My post back in June highlighted the process of decentralization in Uganda and described the structure of the system in theory alongside the challenges to obtaining this structure in practice. After a month and a half of work with U-Report, I have a better sense of these constraints and the possible ways to overcome them. In order to enhance the implementation of decentralization and its outcomes, a number of prerequisites are necessary. James K.Jutting (2005) has outlined these requirements and divided them into three factors; political, administrative, and fiscal. Political refers to a strong political commitment to decentralization by the central government, policy coherence among levels of government, transparent and participatory processes. Administrative refers to an investment and commitment to local capacity building as well as an absence of functional overlap between the local and central government. Fiscal refers to the presence of sufficient and secure financial resources for the LGs. Trond Vedeld (2003) outlines five similar pre-conditions for successful pro-poor outcomes; 1) a strong commitment to decentralization by the central government, 2) civil society engagement, 3) participation and accountability, 4) donor support, and 5) public discourse on poverty.
A review of the literature on decentralization in Uganda generally supports the pre-conditions outlined by Jutting and Vedeld. In the case of Uganda, Jutting’s administrative and fiscal requirements are more binding than the political requirements. The formal laws governing decentralization in Uganda do not need to be changed to relieve the constraints on effective decentralization. The laws, policies, and strategic plans, such as the Local Government Sector Strategic Plan (2013-2023), provide a sufficient framework for decentralization. The key challenge is the effective implementation of the laws and policies, which requires sufficient funding and capacity.
By incorporating the Government of Uganda’s assessments of the status of decentralization policy into the lessons from the literature, three themes of focus have been developed relevant to Uganda’s current situation. The following section shares more specific recommendations within these themes. The overall recommendation, however, is the need to focus on the proper implementation of decentralization.
- Local Government Financial Autonomy: Through decentralization laws and policies, Local Governments (LGs) now have significant authority and responsibility for budget management and service delivery. LGs, however, have insufficient funds to carry out their expanded mandates. To fill this funding gap, the central and LGs must make the following changes; Central Government and Line Ministries must increase unconditional transfers to LGs and LGs must increase revenue through more effective tax and fee collection.
- Access to Information for Decision-Making: LGs have limited access to reliable information for decision-making and resource allocation. The accessibility and usability of information and data on local needs and priorities must increase for LG decisions to support local needs. What organizations have the responsibility and capacity to increase this information flow? The ODI trainings are an important first step to increasing information about decentralization to LGs.
- Inclusive Citizen Participation: One of the key goals of decentralization is increased citizen participation and representation at all levels of government. To achieve this goal, marginalized populations must have opportunities for citizen participation.
- A Commitment to Decentralization: Local Government must put their portion of decentralization into practice and commit to the Development Planning Guide as set forth by the National Planning Authority.
- Restructure Grant Conditions and Budgets: The current budget structure does not provide enoug autonomy to the local governments to decide how funds are to be used based on their local needs and context. There should be a greater portion of unconditional grants from the Central government to the LLG, with guidance and monitoring to ensure proper use.
- Capacity Building of Local Governments: Set educational levels/a minimum qualification requirement and ensure understanding of their role and duty. The lack of training opportunities for local governments has been a hindrance to the improved delivery of services, a goal decentralization is meant to bring about. There must be a commitment or incentive to fill vacant posts in local governments, attract educated employees, and provide them with trainings, according to score cards, dismal reporting of minutes/attendance of council meetings/monitoring. Too often has it been noted that officials at the lower local government levels do not have a fully comprehensive picture of their roles and responsibilities.
- Connect the Service Provide and the Service Recipient: There is a gap between what is provided and what is prioritized. There should be an increase in the information flow between those who are determining where to put money and create programs and those who are receiving them. This can be done with greater use of statistics and data within the decision making process. This falls alongside the need to strengthen the capacity of citizens to demand better service delivery that is better tailored to what they need and want.
- Tax Reform and Enforcement: Local governments do not generate any substantial revenue to then be able to use at their own discretion.
- Strengthen Civil Society Organizations: ACODE and UGLA should invest in strengthening these organizations to promote civic engagement and act as “watch dogs.” Additionally, they can work as partners to the central government to provide the trainings and leadership building to local government.
Improvements within the implementation of decentralization in Uganda are possible and progress is trailing along. The extent and pace of these improvements, however, will be contingent upon the degree to which the central government is willing to relinquish power to lower local governments and the degree to which lower local governments can prove their capability and capacity to undertake new responsibilities.