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Why citizens are catalyst to advance local governance

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Added 17th May 2016 10:55 AM

While some await the unveiling of more political wit as that already exhibited by MPs over taxation of their allowances, others, mainly the less empowered, anticipate material benefits from the leaders.

 Why citizens are catalyst to advance local governance

Naomi Asimo is a research officer with ACODE

While some await the unveiling of more political wit as that already exhibited by MPs over taxation of their allowances, others, mainly the less empowered, anticipate material benefits from the leaders.

 
By Naomi Asimo

Uganda transitions into a new political term on July 1, 2016, a tide that beneficiaries within and outside the country are watching keenly with varying and rather high expectations of the new leadership.

While some await the unveiling of more political wit as that already exhibited by MPs over taxation of their allowances, others, mainly the less empowered, anticipate material benefits from the leaders.

Majority, both in rural and urban area, remain in wishful expectation of further transformation in the quality of public services: better education services, improved health services, improved roads to boost local economic development; and more sources of safe drinking water. Such are the expectations laden on the elected leaders some of whom lack relevant experience or professional qualifications to effectively address existing service delivery gaps.

At inception in 2009, ACODE's Local Government Council's Scorecard Initiative (LGCSCI), which involves annual performance assessments of local councils and local government leaders, highlighted low civic consciousness, interest and engagement as core challenges facing Uganda's local governance.

Over the years, findings from this initiative, currently implemented in 30 districts around the country, rightly underscore these as major impediments directly undermining the potential of local governments to provide better quality services. The recent elections confirmed the continued existence of these factors despite achievements registered in some communities.

However, evidence from this social accountability initiative today confirms that with consistent civic engagement, citizens can be an effective catalyst to improve services in local governments. However, they need to be put at the center of development activities and be provided clearly defined platforms and ways through which to participate meaningfully in decision-making processes.

Citizens need to be continuously informed by their leaders on planned and ongoing development activities, processes, available resources, council resolutions, and existing local economic opportunities within their local communities.

They need continuous sensitization on the roles of elected leaders, and their own rights and obligations.

Citizens need to be empowered to conduct social monitoring to ensure efficiency of policies and procedures surrounding the delivery of services within their communities. This will enable citizens to demand for accountability in a realistic manner.

Most importantly, there is need for public education on how citizens can use available information and platforms, which should be user friendly, to demand for their rights and make a meaningful contribution to the development of their communities.

After seven years of implementing ACODE's scorecard assessments, interventions like the Civic Engagement Actions Plans (CEAPs) and the Local Government SMS platform present clear evidence of citizens' potential to bring about change in service delivery when empowered with relevant information and appropriate civic engagement tools.

Using petitions, letters and SMS' to councillors, citizens in Anaka sub-county, Nwoya district; Awach sub-county, Gulu district; Pabbo sub-county, Amuru district were able support their leaders to respond to specific service delivery issues.

There is no doubt that the SMS platform has provided an avenue for citizens in 26 districts across the country to communicate local service delivery needs to their elected leaders in real time, hence bridging the communication and accountability gap between the two.

Councillors have large constituencies, both in population and geographical size, without correlated financial support. Given the apparent imbalance between community needs and available resources citizens should be their eyes on the ground to identify pressing community needs.

New leaders should ride on this support; build on existing political capital and harness strategies that have worked for more focused planning and maximum resource utilization. Citizens can then have a basis to hold their representatives accountable on their mandate.

The writer is a research officer with ACODE

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