Will the Local Economic Development (LED) policy turn around decentralization?
By David Lumu
Experts have warned that if the conceptual framework of the newly-launched Local Economic Development (LED) policy in Uganda is not well-refined within the target communities, Government would face an uphill task implementing the policy.
Dr. Gerald Karyeija, the Dean of the School of Management at the Uganda Management Institute (UMI) tells New Vision that for the policy to work out, Government must assess why the original decentralization policy introduced in 1992 has not completely tackled poverty and also critically assessed the gaps that the new policy seeks to address.
“Why are we having LED at this time? What will it deliver that decentralization failed to deliver? Is it focused on issues? Does it fit in the current decentralization set-up when we are having debates of regional tier and recentralization? Does it simultaneously reduce poverty and improve economic growth? We have seen tremendous economic growth in this country but it doesn’t proportionally reduce poverty,” says Karyeija.
Yet on the other hand, the minister for local government Adolf Mwesige argues that the new policy, which was launched in February, has been crafted with a view of making local governments engines of economic growth that has a trickledown effect to local people.
The economic growth of Uganda is 7% but experts argue that it doesn’t trickle down to the local people.
Local government minister Adolf Mwesige (right)
To turn this imbalance around, Mwesige tells New Vision that Government designed the LED policy with a view of making local governments, private sector and communities work together in “managing resources at the local level and also generate them, lure investors and find solutions for the improvement of the local communities without necessarily waiting for the central government to take the lead.”
However, Karyeija points at what he calls “the conspicuous” miss-out of the LED policy in the budget as one of the indications that Government is not giving enough room for the new policy, which he says can turnaround the rural poor if handled properly.
“The question is whether we are we ready for this LED. LED was conspicuously denied prominence in the recent budget and state of the nation address; what does this mean? Are politicians ready to make LED work or fail? Which people are going to implement this project or are we going to bring in soldiers to ensure that this policy works?”
This is the point Mwesige dismisses, arguing that LED has been piloted in eleven districts since February and the results are “enormous” and that people should endeavor to talk less and work more.
“The policy is not just at the concept level. We have started piloting it in the rural parts of Uganda. In our assessment, the level of people living below the poverty line in these eleven districts has declined from 24% to 19%. Our goal is to change our society from peasantry to prosperity,” he says.
The local government minister says that over 200,000 people in the eleven districts have benefited, 8,000 acres of land in Kitgum and Lamwo have been opened up for simsim (sesame) and cotton growing among other things that local communities are doing under the LED policy that he says would be spread to other districts in the country next year.
8,000 acres of land in Kitgum and Lamwo have been opened up for simsim (sesame) and cotton growing
Speaking on whether LED is the new decentralization or it would completely displace decentralization, Eng. Paul Kasule, a commissioner in the ministry of local government, who designed the policy, explains that the policy is part of decentralization but seeks to modify it.
“When you are doing things at the central and local government level, the local people are far away. We thought that over the years after all these achievements of decentralization, we needed another formula of reducing poverty as fast as we intended. We realized that most of our local government bureaucrats are very good at receiving money, issuing it out and waiting for more resources.”
Kasule says that LED was propped up by Government as a new mechanism to improve the way social services are delivered.
“We have realized that giving people local services such as road, schools, electricity is not enough to get them out of poverty. Households need work to do and that is why this idea of LED came in. However, the policy itself is part of the decentralization policy.
“We are not saying that decentralization has failed or it is not working, we are just modifying the decentralization policy,” he clarifies.
Gov't goal is to change the local society from peasantry to prosperity
On his part, Prof. William Kaberuka of Makerere University Business School (MUBS) tells New Vision that LED is a concept that seeks to involve the majority poor in the development exercise.
He however cautions Government to ensure that when the economy grows, the people feel it and not to be just told during budget day that the economy has grown.
Under decentralization, both the district council and the lower-level local government units have corporate status with perpetual succession and a common seal, and they have independent legal personality in the sense that they can sue and be sued in their corporate name.
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Assessing govt’s new decentralization approach