Uganda’s decentralisation policy misunderstood
Publish Date: May 29, 2014
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By Pascal Odoch
Uganda’s development strides since 1986 have been recounted several times; from strong and sustained economic stability and real growth averaging above 6% per annum for two decades to phenomenal reduction in income poverty from 56.4% nationally in 1992 to 19.7% in 2013.

Obviously, Uganda has already met and surpassed the Millennium Development Goal - 1 target of halving the proportion of the population living in extreme poverty, by 2015.

Between 1992 and 1998 Uganda delivered an extraordinary set of reforms under the World Bank sponsored Structural Adjustment Programmes.

Clearly, the arrays of reforms were championed by a very capable Ministry of Finance under the leadership of National Resistance Movement-led administration headed by President Yoweri Museveni himself. A much more far reaching reform during this period was Decentralisation Policy.

Enacted in 1992, Decentralisation Statute devolved several powers from the Centre to Local Governments. The Local Government Act further cemented local governments as bodies corporate; implying they can enter into contracts and partnerships, including investment ventures, with individuals or other corporate bodies, including sister local governments.
Two decades later, the devolved planning, administrative, political, financial powers have generated mixed results; in some cases central government has recalled some devolved powers.

Community residents have not grasped the fact that the devolved powers were meant to efficiently facilitate delivery of quality services for their own good. Instead, sub-county technocrats have found themselves forging list of villagers meant to have attended participatory parish planning meetings because they don’t have funds to pay and feed the people who converge under a mango tree.

Mobilising the population for discussing their own development efforts has become challenging because they have misunderstood decentralisation; Duty Bearers fear calling community meetings as they don’t have “facilitation money” to pay them!

Why would one pay transport refund to a villager who has travelled one or two kilometers to a meeting called for seeking ways to improve his or her own household sorry state?

A few weeks ago, one of the longest-serving President Museveni’s Cabinet Ministers who at one time served as Local Government Minister, Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere (now a Cabinet Minister in Office of the Prime Minister) called me that he was in Padyere County, Nebbi district, to preside over rolling-out of the Barazas.

The Barazas is an all-inclusive public dialogue where Duty Bearers and Rights Holders engage, assess progress, and make decisions on socio-economic and political development in their jurisdictions.

Prof. Kabwegyere entourage to Padyere County was simply a follow-up on performance of devolved powers implemented by Duty Bearers to the people on whose behalf they are hired to deliver the public services. Decentralisation has blinded the local government Duty Bearers who will do anything in their powers to stay afloat.

In one local government in Northern Uganda, a primary school classroom block has become a lodge for flea market vendors who pay fees to sub-counties for sleeping in and storing their merchandise in the rooms; some of these markets last up 2-3 days. And in the morning primary school pupils are confronted with the reality of stepping on condoms and empty waragi sachets all in the name of local revenue mobilisation! 

The civic competence level of rural population cannot match smarter university graduates at these local governments.

Government should strengthen civic competence of Rights Holders so that they can meaningfully engage the sophisticated Duty Bearers and hopefully reverse the defeatist “tusaba gavumenti etuyambe” in Luganda meaning “We ask Government to help us” an ironic plea from the very people to whom President Museveni has devolved virtually all the Central Government powers.

The writer: PhD., Visiting Professor, University of Lusaka. Email: podoch@parliament.go.ug

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