Local government officials have expressed concerns that the central government is taking over their roles in the districts.
Recent public sector management reforms, they say, have limited the space for local governments -- in effect undermining the decentralisation system that was introduced more than 10 years ago.
“Local governments have become mere recipients of directives and instructions on matters already decided for them. We are saying, with the decentralisation policy, we are partners in development but not only the face and arm of government at the local level,” Charles Keihwa, the Kabale LC-V chairman, said.
Keihwa is vice president of Uganda Local Governments Association (ULGA) and he was speaking at a dialogue on decentralisation organised this week in Kampala. Powers of the local governments have almost been withdrawn, the district leaders argued.
They noted that what remains of them is to formulate work plans and set priority areas for which they must seek permission from the centre to implement.
“Local governments are distressed by several sections of the Public Finance Management Act; that it disempowers local governments contrary to the decentralisation policy,” Keihwa said.
Keihwa observed that the law has rendered districts redundant, which is unconstitutional.
“This threat of re-centralisation as evidenced from the various reforms infringes on the discretionary powers of local governments in terms of policy and decision-making authority, and mobilising for financial and administrative resource requirements for service delivery,” he added.
“Revenue sources have been recentralised and so have sections of local government staff.”
Under the Local Governments Act, the main sources of funds for the districts is central government transfers – coming as conditional and unconditional grants.
Districts also collect local taxes but revenues are generally very low. While over the past decade of decentralisation, ULGA has lobbied for central government transfers to be increased to 45 percent, the districts’ share has instead been whittled down to 13 percent of the national budget. Of this, 64 percent goes to payment of salaries.
The districts are now required to hand to the central government whatever they collect which is banked on the Consolidated Fund from which a portion is sent back to the districts.
Presenting a paper at the three-day national dialogue held on September 16-18 at Royal Suites Bugolobi near Kampala, Dr Yasin Olum, a Makerere University don, pointed at declining political will to implement the decentralisation policy.
At the national level, Olum said there is need for deeper thought about resources being made available to the districts as well as the mechanisms for supervision and coordination.
“The problem at the local level is the lack of personnel and capacity to generate local revenue. They have a problem of resource mobilisation; the district leaders lack capacity to identify possible revenue sources,” Olum said.
Olum also argues that decentralisation has also been let down by the absence of mechanisms to check corrupt tendencies. “Accountability in local governments is a big issue, some of the district officials don’t want to account because they misuse or misallocate resources,” Olum said.
The acting commissioner in charge of monitoring and evaluation at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Abdul Muwanika, drew the ire of the district chiefs when he agreed with Olum’s accusation.
Iganga LC-V chairman Patrick Kayemba wondered why OPM is quick to accuse local governments of corruption and yet most high-profile corruption cases have been documented in the prime minister’s office.