry Paul approach is outdated.
The writer is the deputy RDC, Kabale