By Adam Babale
The recent general elections, like the ones before have often revealed that there are serious challenges to the governance system in our country. This is more especially, understanding what local governments can offer to the citizens. It is very clear in the 1995 Ugandan Constitution and the Local Governments Act that the local government system must be effective and functional for Ugandans to enjoy the expected democracy, service delivery and local development.
It is often very clear that citizens across the country, do not understand the concept of democracy and that causes them to place demands on lawmakers that ordinarily should be handled by local government leadership. The lawmakers including both the aspiring and those who have been in Parliament exploit the ignorance of the electorate and continue to promise them what is not their responsibility? The cycle continues elections after elections.
Since the late 1980s governments in sub-Saharan Africa have been undertaking various structural reforms, both politically and socio-economically. Uganda is no exception in a sense the country endeavours for democratization as well as for sustainable development. One of the pillars for this policy reform has been decentralization, which has been considered to be essential to create a collaborative mechanism between the state and the people. Uganda, after its recovery from a prolonged internal civil strife, is now to move ahead for democratization and development. Uganda today is therefore at a critical juncture. The local governance and its Local Council (LC) structure will bear important functions and responsibilities in order to make the current decentralization successful both politically and developmentally. While the institutional mechanism is in place, both opportunities and constraints it presents are enormous. Whether the intended collaboration between the state and the people will be realized or not will influence very much the outcome of the “indigenous” experimentation. This has implications for the polity as well as for improving the living standard for the people in Uganda. The purpose of this article is, therefore, to identify where the LC system stands now by attempting to highlight both achievements and remaining challenges of the local governance structure. Decentralization in the past tended to be a zero-sum game: what one stakeholder gains is a loss for others. If, however, the current decentralization is not a positive sum solution for stakeholders, the LC system will not sustain the support by the people who really wish to grow out of poverty. The stakeholders for making positive sum include, inter alia, local politicians (Councillors), civil servants, and the people.
It should be clear to the citizens that the concept of democracy focuses on separation of powers as well as checks and balances among the different tiers of government. All the leaders should come out to educate the population on their respective responsibilities and challenges in order to develop strategies that would enable stakeholders across government and civil society to collaborate effectively and achieve necessary and long overdue reforms of local governments in the country.
It should be known to the citizens that local governments are the closest to the people and that until the system is structurally and fundamentally fixed, the benefits of democracy would continue to elude the people. The citizens will continue to act in ignorance and changing leaders for the wrong reasons.
It baffles me to hear that, in every election cycle and campaigns by the aspiring parliamentarians across the country and interest groups keeping to promise provision of social services, which are constitutionally local government responsibilities. Things like community road repairs, health centres, water for home use, quality education, and several others. These things are largely the responsibility of the local government.
It should be clear to the citizens that in a democratic society, there’s a separation of power. Every tier of government has its own responsibilities. Therefore, the importance of local governments should be clear to everybody. The key reason for the failure for local government system not to perform effectively is the continued erosion of its autonomy, being crowded out in the fiscal space, being made redundant and portrayed as insensitive to people’s needs.
Demanding of quality education, health, water, feeder roads and many more from legislators directly will continue to run round the in circles until the challenges of local governments are responded to by addressing the structural gaps in the national budget and information gaps. The hard debate of fair sharing of national budget between local governments and central government needs to be brought on table to effectively secure the future and local development.
Many legislators know what to do to avoid chronic suffering in every cycle of elections, but have just decided to exploit the situation. Local Government responsibilities should be for local governments and should have commensurate resources. Lawmakers should not continue to pretend responding to what are not directly their responsibilities to perpetuate an inefficient system. They should just fix the system and the system will work for all and everybody shall enjoy development and secure the future of our country.