Devolution and empowerment through the local government system in Uganda : a case study of Hoima District local Government.
Patrick, Isingoma Mwesigwa.
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Decentralisation has not only transformed the structure of government but has also fundamentally altered the political landscape in Uganda. Since 1986, the country has witnessed a gradual but comprehensive transfer of power, responsibilities and resources from the centre to local governments. The exercise began as a shift from appointed to elected councillors and leaders, initially of resistance committees, and then later of local councils that have been formed in rural areas and urban wards as vehicles for local government and popular participation. Decentralisation has also appeared in the form of devolution of major functional responsibilities such as primary education, health, water and sanitation, and rural feeder roads from the centre to local governments. Indeed scholars and planners who subscribe to the ideology of centrifugalism as a prominent management and planning discourse have seen this level of decentralization as a fundamental point of departure towards institutionalization of a level of reform which seeks to transfer political, administrative, financial and planning authority from the centre to local governments. Many have also seen it as the right direction towards the promotion of popular participation, empowering local people to make their own decisions and generally enhancing the levels of accountability and responsibility within the local communities. Nevertheless the process of decentralisation has not entirely been a bed of roses. Despite the existence of abundant goodwill on the part of the national political leadership, lack of civic competence, apathy, disillusionment and fatigue are some of the debilitating factors that have combined to render citizen participation generally unattainable. Moreover, because decentralisation has tended to be a top-down approach, participation has largely been seen as a government obligation rather than as a people-driven process. Lack of both financial and human resources have compounded the situation. Districts have consistently lacked sufficient financial resources to run decentralised functions because of a tax base, which is so narrow that revenue to districts is basically limited to graduated personal tax and grants from the Central Government. Inspite of the existence of the above shortcomings, democratic decentralisation remains the only viable answer in the quest for good _governance, active local government and an empowered local population. This study analyses the process of devolution in Uganda with the aim of identifying the underlying constraints that continue to impinge on it, and proposing ways and means of ameliorating them. Using Hoima district local _government as a case study and results from the national service delivery survey conducted by the Uganda Ministry of Public Service in the year 2000, the study highlights most of these constraints, prominent among which are poor service delivery, lack of community participation, inadequate financial and human resources, a narrow local tax base, a weak civil society, and underscores the need to ameliorate them if devolution is to attain the anticipated results. The first part of the study examines some of the theories, concepts and views that underpin the policy of decentralisation and sets the pace for its contextualisation. The second part looks at the deeper process of decentralisation by analyzing the structures and institutionalization of local government in Uganda and highlighting critical issues that are pertinent in local government management and development. The study argues that while enormous goodwill exists on the part of the national political leadership, devolution in Uganda and local government development generally are still beset by a range of factors that include weaknesses within the institutional structures mandated to actualize the policy. Centric tendencies are still pervasive with the unfortunate results of stalling the pace of transformation especially in the financial sector. The third part dwells on the research methodology used, the nature and extent-of data collected, the sampling techniques applied and how these affected the outcome of the study. This part also highilg!lts the findings of the study, which are discussed and the-causative factors analyzed. The fourth and last part focuses mainly on recommendations arising out of the conclusions, with particular emphasis on key areas that require urgent action. It also identifies areas for further research and suggests how such research would assist in expanding the scope and understanding of the subject under study. This study cautions against the tendency to .romanticise devolution as the new-found solution for past and current institutional and socio-economic distortions and argues that devolution itself can make state institutions more responsive to the needs of the communities, but only if it allows local people to hold public servants accountable and ensures their participation in the development process.