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Analysis of Uganda's Decentralization Programme

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: International Studies
Wordcount: 2537 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Choose a particular development policy or intervention in Uganda that you have touched upon during your pathway lecutorials and discuss what are the key factors that will determine whether this policy or intervention will successfully achieve its development aims? You should draw on the relevant theoretical and country-specific literature to construct your argument.

  1. Introduction

Since the late 1980s, Uganda has worked towards a decentralization programme which aimed to bring services closer to the public. The motive for decentralization in Uganda was political – more specifically, the need to restore democracy after the annulment of the independence constitution which had centralised the powers (Mugabi, 2004). This meant that the country went through a gradual transition from a centralised state to a decentralised one – a transfer of powers, functions and services from central government to local councils – under the administration of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) that took power in 1986 (Saito 2000; Mugabi 2004). Under the decentralised framework, it is anticipated that visions for development would be constructed by the locally elected political leaders and implemented by local administrators, thereby making them directly accountable to the people for delivery of services and letting people be more active in the planning and implementation of local development activities (Saito, 2000; Bashaasha et al. 2011). This essay argues that the main objective of the decentralization policy of bringing services closer to the people has not been achieved and this can be attributed to the existence of weak institutions. Moreover, even the goal of letting people take part in the decision-making process by making them exercise their right to vote to elect their local leaders who would make the decisions on their behalf, thereby ensuring democracy, has not been successful. With no democratization, institutions that could demand accountability from public officials never developed (Asea, 2008). Decision-making is still centralised, and production is shared by the central and local government leaving the latter with barely any independent power (Alford and O’Flynn 2012).

This essay aims to present this argument in the next three sections. Following the first section is the background to the decentralization policy. Section 2 points out the key factors that determines why the decentralization policy in Uganda has failed to achieve its development goals by using the delivery of the primary education and health services as examples, keeping in mind the political settlement and co-production framework. And the final section presents the conclusion.

  1. Background

The decentralization policy was introduced under the Local Government Act of 1997 in Uganda. Under this, the local governments are said to have legislative and executive “autonomy” within their listed areas of jurisdiction like primary and secondary education, primary health services and other basic services like water, roads, sanitation etc (Livingston et al. 2015). In terms of financial management, instead of the central government deciding the allocation of funds for district-level services under the centralised system, the districts are given a fixed budget within which they can operate (Lubanga 1998). The program was adopted with the expectation that moving power and resources to the local government would help improve accountability of the local government and make them more susceptible to public monitoring and control (Livingston et al. 2015). It was believed that the local government would be closer to the citizens than the national government and therefore, it would be easier for the citizens to be more involved in the decision-making process of the local government and keep a check on them through their exercise of vote to elect them (Livingston et al. 2015). This would also result in the local government being more responsive to the concerns and needs of the local people than the national government.

  1. Key Factors

As mentioned before, decentralization was adopted with the aim to achieve improved governance in terms of democratization and service delivery, and this acts as a model throughout the Third World to bring sustainable improvements to people’ lives (Ojambo, 2012; Awortwi, 2011) Yet most researchers have shown that “level of accountability for public resources” and “service delivery” still remain substandard which cannot be improved without full commitment from national and local governments (LGs) (Bashaasha et al. 2011; Saito 2000; Francis and James 2003). Some of the factors that play a role in determining the failure of the policy include:

  • Finance

Inadequate sources of local tax revenue and over-reliance on grants from central revenue is one of the most persisting problems faced by the local government in Uganda (Francis and James, 2003; Bashaasha et al. 2011). The low financial resource base is a result of political and administrative aspects of the decentralised system of governance in Uganda moving faster than the fiscal decentralization (Bashaasha et al. 2011). Currently, the finances in Uganda are obtained from five main sources: (i) locally generated revenue (ii) government grants – (a) unconditional – to pay staff salaries (b) conditional – for financing programs like primary education, primary healthcare, etc (c) equalization grant – special provision for the least developed districts that lag behind the national average standard (iii) donor and project funds (iv) fund raising (v) subventions from the central government (Bashaasha et al. 2011).

The graduated tax (GT), which contributed 80% of the local revenue, was abolished in 2005 due to its politicization by those people who wanted to assume political party leading to an increase in the dependence on the central government for funds by the LGs (Green, 2008). In the place of the GT, the local service tax and the local hotels tax were introduced in 2008. The problem with this was that, as mentioned by Scott-Herridge (2002) earlier, not many people in Uganda are used to paying property or poll taxes neither do they have sufficient income to do so. He also pointed out that payments could be avoided by the revenue collectors by using their influence with local politicians.

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The Universal Primary Education (UPE) policy, which provided free primary education for all school-age children, coincided with the introduction of the decentralization policy in 1997. The immediate result of the policy was highly positive – an increase from roughly 3.1 million enrolled students in 1996 to 8.4 million in 2013, and consequently, on its way to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (Kjær and Muwanga 2016). However, with time problems began to creep up. Paying the teachers became one of the most difficult problems – teachers recruited are paid from the conditional grant fund according to uniform scales approved by the Ministry of Education (MOE) which is not enough (Livingston et al. 2015). In fact, it has also been observed that the local government have very little flexibility to use the funds from the central government (Livingston et al. 2015). Moreover, the number of teachers is insufficient, and the quality of education is not up to the mark, but the hands of the local government is tied due to the inadequacy of funds (Bashaasha et al. 2011; Livingston et al. 2015). In fact, close collaboration and support of the donor agencies have also declined for the UPE (Kjaer and Muwanga, 2016).

A very similar situation faces the health services. Most important decisions continue to be controlled by the center (Hutchinson, 1999). Again, the conditional grants for health services are planned in a way – indicating the staffing pattern, negative lists for procurement, etc – that the local government do not have much flexibility over the use of the funds (Livingston et al. 2015). The health units, therefore, barely have any incentive to effectively respond to local demands or manage costs (Livingston et al. 2015).

  • Human Resource Capacity

There has been a persisting issue of inadequate capacity to deliver public services in Uganda (De Muro et al. 1998). Staff recruitment and retention is constrained due to salary payment delays and low pay (De Muro et al. 1998). This, in fact, is catalysed by a dearth of equipment and materials. Moreover, there is inadequate capacity of training institutions to produce trained and qualified staff (Bashaasha et al. 2011). In the education sector, there is a lack of quality education and therefore, low literacy rate (Kjaer and Muwanga, 2016). The payroll problem has heightened so much so as to leading to some teachers working for over years without pay (Livingston et al. 2015).

This is one of the major challenges in the health sector – services have shown almost no improvement due to the shortcomings in personnel quality and management (Bashaasha et al. 2011). Some efforts are being made by the central government to make the local level institutions stronger by training administrative staff (Bashaasha et al. 2011). Having well-trained staff is extremely essential for the local government to serve their people but due to its insufficiency in this regard, the local government in Uganda operate at less than acceptable minimal personnel structures (Onyach-Olaa 2007).

  • Participation, Exclusion and Corruption

Decentralization, and hence, the transfer of political and administrative power to the local leaders may often result in the abuse of such power (Bashaasha et al. 2011). This raises concerns about elite capture of local government and thus, hamper of democratic processes (Livingston, 2015). Elite groups find out ways to dominate local politics, and therefore, rents associated with access to government (Bashaasha et al. 2011; Livingston et al. 2015) this leaves the politically less-favoured and other minorities marginalised, reducing participation from all sections of the society and hindering the true spirit of a democracy. Corruption is one of the major challenges in decentralised Uganda. May and Baker (2001) claimed that “corruption itself has been devolved, creating opportunities for the enrichment of local elites.” Moreover, decentralised Uganda is characterized by a clientelist political settlement. Class, status and power all combine to produce a client-patron hierarchical relationship (Francis and James 2003).

Under the decentralization of education, there has been an increased need for active participation of parents in school governance in order to increase accountability (Bashaasha et al. 2011). However, findings from Suzuki’s study (2002) suggest that this is not the case – greater participation barely had any effect on accountability of the decentralised units. Three major factors identified by Suzuki as affecting the lack of accountability to parents are: (a) lack of transparency in school finances (b) imbalance of power between parents and teacher (c) social distance between parents and school leaders. The imbalance of power between parents and teachers hinders the former from accessing needed information (Bashaasha et al. 2011). Although the School Management Committee (SMC) is composed of members appointed by the central government and local government, as well as members elected by parents, many parents have reported that the SMC does not make them feel involved – instead, the people who represent it, the local elite or the ‘big’ people, make them feel like they are not accountable to them (Bashaasha et al. 2011).

At the same time, decentralization of the health sector has brought with itself some steps to combat corruption and inefficiency. It has resulted in increased transparency and easy access of clients to the local health committee for their complaints or other issues.

  1. Conclusion

Thus, it is evident that Uganda has a long way to go to fully achieve its decentralization goals. There is a need for the government to re-examine some of its strategies and making institutions stronger. The decentralization policy of Uganda under the Local Government Act (1997) aimed to bring services closer to the locals has not succeeded in achieving its development plans even after 10 years of its implementation. The policy expects local government councils to have a better knowledge of the demands of the local people than the national government, citizens are supposed to be better informed about the local politics, citizens are supposed to able to increase accountability of the council by exercising their right to vote in local elections. In short, the decentralization policy was designed keeping in mind the theory of co-production of services as developed by Ostrum, that is, production of pubic services by participation of citizens (Ostrum, 1996). But the local government is still heavily reliant on the center to mobilize financial resources and the taxes introduced to replace the GT make no significant contribution to the local revenue, posing major challeneges (Bashaasha et al. 2011).

After analysing the decentralizing policy of Uganda, taking into consideration the key factors that have led to its failure and linking them to the delivery of services like education and health, it is fair to conclude that Uganda operates within a clientelist settlement characterized by a dominant but weak local government. While Uganda is decentralizing, its government continues to function in a unitary structure – the institutional structures of the local government are still defined by the center and it continues to exercise a hierarchical discipline (Livingston et al. 2015). Moreover, decentralised Uganda involves many stake-holders but their division of powers and functions are not clearly mentioned at the local level, leading to more difficulties in delivering services and sharing finances (Mugabi, 2004). There is still a lack of trained and qualified staff despite the increasing number of private universities, and corruption is on the rise (Bashaasha et al. 2011).

However, it would be incorrect to absolutely disregard the progress made since decentralization. The enrolment rate in primary schools have increased dramatically. Some efficiency is seen in the health sector. Moreover, the representation of women at the Councils have also increased from one out of nine to one third of the Councillors being women now (Mulyampiti, 1989).

  1. References:
  • (Mugabi, 18 September 2004) (Saito, 2000) 


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