By Ocord M. Otile, researcher
At its inception, the concept of transfer of power to lower levels of government under the public sector reform on decentralisation raised hope for improved services, as was its objective. The types of decentralisation included political decentralisation and fi scal decentralisation, which re-defined how local governments should fund their budgets and mobilise financial resources.
The last one was administrative decentralisation, which focused on implementation of lawful decisions by a local government council.
Since the adoption of decentralisation in 1993, the performance by the Government on the service delivery front has not been impressive, in my opinion, particularly in urban councils and yet about 90% of the members of councils in local governments are leaders who subscribe to the ruling National Resistance Movement.
The fact that urban councils are given autonomy over their financial and planning matters in relation to district councils does not help matters with regard to better delivery of public services under the decentralisation policy (Local Governments Act CAP. 243; Section 79).
Whereas sub-county councils are required to remit 35% of revenue collected to the district council, urban local councils on the other hand enjoy autonomy, even though their plans have to be incorporated in the district plan. This provision in the Act, in my opinion, has given urban councils a sense of being more powerful than the district councils who find it hard to oversee the implementation of lawful council decisions within municipalities and town councils.
With all the revenue sources, urban councils have at their disposal, the level of service delivery is wanting in most municipalities; characterized by the poor state of roads, irregular garbage and waste management and lack of street lighting, among others. Even though they have the power to levy taxes, many local governments in Uganda rely on central government transfers, usually over 95%, to fund their budgets, with locally generated revenue contributing a very small percentage.
According to a report by the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) on the Local Government Council Scorecard assessment for the financial year 2016/2017, local governments are constrained by inadequate revenue generation, which limits their discretion and flexibility to address service delivery gaps at the local arena.
A glance at the recent funding towards infrastructural development under the World
Bank project dubbed Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development, further demonstrates how financial autonomy for urban local councils is an encumbrance to effective decentralisation.
Jinja municipality, for instance, like other major municipalities, including Gulu, Lira and Arua, has had access to these funds.
While other municipalities have made progress with works on most of their roads, Jinja seems to be stuck with a contractor who, after a year, is not showing signs of concluding works on the only street being worked on (Main Street).
I, therefore, recommend an amendment on Section 79 of the Local Governments Act and propose that urban councils remit to the district council at least 25% of the local revenue collected.
The writer is a researcher at ACODE