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Can Uganda afford 200 districts?

By Vision Reporter

Added 23rd October 2009 03:00 AM

LAST Tuesday, the NRM caucus approved 14 new districts, which, if passed by Parliament, will bring the total to 95. Seven will be operational this financial year and the remaining seven, in the next financial year.

LAST Tuesday, the NRM caucus approved 14 new districts, which, if passed by Parliament, will bring the total to 95. Seven will be operational this financial year and the remaining seven, in the next financial year.

By Joshua Kato

LAST Tuesday, the NRM caucus approved 14 new districts, which, if passed by Parliament, will bring the total to 95. Seven will be operational this financial year and the remaining seven, in the next financial year.

The increase is expected to raise the issue of the viability of small entity districts. But the Minister for the Presidency, Beatrice Wabudeya, said during the Independence Day celebrations in Bukedea district that even small districts can be successful. “Look at Bukedea. It is an example of how small districts can work,” she argued.

Peter Mutuluza, the MP for Mawokota county, said in July that every county in Uganda should be declared a district. The lawmaker argued that if this was done, it would stop the unnecessary agitation for districts. If his proposal goes through, the country will have at least 200 districts in the near future.

This will not be unprecedented, since in Kenya and Ghana, every ‘county’ is a district. For projection purposes, at the moment, at least 50 of the 94 districts are single county entities. This means that it is the remaining 44 that would be divided further.

The burden

Proponents of the creation of new districts say it brings services nearer to the people, while those against it argue that it increases the burden on the public administration purse. Until 2000, Uganda had only 45 districts. That year, 11 new ones were approved, bringing the total to 56. Over 25 new districts have been created in the last three years. Fourteen districts became operational in July 2005 and another 11 a year later. Until then, Uganda had 57 districts only. With 14 new ones added, the number will rise to 95.

In the last four years, 39 new districts have been created. This means 39 new Women MPs, 39 new resident district commissioners (RDC), 39 new LC5 chairpersons, 39 district internal security officers and over 100 civil servants recruited for each of the districts.

In financial terms, none of the new districts created between 2005 and 2009 has got the capacity to raise at least 10% of their budgets through local revenue. This means 90% of their funding comes from the Central Government. Since every LC5 chairperson earns sh2m per month, the Government is spending an additional sh78m on their salaries salaries alone, or at least sh1.4bn per year!

Every RDC is paid sh1.2m per month, this is an additional sh60m per month, or sh720m per year. Since MPs earn an average sh14.5m per month, that puts their salary value at sh565.5m per month or sh6.786b a year.

If 100 civil servants in each of the districts earn an average cost sh500,000 per month, that is sh50m per district monthly or sh600m a year and 23.4b in the 39 new districts. And if you factor in the expenses of constructing new office blocks that cost an average sh600m, buying new vehicles at an average of sh200m for each of the districts, furniture and computers, it makes the expenses higher. Overall, 90% of all funds sent to these districts every year are spent on salaries of staff.

Under the decentralisation system, a district has powers to receive funds directly from the central government, create a budget and decide how to spend the available resources.

Who starts a district?

The petition to start a district must come from the grassroots. It is then debated by the mother district council. If approved, the petition is taken before Parliament for further debate, before an area is declared a district.

In most cases, however, long before a formal petition is made, a visit by the President in an area and verbal requests at a rally can instigate the creation of a new district.

In Buikwe for example, President Yoweri Museveni declared it a district during the MP bye-elections in April 2007. “Since it is the wish of the population, you should have the district,” he said. He declared Budiope a district during the Kamuli LC5 bye-elections and Luuka, during a tour of the Busoga region early this year.

In earlier cases, Nakaseke and Tororo residents used weird methods to demand for the districts. In Nakaseke, residents dug up skulls of people who died in the bush war and paraded them in the town. In Tororo, some residents ate live rats at a presidential rally, which yielded the proposal for Kisoko and Mukujju districts. However, the case is still under review.

Distance

Distance from the district headquarters is also a genuine reason for an area to be declared a district. For example, Nakaseke was split off Luwero, because transport to Luwero district headquarters was a problem.

Buvuma is using this criteria to get off Mukono district. “We are detached from the mainland, Mukono district,” said the area MP William Nsubuga. He explained that the islands are forgotten in service delivery most of the time. Budiope in Kamuli, Kagadi in Kibaale, Buhweju in Bushenyi and Luuka in Iganga, have all presented a similar case. However, Buhweju was left out of the new districts list and its MP, Deus Bikwasize is still pursuing the matter.

Ethnicity

Districts are also split to cater for ethnic needs. Nakaseke was cut off Luwero to cater for the mainly cattle keeping area of Ngoma; Buliisa was cut off Masindi to cater for the mainly Bagungu concentrated along Lake Albert, while Kaberamaido was cut from Soroti to cater for the Kumam.

Right from the colonial times, administrative areas were demarcated along tribal boundaries. Even later, due to further regional ethnicities, districts were subsequently divided through the years. For example, Kasese (Bakonzo and Bamba) from Tooro. In Karamoja, there is Kotido (Jie), Nakapiripirit (Pian and Chekwi), Moroto (Matheniko and Bokora), Kaboong (Dodoth, Ike, Nyangera) and Amudat (Pokot).

Population

A large population is also reason to create a new district. Indeed, the number of people in the districts has been growing through the years and only reduced after new districts were created. In 1959, for example, the average population per district was 443,000. At the time, the country had only 16 districts. By 1971, the average population per district had grown to around 526,853. The country had only 19 districts.

The average dropped to 368,115 in 1979 when the districts were increased to 33. By 1994, when the country had 39 districts, the average was at 513,412. In 2005, when the districts rose to 69, the average was 402,843. It further dropped to 383,071 in 2006 when the districts became 79. It is expected to drop further if the 14 new districts become operational in 2010.

Conflicts

However, some new districts have brought with them new conflicts over the location of headquarters. For example, although Nakaseke district became operational in 2005, and the headquarters was constructed at Butalangu, there is still agitation to locate the centre in Nakaseke town, near the hospital. In Maracha/Terego, conflicts over the location of the headquarters have been raging for the past three years, paralysing work in the district. Others in conflict, are Lamwo, Ntoroko and Amudat.

Services

But do new districts improve service delivery? According to the Ministry of Local Government annual assessment of district performance, there is evidence that older districts out perform new ones in the short run. For example, in the 2006/07 assessment, 81.5% of the old districts met the minimum performance conditions, compared to 66.7% of districts created after 2000.

But the poor performance is blamed on the transition from ‘marginalisation’ under the old district to the new ones. On average, it may take nine years for a new district to realise the benefits of its change. Created in 1999, Kanungu district is one of them. The district was recently hailed as one of the best performers in the country. “When we got the district we had nothing, but now, we have been able to change all this,” says the Kanungu LC5 chairperson, Josephine Kasya.

Another example is Kaberamaido . When it had just been cut off Soroti in 2001, performance in the subsequent Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) dropped further than that of Soroti. However, by 2006, Kaberamaido was performing better than Soroti in the exams. Bugiri’s PLE performance also improved after it was cut off from Iganga.

Can Uganda afford 200 districts?

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