By Jamidah Namuyanja
This week, the Uganda Local Governments Association (ULGA) will be celebrating 20 years of service to local governments under the Decentralisation Policy.
Amid the pomp and fanfare, a number of issues remain unresolved; the changes within the policy over the years and their implications on local government service delivery.
Decentralisation was introduced in 1993 and as per the recommendations of the Mahmood Mamdani Commission of 1987; this was believed to be the best alternative for a country that was hungry for an improved quality of life for its citizenry.
As is the trend in this country, the policy came with a lot of promises to the ordinary Ugandan such as closer and better services, jobs and improved infrastructure. For a while, things seemed to be rolling according to design but fast forward to a few years later and the changes came swooping in.
Graduated tax, which was the lifeline of every district, was scrapped only to be replaced with the non-productive local hotel tax and local service tax, which have, until now, failed to live up to their billing.
The many amendments notwithstanding, the removal of the major resource base from local governments created a dependency syndrome on the central government for conditional and un-conditional grants, a situation that has led to the downward spiral of service delivery countrywide.
Everything from staffing, infrastructure such as roads, schools and health centres is now operating at less than 60%. Press reports last week indicated that districts such as Ntungamo are currently operating with less than 40% staffing and the situation could be worse in others.
On July 30, 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law the Division of Revenue Act, 2014 raising revenue allocations to County Governments to 43% of the national budget from the previous minimum threshold of 15%. Uganda on the other hand still maintains a meager 15% as funding for local governments despite having devolved the bulk of service delivery to them.
The Joint Annual Review of Decentralisation held in February 2014 recommended an increase to at least 38% of the national budget if there is to be any meaningful service delivery to the grassroots.
As the process for the amendments to the Local Government Act takes form, it would do us well as a country to review the implementation of the policy to-date. Central Government, Parliament and all concerned stakeholders need to ask themselves some hard questions; after 20 years, has decentralisation delivered on its promise to the population? Is it still relevant as a policy? Should we continue to expect 100% services from local governments that receive only 15% of the national budget?
ULGA will of course continue to advocate for better policies for its members and that is why this year’s annual general meeting, apart from commemorating 20 years, will look at embracing local economic development as enshrined in the National Development Plan and the Local Government Sector Strategic Plan (LGSSP 2013-2023) to ensure that local governments together with the private sector form meaningful partnerships to improve their resource envelope for better services to the community.
As we sit at the dinner table come August 7, 2014 in Jinja and as local leaders deliberate on the way forward for their Association at the 20th AGM on August 8, 2014, you can rest assured that local economic development will take centre stage because, as it turns out, we need new alternatives in order to deliver on the promises of decentralisation!
The writer is the Ag. Director for Communications and Public Relations at Uganda Local Governments Association (ULGA)