Service delivery a challenge
By Gilbert Kidimu
Recent swearing-in ceremonies of newly-elected local councillors were, for some, a joy to watch as the local leaders fumbled through their lines.
One Facebook post, ridiculing their academic credentials, suggested that next time they should take oath in their local languages. But a USAID report on local governments is panning more than the local leaders' imperfect English.
The report cites lack of academic qualifications, poor financing and poor accountability procedures as some of the hindrances to service delivery at the local government level. The Local Government Policy Study was carried out in 25 districts with support from the USAID/GAPP project with the aim of enhancing participation, financing, accountability and service delivery in local governments.
The report notes that most councillors lack academic qualifications and recommends an Ordinary Level Certificate of education as a requirement for them. It also recommends that the technical staff at sub-county level be university graduates. It suggests that local governments should be involved in the review of the financing that is allocated in each financial year.
The report notes that lack of accountability is not only about financial resources but also attitude to work, behaviour and misreporting. It further notes that lack of accountability is due to low remuneration, lack of health insurance, expensive education and lack of pension for the local leaders.
It also cites high dependency, a poor punitive environment and lifestyles that reward mischief, as factors contributing to accountability challenges. The report recommends an improved grant system to achieve efficiency and that sector investments be lumped under one accountability mechanism and not broken down, as is the case with Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF), Peace Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP), as well as the Teso, Bunyoro, Northern Uganda and Karamoja State Ministries.
The office of the Inspector General of Government (IGG) should be decentralised and linked strongly to regional local government public accounts committees, suggests the report. Audits must be accompanied by actual visits, especially for physical structures like roads, staff houses and water points, among others, the report recommends.
It concludes that service delivery needs to focus on quality and not just quantities. Decentralisation, which may be defined as the transfer of authority from the Central Government to local governments, was introduced 22 years ago.
It involves transfer of functions, powers, competence, skills, means and resources. State minister for local government, Jennifer Namuyangu, states that local governments cannot fully exercise their powers, as they grapple with dwindling resources amid increasing demands, limited capacity and inhibiting policies.
"The contribution of the decentralised local governance system to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Uganda Vision 2040 is undeniable," she says, adding: "It is, therefore, paramount that local governments are given commensurate resources and an enabling legal, policy and regulatory environment to fully exercise their powers if Uganda is to achieve the aspired middle class status."
The success story
The challenges notwithstanding, Namuyangu says the decentralisation process, which is a key vehicle for ensuring good governance, improved service delivery and stimulating local economic development, is exercised through the devolution of planning, budgeting, administrative, judicial and legislative powers to democratically elected local councils.
"At present, Uganda boasts a significantly mature Decentralisation Policy that has evolved from an administrative structure to a conduit of socio-economic development and wealth creation," she states.
"Local governments have successfully taken charge of field activities of decentralised services in key social sectors such as health, education, water, transport and agriculture. As a result, Uganda's decentralisation has remained a model and continues to attract international recognition."
According to Paul Okot, the commissioner for district administration, decentralisation has empowered people to elect leaders at different levels and brought services nearer to them. He says before decentralisation, a cheque was signed at the ministry and sometimes it expired before it reached the district.
"The bulk of Government plans are implemented at local level, for example UPE, women's empowerment and the national identity card exercise. "It has proved a more effective way of getting things done. Roads in districts such as Budaka, and Apac are better than national roads."
Lately, emphasis has been placed on reorienting local governments from centres of service delivery to promoting local development. They look at their potential to attract foreign investors so that they create employment and collect taxes.
"Some LGs are doing very well. For example, one district identified land and attracted Delight Uganda. Another, Mukono, attracted Chinese investors, and more Chinese have set up fish ponds in Masaka, as well as a lorry park in Busia." Local governments also provide employment.
How local governments work
Okot says decentralisation aims at addressing people's needs at the grassroots. The measures one can use to identify levels of achievement are: efficiency, economy, effectiveness and accountability.
The Central Government carries out support supervision every quarter to catch up on how policies and programmes are being implemented. It also does routine inspection in case a project is taking too long to be completed.
Resident district commissioners represent the Central Government, while the IGG comes in, in case of corruption allegations. Okot explains that the LC system is a consultative forum for local decision making. Elected chairpersons form executive committees and propose policies for legislative bodies of the council, which are formed by the people's representatives.
The decisions are implemented by the civil service staff. "The Ministry of Local Government is responsible for the guidance, inspection, monitoring and coordination of local governments," explains Okot.
"Line ministries inspect, monitor, supervise and offer technical advice and training to local governments, to ensure the implementation of national policies and adherence to performance standards." Local governments formulate, approve and execute their budgets provided the budgets are balanced.
In addition, they have to accord National Priority Programme Areas preferential budget outlays. and to administer justice through local council courts that handle matters such as exceeding land boundaries, or animals destroying gardens.
Annual assessment of local governments is done, for example, financial accounts are submitted for audit every year. Okot says emphasis is now directed at zero tolerance to corruption, with a focus on education, health and feeder roads.
Decentralised planning is meant to empower local governments, identify their priorities and to enable localised responses to address them, in line with the National Development Plan and Vision 2040.