Cabinet recently approved a comprehensive National Community Development Policy, 2015.
By Okodan Akwap
Cabinet recently approved a comprehensive National Community Development Policy, 2015, to guide on identification of inclusive projects in communities to improve citizen participation in Uganda’s development process.
This new policy has the potential, if well implemented, to redeem the failures of the Decentralisation Policy, 1992, which was operationalised by the Local Governments Act, 1997.
The Local Governments Act, 1997 was crafted to amend, consolidate and streamline the existing law on local governments in line with the 1995 Constitution to give effect to the decentralisation of functions, powers and services from the central government down to local communities.
It was an excellent law that, however, gradually lost direction .Study after study revealed findings that should have warned the government to stay the course of decentralisation, all in vain.
Government lurched from one misstep of implementation to another. To top it off, it erected tall barriers along the way. Quick examples include the hurried creation of districts, from 39 when the foundation for the Decentralisation Policy was being laid to 112, a threefold increase! Then in the 2005/06 Budget Speech, Government hurriedly announced the abolition of graduated tax.
The combined impact of these missteps and barriers plus the delegated burden to run costly programmes, such as in education and agriculture, rapidly eroded local governments’ capacity to finance and deliver services to communities.
Thus, the notion of empowering citizens to make decisions based on local circumstances leading to levels of control and ownership of implementable programmes remained just that – a notion.
A 2010 study funded by the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation covering the seven districts of Arua, Gulu, Kasese, Mbarara, Masaka, Mbale and Soroti reported that respondents overwhelmingly complained of not being consulted on development processes and projects in their areas.
In Mbarara, for example, respondents were quoted as saying: “People just know projects are done though they cannot tell how they were conceived.”
This time round, let people have ownership of development processes and projects in their areas as promised in the new policy that, “Communities in Uganda shall be playing a greater role in designing programmes for their infrastructure, health, education and agri-business needs.”
Our policymakers and planners should conceptualise a framework that meaningfully links people to decision-making processes affecting their communities.
It would not hurt to seek guidance in the “CLEAR Model” developed by a number of scholars in the UK in 2009.
This model has five elements. The first one is “Can do”, meaning that it is important to know about the resources and knowledge that can make people to effectively participate in development activities in their communities.
Secondly, the “Like to” element should point to the fact that people have a sense of attachment that reinforces their participation. For instance, many of our people now engaged in subsistence agriculture would have a natural inclination toward value-adding agro-processing projects.
“Enabled to” is the third element. If the government is serious about recapitalising Uganda Development Bank to the tune of Sh3 trillion as reported in the local press, we can make real progress in utilising domestic resources to enable our people participate in development projects.
The fourth element is “Asked to”. This is about mobilisation. The new policy promises that, “Mass sensitisation of communities and other stakeholders will be undertaken to ensure that the new policy translates into deliverables that reduce poverty levels further, and ensure rapid national development and modernisation.”
Lastly is “Responded to”. Government must listen to the views of the people and respond to them in a manner that enables them to make decisions about affairs affecting their communities.
Government is just one of the actors in the governance of a country. If we are to achieve Uganda’s National Vision 2040, to which the new policy is aligned, it is critical to bring on board all other actors, including individuals in the remotest corner of our country, to engage in accelerated development processes and projects.
The writer is a lecturer at Kampala International University
Communities must have ownership of dev''t processes, projects