Friday, July 23, 2010

The Demand for decentralization

I detest the level that we have reached especialy in facilitating politically creation of more districts. We have now 100. This is madness and the paper below although academic gives highlights on the challenges of decentralisation

This paper is analyzes decentralization policy and processes in Uganda that helped the democratization course and enhanced development given the previous situation where there was no rule of law and very poor government service delivery. It high lights the historical background to decentralization and analyses the impact of decentralization policy as compared to centralized governance and assesses challenges as well plausible options.

Decentralization is a key policy reform/instrument that was adopted to promote democratization, improve service delivery, as a means of empowering the citizenry, increased people’s participation in planning as well as decision making and promotion of good governance in local development management.

During the colonial period, Uganda had chiefs at village, Parish, sub-county and
County levels who were governing on behalf of the British Colony. After independence in 1962, Uganda has experienced both decentralized and centralized forms of governance. This met the first challenge in 1966 that led to a crisis and thus: “Whereas the 1962 Constitution promulgated at independence provided, under a federal arrangement for devolution of significant powers and functions to the Kingdoms, Urban and District Councils, the 1967 Constitution and the Local Administration Act 1967 on the contrary recentralized all decision-making powers”.

Idi Amin’s military coup of 1971 that facilitated his rule throughout the 1970s was militaristic lacking any form of governance. The regime abolished councils and there was no legislative arm of government, judicial arm was also gagged by the military henchmen of the regime. And any type of rebellion was crushed with military might. The second Obote regime from 1980-1985 was characterized by civil wars facilitated by forces from other countries. Political power under both the party and military dictatorships was highly centralized. There was no rule of law and service delivery to the citizenry was very poor.

From 1986, when the National Resistance Movement came into power, to curtail the above situation under the movement political system, decentralization was introduced and decisions were passed from the central government down to grass roots through Resistance Council (RC) structures from village level, hence offering opportunities citizens to participate in decision making. This was through the enactment of Resistance Councils and Committees Statute which “introduced the Resistance Councils system which transferred authority to plan, make decisions, administer local justice and provide services to the communities” . The benefits that action was immediate because power was given to the people who through popular participation influenced local leadership and there was a sense of ownership that led to support of development programs.

To enhance this process, in 1992, Government decided to devolve power to local governments to promote democracy and improve service provision. Subsequently a new piece of legislation ‘The Local Governments (Resistance Councils) Statute 1993’ was enacted. This Statute provided for the principle of ‘non-subordination’ to prevent higher local governments from dominating lower ones. The statute further facilitated the decentralized system of governance by laying a foundation of the majority of the provisions into the 1995 Constitution.

The Constitution provided for further devolution of powers and functions. It states under Article 180 (1)inter alia that: “A Local Government shall be based on a Council which shall be the highest political authority within its area of jurisdiction and which shall have legislative and executive powers to be exercised in accordance with this Constitution”. The Local Governments Act was subsequently enacted in 1997 to fulfill the requirements of the decentralization policy. The objective of decentralization is to ensure good governance and democratic participation in the decision making process. The structures of Local Governments are based on the district as a unit with lower Local Governments and Administrative Units as provided for under Local Government Act, section, 10 (1). The Councils which are the seat of Local Governments are mainly at the District, Sub-County, City Divisions and Municipal Divisions in addition to administrative units.

Councils have legislative and executive powers. They also oversee the performance of persons employed by the Government to provide services, and monitor the provision of services or implementation of projects in their area. As can easily be noted, the scope of responsibility of local councils is wide and to be more effective, councils are expected to involve Non Governmental Organizations, Community Based Organizations and the Private sector in the management of community affairs.

The Act further specifies local government responsibilities for service delivery, LG revenue sharing arrangements for execution and coordination of LG monitoring and inspection. The policy has a Vision that states that “Citizens that enjoy a high quality of life and are capable of asserting their rights, determining their local development agenda and discharging their obligations in national development.” And a Mission “To fundamentally transform society by empowering citizens to take charge of their development agenda so as to improve their livelihood.”

The mission and vision together with objectives there under have been progressively achieved although implementation of the decentralized framework has got other challenges that have led to several amendments of the LG Act. Given the status quo, in 1986, indeed this policy has been a tool in enhancing development through allowing citizens to participate in local democracy, improving service provision and reducing poverty. The popular participation clause under Article 180(4) of the constitution provides that all Local Government councils shall be elected every four years. In essence this provides for a forum to change leaders through regular adult suffrage and this strengthens the system of governance.

Decentralization has also strengthened the rural communities through election of councilors at all levels of Local Governments who formulate and initiate policy and plans. They also oversee their implementation and suggest priority areas for the Local Government through budget conferences and other planning meetings.

In all the representations and frameworks, there is consideration of cross cutting issues that have been mainstreamed in the LG policy like environment and gender. Further still affirmative action for various groups like women, youth, the elderly and people with disabilities have been incorporated into local governance.

Despite of the above successes there have been a number of challenges that include over decentralization. Uganda now has 83 districts and there is an attempt to add another 14 districts by 2010 . This gerrymandering process has a big impact/effect on government expenditure and it defeats the reason and spirit of decentralization since splitting LG units into smaller units only facilitates high expenditure and uncoordinated planning. The solution should be to halt this and re-plan LG boundaries so that Uganda could for instance have about 40 LGs at most if they are to be coordinated well.

While it is true that citizens participate in planning, it has emerged that plans are never considered at higher levels because of illiteracy and failure by technocrats to appreciate in put from lower LCs. The practical approach to this problem should be to increase civic competency and enhance the capacity of civil society to plan and demand for good governance.

As the number of Districts increased there was a challenge from Central Government on monitoring, supervision and coordination of local government performance, compliance to guidelines and inspection has been weak. Inadequate preparation and lack of mentoring has led to poor performance by the Districts. The solution is to re-structure Ministry of Local Government (MoLG) which is the statutory body charged with overseeing the implementation of decentralization. The restructured ministry would act as an oversight agency and ensure quality service to enable LG entities execute their mandate effectively in relation to line ministries, agencies and local levels.

Inadequate revenue and funding has been so far the highest challenge to Decentralization. Most of the funds are from central government and in most cases they are have been allocated inadequate revenue for financing decentralized services (like fire fighting) which makes service delivery problematic and LG operations unrealistic. Political actions like abolition of graduated tax tremendously decreased the capacity of Local governments to generate adequate local revenue to supplement central government transfers. Revenue from other sources is so limited because of poverty.

Further, some sectors through Sector Wide Approach still control from the centre planning and delivery of social services. Like in Poverty Action Fund priority areas, planning and policies are still centralized. Education, Health, Water and sanitation, Agriculture, Roads have central ministries that have continued to influence the level of service delivery irrespective of the role of LGs. Efforts should be made to link service delivery with the decentralized structures.

It is noteworthy that the success of decentralization depends on the capacity, motivation and experience of the key functionaries. Thus if the LCV Chairperson is semi illiterate (like in the case of Kampala) or is not active, all the other activities might be slowed down. People at the grassroots also need to be informed about their rights, role and duty with regard to decentralization. It is not possible to improve participation when there is lack of information. It even hinders accountability because people do not know the sources of revenue, how much it is and how it is being utilized. They thus have no grounds to demand for accountability.

The above point reinforces the fact that corruption thrives since demand for accountability and transparency is not enforced. Patronage, Sectarianism as well as nepotism have been reported in tenders and procurements in Local Governments. However we need to strengthen civic competence so that all public expenditure can be tracked to the lowest point and any leakages could be reported so that corrupt acts are punished.

In conclusion, given the level of anarchy that existed prior to the capture of power by the NRM regime, decentralization presented a great opportunity for increasing participation and improving service delivery. Even if the criticism is that it was highly politicized and implemented hurriedly, still in comparable terms there was significant improvement of citizen participation and there is a need to mobilize adequate resources to build capacity of the people in administration and service delivery. This may require patience and increased political will so that structures at the local levels can operate without undue influence and interference from the Central.

References:
1. The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995
2. The Local Government Act 1997
3. Ministry of Local Government Policy Statement, 2006/07
4. The Decentralization Policy Strategic Framework, 2006
5. The Local Government Sector Investment Plan, 2006
6. Electoral Commission: Report on 2005/06 General Elections, August 2006
7. Patrick. K. Mutabwire, Fact Sheet On Decentralisation In Uganda, 2007
8. Anti Corruption Coalition Uganda, Political Corruption in the Decentralized framework (2004)
9. Ministry of Local Government: Decentralization in Uganda: The policy and its philosophy, May 1993
10. Ministry of Local Government: Decentralization in Uganda: The policy and its implications, April 1994
11. The Commonwealth Local Government Forum: Assessment of local governance in Uganda
12. Susan Steiner, "Evaluating the Impact of Decentralization on Poverty - The Case of Uganda” Conference paper for Institute of African Affairs, Hamburg Germany Source: (http://:eadi.org/database)

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