Local Governments set to foster socio-economic development
On October 9, 2020, Uganda commemorated its 58th Independence Day with celebrations held online due to COVID-19 pandemic which has ravaged the world.
Following the creation of the Local Government unit, the government of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) decentralized power by introducing the Decentralization Policy in 1997 under the Local Government Act of 1997. This Act has empowered local governments, which has since played a significant role in fostering social-economic development among the population. Uganda’s population has drastically increased from 7.2 million in 1962 to over 45 million in 2020. District Focus’s Abel Turinawe talked to Mr Ben Kumumanya, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Local Governments about the ministry’s achievements and below are the excerpts.
QN: Since 1997, the central government has been sharing its power with local leaders at grassroots level through decentralization and this was done after the creation of the Local Government unit which has since transformed into a ministry. As the permanent secretary of this ministry, highlight some of the strides you have made.
It has been a long journey, but we have managed to make a number of substantive strides. First of all, the planning and financing regime is based on sectors and we had been merged with the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Ministry of Public Service and Ministry of East African Community Affairs, under the chairmanship of OPM.
On realization of the responsibilities we had in order to drive effective development and transformation, we said that if sectors are to guide and address matters affecting particular constituencies, OPM could not do it well and we decided to lobby for a sector. Now the Ministry of Local Governments (MoLGs) is a sector together with the Local Government Service Commission (LGSC) and the local governments. This is important for us because we now have a platform where we are able to engage, consult and submit all matters concerning local governments and they can be effectively dealt with.
Local Economic Development
We had had planned to establish a Local Economic Development Department (LEDD) because local economic development was approved as a 6th objective of decentralization. The local government units could enable us address productivity value chain, investments, industrial hubs and others, but we had never operationalized it. So, the department has been operationalized with a commissioner, assistant commissioner, and two principal development officers, who are linked directly to development processes across all local governments.
Currently, industrial hubs are being constructed and others are near completion. They will create jobs and foster economic development and these will run on different skilling components. Under this, there will be skilling of women, men and youth who want to get skills in weaving, knitting, welding, carpentry, hair dressing among others.
Agro-processing will be directly linked to the production pattern of each of the region. So in each region, we shall have machines installed to process products grown in those regions.
After skilling the youth, we are going to have common user production system (CUPS), where these students will go in and put their skills at use for example carpentry and joinery, shoe making and many more. Students will use these facilities at a free cost while other people will pay a small fee to access the machines.
We are currently having 135 districts, 10 cities for this financial year and 34 municipalities. As a ministry,we endeavor to check what is happening at every local government unit on a daily basis.
Our major task now is to make sure that everything is moving on smoothly in the local governments as expected from the policy of decentralization. This policy was aimed at having people like us who sit in offices in Kampala monitor local government activities at the sub-national level. I am in charge of inspectors from various professions who are assigned to check and find out what is happening in the local governments.
We have also strengthened the manpower status of the ministry. Two years ago, we added over 40 officers in different departments. This shows that two years ago, the situation was not good because of understaffing. We now have enough professional staff which if assigned properly and given clear terms of reference and proper guidance, they will be in position to support local governments. Article 176 sub-article 2(e) provides that “Appropriate measures shall be done to enable local government to plan, initiate, and execute policies that directly cause change and cause impact on the matters affecting their productivity,”
By strengthening the ministry, it implies that we are in line with the Constitutional Provisions, which demands the Central Government to support, build the capacity, offer guidance and offer co-ordination for Local government to be able to deliver service to the population.
As part of the executive, we are responsible for ensuring that the population receives services such as roads, schools, and healthcare.
During this current situation of COVID-19, on several occasions the local governments have strongly contributed in supporting Government’s efforts in enforcing the standard operating procedures (SOPs), for example the effective management of borders by the LCIs countrywide. The Gombolola Internal Security Officers (GISOs) and all other staffs in Local Government ensured that the entry points were managed. They were able to apprehend people who were entering in the country illegally and made sure that they were put in isolation centers and quarantined where it was necessary.
Recently, I was in Arua, I went to a new district of Terego and I was able to go to its headquarters in Leju. I met the districts leaders and sub-county chiefs at their offices and were doing their work in their different capacities. This has been made possible because of decentralization.
The other vital issue is about our efforts and struggles to cope up with technological advancement and we have already started having zoom meetings. I chair meetings of some projects which are in Kumi, Alebtong and other districts. Due to technology advancement, over ten districts converged in one zoom meeting. Am able to talk to my staff at different districts from the comfort of my office. So as a Ministry of Local Government, we are coping up with the technological advancement though there are a few challenges here and there. We are doing all it takes to be part of the technological transformation.
We are happy, strong, determined and have clear visions of where we are going and we are trying to ensure that the existing laws of decentralization are operationalized. I think the future is bright for the people of Uganda because if we strengthen these levels, we shall be able to make a breakthrough and we shall have made our mark and contribution to the social-economic transformation of the country.
QN: Local Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with NAADs and Operation Wealth Creation to enable the local council leaders monitor Government projects. How far has this been implemented?
It is true we signed an MOU with NAADs and OWC and this is part of our Constitutional provision in Article176 (20) (G), which provides that the local government political leaders shall oversee the performance of the persons employed by the government to provide services in their areas and monitor the provision of government services or the implementation on projects in their areas.
Therefore, it is in line with the Constitution and this provision came as a result of our submissions which we made way back. We had already done statutory Local Government Statute No: 15 of 1993, we were able to do it so well that the Government adopted it. We submitted our principles to the Constitution in making the process in 1995. So article 176 came out very clear in showing the direction of the country and this led now to enactment of LG Act No;1 of 1997. So it is in this line that Local Government leaders should participate in supervision and monitoring of government projects.
In addition to that, the MOU also had a provision where the government pledged to support some associations like the UAAU, LGA, and it has indeed fulfilled its pledge through the Ministry of Local Government. It is providing some subvention fund the figure is not high but at least the government has tried to support these associations. And part of that subvention can be used to restart and support some of those activities such as monitoring government programs.
QN: We have seen a lot of investments from the MoLGs and the Central Government as well. Among them are the markets and different programmes. For example, we see milk coolers new markets, and common user facilities, industrial hubs and other machines. What should the public expect in terms of utilization of the infrastructure?
Among the core aims of Government is transforming agriculture from subsistence to commercial in order to improve the financial stability of farmers. This has been done through many ways, including supporting production and productivity value chains. We looked at many things like designing programs to support all the ingredients that can support that production chain. One of them was supporting roads, because roads help to facilitate the movement of agricultural products from the farm land to either the highway or the market.
After supporting roads, we looked at the issue of markets because these farmers needed to sell their produce and then we started investing in the markets to be able to have places where these producers and buyers can meet to transact. We then invested in storage, post-harvest handling and agro-processing and that is how we went into milk-coolers, maize mills, and rice and coffee husks millers.
When you visit some of the places where they are working, you will realize that they are helping a lot. In Kazo district, where these machines have been installed, farmers are happy. When I visited them recently, they told me they used to take their maize to Ibanda, where they were being cheated through fake weighing scales. The distance to Ibanda was also a big challenge. Some places have challenges of electricity, which we are currently solving with the energy ministry.
We also needed to enter into Public-Private partnership with the private sector on management of public goods. We already have partnerships with Community Agro-processing Alliance (CAPA).
We have gone an extra mile to deal with the issue of urban markets. We have been able to reconstruct the traditional markets and transform them into modern markets with enough space. I have visited several of them which include Hoima, Jinja, Mbarara, Mbale, Arua and Gulu markets.
In addition to the first seven, we are now constructing more 12 markets in Moroto, Lopedulu, Lugazi, Soroti and other districts. So that is another area which we have literally supported and is paying off.
In that same line, we have put up High Level Value Addition Facilities (HLVAF). Recently I visited one in Arua. It is exciting. It is a system where a bag of maize grain is fed into the machine and the end product is a bag of labeled maize flour.
QN: From the look of things, most of these programs are aimed at benefiting the youth. According to you, what are some of the programs and projects that are aimed at supporting the youth so that they actively participate in the local economic development of their Local governments?
One of them youth skilling program, which has been put at the zones, we want to encourage youth to go and participate in these programs. Another thing is markets, I am sure the youth can engage in them, there is also Emyoogprogram, it also targets the youth. So what the youth have to do is to put themselves in right groups that have already been earmarked by the government in order to be supported in the transformation drive. I mentioned earlier that at every village, there is the chairperson of the youth as a member of LCs committee, which means that anything concerning the youth can be known at both the village level and parish. At the sub-county, there are two youth councillors; male and a female. As the MoLG, what we are doing is to make sure that we engage youth through their leadership and the message we are putting outside there is to encourage the youth, elderly, disabled, women and all others to use this council structures to better their lives and address issues affecting them.
QN: With all this, do we have parameters measuring the standards of services offered to these people?
One of our functions under Section 75 of the Local Government Act is inspection, in addition to co-ordination, monitoring and support supervision. We have an inspection checklist, which looks at all those aspects of service delivery. We also monitor other services that are delivered by other sectors, but directly connected to our area of decentralization.
Our inspectors look at how schools and health facilities are performing in their areas. So we have an inspection checklist and it is well detailed, capturing all areas of service delivery at the local government level.
At the Local Government structure still, we have the technical planning committee, chaired by the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). This committee brings in all heads of departments and then they have meetings where they check every sector. So, there is already a unit at the district which brings together all planning departments. This is one of the areas which we pick interest while carrying out the inspection.
QN: On the issue of Local Council One chairpersons, you find them doing a lot, yet paid little. What plans do you have to address this?
We are currently working on a paper to make sure that we have an improved means as far as facilitation of the LC chairpersons is concerned. It is work in progress, so I want to agree with you that these people are doing a lot and we want to facilitate them to make sure that they do even more and better.
QN: Who are some of your current major development partners in this fastest moving social-economic development?
We have a number of partners. European Union (EU) is supporting us on what we call Discretion Development Grants (DDEG), the Germans are supporting us in the north through two programs namely RISE and PRUDEO in West Nile and some districts in the north, IFADI agricultural-based programme which is going to construct a number of agricultural roads (Community access roads) and some markets. The Germans are bringing another program to selected districts and then we have the African Development Bank (ADB), which is supporting our markets. We are also partnering with ACODE on a program of Capacity building, USAID on some programs and we look forward to dealing with bigger development partners such as DANIDA, the Netherlands, Belgians. These ones are historically strong supporters of this ministry. We are also in engagement with the World Bank. It is supporting a big project (USMID) under the Ministry of Lands, but in the way supporting our municipalities.