Sunday, August 19, 2012


Reform decentralization policy instead of new districts Posted Sunday, August 19 2012 at 01:00 In Summary The government’s idea to create 25 more districts has aroused a serious debate. This is due to various issues on the ground such as the President’s presumed desire to remain in power and the development challenges that have bedevilled our nation, writes Rev. Onesimus Mutahindukah The reason given by Local Government Minister Adolf Mwesige - that many more districts are meant to take services nearer to the citizens is not convincing enough since Ugandans could be said to have had better services when districts were much less in number than they are today. Looking at the many new districts, their conditions have barely changed in terms of service delivery; in fact, service delivery is frustrating! So where does the State get the courage to claim that they deliver services better when they chop impoverished districts into smaller units? In this debate, I will discuss the creation of more districts as a form of decentralisation which is a system of multilevel governance referring to administrative structure, that gives lower levels of government greater administrative authority in delivering services. In the case of devolution, the administration changes include political institutions people vote for representatives at lower levels of government who in turn have effective control over lower level bureaucrats involved in service delivery. The electorate are the consumers of government services, and are supposed to elect and put pressure on politicians to translate their demands and requirements for services into policy. Politicians in turn are supposed to monitor and control the bureaucrats to ensure service delivery. It is true that being closer to the people, the government through local authorities, can more easily identify people’s needs, and thus supply the appropriate form and level of public services; the communities too are likely to willingly pay local taxes to where their contribution can be related more directly to services received; that being committed to decentralisation has also become an important element of donor-supported strategies to promote citizen participation. It has been universally recognised that ‘good governance’ practices ensure accountability and for that reason, it has become conditionality for development assistance from donor agencies (British Foreign Secretary, 1990). While the above reasons could be true, it is equally proven and there is much scepticism that decentralised governance on its own does not guarantee change in economic and social conditions, only if the policy is well packaged to make the difference. The quest for a greater balance between central and local government entails both promises and risks. Why does a state devolve power? Are central governments in fact relinquishing or simply re-allocating responsibilities they cannot fulfil? Local authorities are particularly prone to be captured by local elites and particular interests. Share This Story Local governance entails deep institutional reforms and the development of pluralistic societies. It requires a sound political party system; effective public interest groups; a vibrant civil society and a vigilant media at the local level. Therefore, I wish to argue that the case for decentralisation has often been made in a very general and uncritical way with little systematic empirical support. In recent years, these observations have led reformers and researchers to question how sensible the decentralisation strategies are for the real situations in which they are applied in developing countries. For example, to what extent – and under what conditions-- can we expect that increased local autonomy will improve the efficiency and responsiveness of the public sector? How effective are the processes of decentralisation and devolution in communicating the real interests of the citizens? To what extent are these processes controlled by privileged groups within the local communities? Under what conditions is it likely to expect that local politicians are more likely to be able to control local government bureaucrats in the public interest, and less likely to direct them or collude with them to benefit sectional interests (as compared to national politicians and higher level bureaucrats)? Are local officials, through sheer proximity, more accountable for their performance? Can we claim boldly that service delivery is higher and corruption lower in the poor countries which have devolved and decentralised their political and administrative systems? So much left to be desired What we have seen with the creation of many districts or decentralisation in Uganda leaves a lot to be desired. By the time in the 1990s when pressure from social movements, unions, NGOs, and the international community insisted on democratisation by decentralising State power, many were misled to think that Uganda had already got it right. This was not true because the ‘village councils’ did not have power to plan and develop their communities. They were instead used as agencies in the hierarchy to entrench NRM government in power after other political parties were banned. So it could be rightly analysed that decentralisation had not been intended to enhance democracy or quality service delivery it appears to have been a political manoeuvre to entrench the ‘Movement’ system. State institutions today have been captured by the elite to serve narrow personal interests instead of serving the citizens. The failure and lack of the state ability to provide the requisite institutional framework to support good governance compels policy–makers, to shape policies and institutional development in ways that enhance good governance for sustainable development. Academics explain that governance focuses on the changing role of the state, a paradigm shift from the state being the main provider of policy to being the facilitator of interaction among various interests. This signifies a change in the meaning of government, referring to the new method by which society is governed. Thus governing institutions call for fundamental reform if quality service has to be delivered. The role of government in this perspective is to deliver services that the public collectively and democratically desire. If the State is primarily there to deliver services to the people, decentralisation, and in particular devolution, will plausibly improve accountability and service delivery. Since the government is closer to the people and can easily enforce monitoring and discipline, assuming that the State has the capacity. When service is delivered, it is also meant to reduce corruption but which is not the state of affairs in Uganda. Local governance is closely linked with the empowerment of voiceless groups, such as the poor and women, children, people of disability and the like. Decentralisation may enable, for example, women to participate in decision-making, but unless gender equity is an explicit objective, existing gender imbalances may simply be replicated.Within civil society, NGOs clearly play an important role and around the world, there are obvious striking examples of how they contribute, particularly to service delivery and in support of government service providers that are often highly constrained in a capacity and resource sense. From one perspective this is highly desirable as many developing countries would be significantly worse off without them. It has already been observed that donors generally support decentralisation hence, decentralised cooperation, circumventing ineffectual central governments has become a core part of development assistance. However, donor support to local governance programmes in the absence of a national-level general policy framework can be problematic when donor coordination becomes critical. As governance is a composition of mechanisms that are able to reflect the public interest, then it is as relevant to bodies in civil society as it is to government. Considering the centrality of the State in development, it is the political context, dynamics and the political purposes, which shape the structure of the State, fashion its developmental aims and determine their outcomes. Therefore, the type of governance correlates with the type of government structure in place. It is for the same reason that it has become widely accepted that if governance has to be effective, it must be built on democratic values as its foundation. At the district level, the District Council Chairperson’s office has been greatly interfered with by the RDC. Most district councillors and observers have felt that the office of the head of the district could perform better in its accountability, if the RDC office was scrapped. In such a situation, the district council is in a dilemma to who it should be accountable, whether it is to the President’s representative or the electorate. Without taking their decisive functional role, the DLCs would appear as mediators rather than people with authority and power. This confusion enhances a hierarchical and authoritarian culture. If decentralisation has to achieve the objectives, it must avoid interferences and more bureaucracy. When the President creates another executive office at the local level, he is duplicating work thus interfering with DLCs. The action demoralises the elected LCs and additional office of RDCs is unnecessary and would generally delay services. In such a situation, the conflicts will be unavoidable at the districts, yet decentralisation is so much reliant on communication between different levels and staffs.

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