1. Introduction
This paper has been prepared for participants at a training workshop of
Ugandan J ournalists, organized by the African Centre for Media Excellencein
Kampala. It is intended to enable the participants review the policy of
decentralization, understand its basis in law, gain more insight in the inter-
governmental relations and structures and stimulate them to discuss the
achievements and practical challenges of its implementation. There is a brief
discussion on the role of the media in LG and the advantages that would
possibly arise fromenhanced media coverage of LGissues. Thepaper ends with
somerecommendations for theway forward to improve decentralization soas to
takeit toitslogical conclusion of better services tothepeople of Uganda.
2. Background
The pre-colonial period in Uganda was characterised by traditional kingship
rule. The king delegated some powers to the chiefs to manage smaller units or
divisions of the kingdom. The kingdoms continued to operate alongside the
colonial Government, creating a situation of a 'modern' government working
alongside the traditional system. In 1962Uganda gained independence fromthe
Britishunder amultiparty political system. Thelocal administrations were given
substantial powers under the Constitution, with substantial local taxes and
service mandates. In 1967the Government abolished the kingdoms centralised
power. 1971- 1986was characterised mainly by military and party dictatorships.
1986NRM capture of power was on aID-point programme commitment, among
which was the empowerment of the people to participate in their governance
and destiny, seen as afundamental change inthecountry's politics.
3. What is Decentralisation?
Decentralisation stems from the two words: 'de' which means removing or
reducing something and 'central' which means something close to the middle.
Centralismis the action of putting things under single control. To decentralise
therefore is to remove or reduce or decongest things from central control to
smaller units away from the nucleus. In general, the term decentralisation is
usually used torefer to the transfer of theresponsibilities of governance fromthe
central government tolower levels of authority.
4. Forms of Decentralisation
• Devolution: The transfer of power for discretionary decision-making, for
policy, planning, administration and management fromCG to independent
LGunits with corporate status.
• Delegation: Shifting of responsibility for decision-making and administration
of public functions from CG to semi-autonomous organisations not wholly
controlled by theCG, but ultimately operating asitsagents.
• Deconcentration: Redistribution of decision-making authority and financial
and management responsibilities among different levels of the CG units or
departments, i.e., shifting responsibilities fromCG officialsin the capital city
tostaff working intheregions, provinces, or districts, under CGministries.
• Privatisation: The transfer of power for public service delivery to private
sector agencies.
5. Objectives of Decentralisation
a. Transfer real power to the Local Councils and thus reduce the load of work
onremoteand under-resource central officials.
b. Bringpolitical and administrative control over services to the point where
they are actually delivered thereby improving accountability and
effectiveness and promoting the people's feeling of ownership of
programmes and projects executed intheir areas.
c. Freelocal managers fromcentral constraints and, as along-term goal, allow
themdevelop organizational structures tailored tolocal circumstances.
d. Improve financial accountability and responsibility by establishing a clear
linkbetween thepayment of taxesand theprovision of services they finance.
e. Improvecapacity of Local Councils toplan, finance, and manage services.
6. Structure of Local Governments
There are Local Governments and local administration units. The LGs are
corporate entities with power to sue or besued. Within each LGthere is alocal
council (legislature) which is the highest decision making organ. It is under the
Speaker, assisted by the Deputy Speaker. There is an Executive Committee,
headed by aChairperson (or Mayor in towns) and anumber of secretaries. The
administration arm is headed by the CAO (district), Town Clerk (town) or
administrative secretary (Subcounty). There are other statutory board,
committees or commissions to assist in the running of the LG affairs. These.•
include District Service Commission, District Public Accounts Committee,
district Land Board. TheResident District Commissioner (RDC) is appointed by
thePresident and should have thequalifications of aMember of Parliament.
7. Legal Framework for Decentralisation
a. Local Governments (Resistance Councils) Statute 1993
This repealed the Local Administrations Act, 1967; the Urban Authorities Act
and the Resistance Councils and Committees Statute 1987. In October 1992The
President formally launched the decentralisation policy, hence the 1993Statute
was meant to provide the legal framework for the policy. The law gave the
corporate status to the LG Councils, with power to sue and be sued. The
Chairman and other Councillors were not full-time but entitled to allowances.
This law gave more powers to the RCs in terms of policy making, legislation,
budgeting and planning. Moreimportant, it provided for theMinister todevolve
functions, powers and responsibilities to the RCs. It created office of Central
Government Representative (CGR),who took precedence over all officialsinthe
District, with powers of oversight, immigration, project monitoring, mass
mobilisation, advice to Council. There was put in place District Service
Committee appointed by the DRC, with powers to appoint, confirm, discipline,
promote and remove all staff intheDistrict. Provision was made for financing of
the LGs, including local taxes and grants. A Local Government Tender Board
was established inevery district
b. Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995
TheConstitution provides fundamental Principles of StatePolicythat areCentral
toLocal Governance, e.g. theright of all Ugandans to accessleadership positions
at all levels, involving the people in formulation and implementation of
development plans and programmes, gender balance and fair representation of
marginalised groups, balanced and equitable development for all areas,
protection of natural resources, accountability and transparency. There is afull
Chapter (11) on the Local Government system, principles and structures. The
policyof decentralisation by devolution as thesystemof LGin Uganda to apply
at all levels of LG is entrenched in the Constitution. The Local Council is the
highest political authority within its area of jurisdiction, with theChairperson as
thepolitical head of therespective LG. TheConstitution introduced theposition
of Speaker at LGlevel for better checks and balances of political power at Local
level. It provided for all staff in the District including the Chief Administrative
Officer (CAO) to be appointed by the District ServiceCommission. It devolved
the powers for revenue, budgeting and planning to LGs and introduced
unconditional, conditional and equalisation grants tofinancedecentralisation
c. TheLocal Governments Act1997
The Act was meant to give effect to decentralisation by operationalising the
Constitutional provisions ontheLGsystem. It gavetheprocedures for electionof
local councils and vacationj removal of various officersfromtheir posts. It gave
thedetails of roles and functions of different organs and defined theextent of the
political, executive, legislative, planning, budgeting and administrative powers
of theLGsand administrative units. It also described the District Public Service
and qualifications of members to serve in the LG. The Act introduced the office
of Clerk toCouncil and Secretary District ServiceCommission and set terms and
conditions of LGpublic servicetoconformtothoseof theNational public service
generally. Thelaw gave autonomy to Urban Councils in planning and financial
management. It defined the role of Ministries in LGs as inspection, monitoring
and technical guidance to LGsand gavecircumstances for take over of aDistrict
by Government. Within the schedules it defined emoluments of councillors,
functions and services of various levels of LGs and LG council operational
d. Local Governments Financial and Accounting Regulations 1998
Thiswas first given under the Statutory Instrument no. 295of 1995and revised
in 1998to reflect the changes made by the 1995 Constitution and the Local
Governments Act 1997. It gave the much needed guidelines on LG accounting
and finance management, general control and supervision of financial
transaction of LGs. It spelt out functions of the various organs, including the
FinanceCommittee, the CAOjTown ClerkjSubcounty Chief, the Chief Finance
Officer and Internal Auditor. The regulation gave procedures for revenue
collection, custody of public funds, stores and assets, procurement of goods and
services, payments of salaries and other operations, losses, board of survey and
financial affairs of subcounties, with sample formats for various entries.
Amendments in the regulations have been made to accommodate the changing
environment inmanaging theLGs.
e. Amendments to the Local Governments Act
1. J uly 1997, an amendment to provide for the establishment and
composition of interim councils for newly created LG units, pending .•.
electionsfor thosecouncils.
11. J une2001, ageneral amendment of various sections, some of which were:
giving Municipal status to City Divisions; prohibiting attachment of LG
fixed assets and monies; permitting Members of Parliament to attend
District Council meetings; procedure for removal of Speaker, Chairperson,
member of Executive and CAO; representation of theelderly on Councils;
permitting the President to appoint such number of Deputy and Assistant
RDCsinaDistrict ashemay determine; personal liability for lossincurred
to council; emoluments of Boards and Commissions to be paid from
Consolidated Fund; Urban Tender Boards.
111. November 2001,an amendment toprovide for: councillors not tohold two
political offices; nomination, approval and removal of parish and village
Executive Committee members; quorum at Parish and County council
elections; timing of LCelections.
iv. J uly 2001, an amendment to cater for: limiting expenditure on councillors
allowances to 20%of previous year's local revenue; prohibiting devolving
salaries of staff of subcounties; sharing of revenue inurban councils
v. August 2004, an amendment giving the Minister powers to fix the
minimumrates of emoluments and allowances of Councillors
Vl. August 2004,aLegal Noticedeclaring certain areas asTowns
Vll. December 2005, a general amendment to effect changes made in the
September 2005amendments of the National Constitution with respect to:
abolition of graduated tax; recentralising appointment of CAOs, Deputy
CAOs and City/Municipal Town Clerks; reducing the number of
Secretaries on Executive Committees from5to 3; increasing termof office
of LGpoliticians from4t05years; resignation of public officerswho want
tostand for political posts; making Deputy Speaker part-time.
Vlll. J anuary 2006, an amendment to provide for: abolition of Tender Boards
and introduction of Contracts Committees; establishment of Procurement
and Disposal Units; regulations regarding procurement at LGlevel
IX. J une2007,anamendment introducing establishment of Town Boards
x. J uly 2007,an amendment introducing new LGtaxes, i.e. the Local Service
Taxand theLocal Hotels Tax. (Plusseveral other amendments todate).
f. Other Key Reforms
• Establishment of local council courts
• Introduction of Regional Government
• Introduction of themultiparty dispensation
• Abolitionof graduated tax
• Implementation of thestaff restructuring exercise
• Reformof public procurement and disposal of public assets
• Creationof new districts and lower LGs
8. Advantages of Decentralization
i. Political decentralisation
• Decentralization was entrenched in the Constitution and given full effectby
anActof Parliament giving it strong legal framework
• Thehighest officein the Country gave the policy strong commitment and
support, thereby ensuring thenecessary political will.
• Stakeholders, i.e., donors, line ministries, thelocal government associations,
civil societyorganisations and thecommunity supported thepolicy.
• The powers for political, executive and legislative decision-making were
cascaded down to the people to exercise through their elected Councils.
Participation of the population in governance was strengthened by ensuring
regular freeand fair elections. Thepeople were given powers to chooseand
removetheir local leaders. Hence, building local democracy
• Affirmative action for marginalized groups, including women, people with
disabilities, theyouth and theelderly with representatives incouncils.
H. Fiscal Decentralization
• Local Governments were given power to collect local taxes and to manage
revenue at their disposal. Thedifferent levels of Council were assured of a
shareof thelocal resources onaclear formular.
• Funds were transferred from the Central Government to the Local
Governments through unconditional grants, conditional grants and
equalization grants. Thisavailed moreresources at thelocal level tofinance
development programmes.
• Local Governments were given powers over their planning and budgeting
functions. It was no longer necessary to refer to the Center for approval of
plans and budgets. LGswere alsogiven training inbottom-up and medium-
termcomprehensive planning and budgeting.
• The socio-economic infrastructure underwent massive rehabilitation and
construction. Inall Districts, Uganda saw anincreaseinroads, health units,
schools, water services, through implementation of Government
programmes likeUPE, PHC, NAADS, etc...
Hi. Administrative Decentralization
•TheStaff and payroll management were decentralized. Thisled to anincrease
in staff efficiency, since the employer was on sight unlike under the
centralized systemwhere themaster operated remote control of staff.
•The new system established Boards, Commissions and Committees at the
Local Government level to strengthen administration and service delivery.
These include District Service Commissions, Contracts Committees, Land
Boards and Committees and Local Government Public Accounts
•The function of training and general capacity building was decentralized.
Local Governments were given resources to undertake their own Human
ResourcePlanning and Development.
9. Challenges in Implementation of Decentralisation
a. Gaps in the Legal Framework
TheLG Act has been amended so much that it is at times difficult to trace the
original provisions. Even then there are still some glaring gaps in the law and
practice that need to be filled to make the system truly democratic and
predictable. Suchaspects are:
• J udicial powers of LCcourts, inviewof multiparty dispensation
• Separation of powers between the Executive, legislature and the
• Contradiction between policy and practice, apparent shift fromdevolution to
milder forms of decentralisation
• Failuretohold LCelections within thestipulated time
• Positionof RDCintheLGsetting
b. Meeting the Ideals of Decentralisation by Devolution
Inreality thesystemisheavily centralised and local authorities areseenasa'tier'
of government, or, just an extension of the State. LGs are still not perceived as
entities that can make decisions of their own without interference by thecentral
government. Theturn around was therecentralisation of CAOand TCs, followed
bythegeneral feelingthat LGsmust becontrolled by theCentre.
c. Weak Revenue Base
Although intheory LGspossess thelegal authority to impose taxes and tospend •.
according to their own approved budgets, in reality the tax base is soweak and
thedependence on central government subsidies so ingrained that no attempt is
made to exercise that authority. The critical challenge emerged when the
graduated tax was abolished, without a viable alternative to raise meaningful
local revenue. The Local Service Tax and Local Hotels Tax failed to generate
adequate revenue. Theresult has been toomany assignments for servicedelivery
without matching resources (unfunded mandates).
d. Quest for Federalism
There is the argument as to whether it is the Federal or Unitary system of
governance that can best facilitate decentralisation and development. The
contention is that under unitary system, sub-national units (local governments)
function largely as administrative units of the centre, within legislative powers
assigned to themby the centre. This contrasts with the federalist systemwhere
different independent governments makepublic decisions and provide increased
opportunities (more than unitary system) for the participation of the local
population. However, the federalist systemis more expensive, and institutional
frameworks are more difficult to design. Which ever system is chosen,
cooperation and coordination between levels of government is key to making
development work and capacities must be strong at local government levels to
ensureperformance and accesstothecitizens.
e. Creation of New Districts
Given mainly to take services closer to the people, the districts have become
cheap tools of political bargaining for votes and political posts. Most of themare
poorly funded, haveno staff todeliver theservicesand aresimply unsustainable.
Many councilors abandon their lucrative jobs only to end up in disillusionment,
quarrels and bickering. Thecurrent moratorium onnew districts has reduced the
pressure, but perhaps only temporarily.
f. Corruption
Thereis littleeffort to cushion LGsagainst the viceof corruption that has eaten
up thefabric of public service and the society generally. Problems with tenders,
shoddy work, failure to supervise and monitor projects have weakened the
policy. That isthereason why somepeople claimthat Government decentralized
corruption totheLGs.
g. Weak Legislative and Technical Capacity
Most LGshave not made use of the provision in the Local Government Act for
themto make and pass bye - laws and ordinances. Thechallenge is the lack of
capacity inthecouncils tolegislateor draft theselaws. Thisisinaddition topoor
pay of LGworkers and thefact that thestaffinglevels inmost LGsareto.olowto
enable them render services efficiently and effectively. In others there are no
DistrictserviceCommissions, whilemost District PACsaredysfunctional.
h. Weak Participation by Stakeholders
The law permits several stakeholders, notably community, private sector, civil
society, cultural institutions toparticipate inlocal governance. However, thereis
little information available to the public on the performance of the LGs. The
community has become non-caring and less interested in demanding
accountability from their leaders. This is worsened by the over-commercialised
elections, which compromises efficiencyincommunity-LG relations. Theprivate
sector and civil society are not so well organized and are poorly resourced and
hence unable to take on the LGs on matters of accountability and standard
10. Media Role in LG
• Information and communication to the public about management of public
• Investigation, research and monitoring. Thisisaimed at promoting efficiency,
accountability and transparency
• Mobilisation of communities, civil society and development partners to
support Government programmes.
• Attendance of council meetings and events so as to give themcoverage and
vital audio and visual records
• Raising proposals for reforms and presenting alternative policies, giving
international practice, local and Regional casestudies.
• Performance analysis, recognition and penalty. The media is vital in
encouraging good performance by LGs.
• Exemplary conduct and adherence toethical standards
11. Recommendations for the Way Forward
a) Strengthening the legal framework: It is important to strengthen the legal
framework for decentralization even further so as to deter any possibility of
watering down theachievements already registered.
b) Deepening Participatory Democracy: Participatory governance and
democracy entails a regulatory framework for the task of running public
affairs that is not solely entrusted to Government and the public
administration, but involves co-operation between state institutions and civil
society groups. Unfortunately, the role of civil society in local governance in
Uganda is still weak and needs to beenhanced if decentralisation is to yield
trueparticipatory democracy.
c) Improving Capacity to Manage Multipartyism: Thetransition to multiparty
political dispensation is akey issue for all tiers of government, including the
LGs.Theimplications oncouncil procedures, resource allocation and capacity
building need tobequickly studied and thenecessary measures put inplace.
d) Federal GovernmentfRegional Tier: The debate on the need for political
reforms in Uganda introduced the concept of federal government.
Government proposed theRegional Government as apossible alternative, but
this has failed to take off so far. TheCountry needs to carefully consider the
various aspirations of different interest groups so that their implications for
decentralization areknown and taken careof appropriately.
e) Reviewing Financing of LGs: A Government without tax cannot stand the
test of timebecause it will not safeguard itsautonomy. TheLocal Government
taxsystemneeds acomplete overhaul with strong safeguards against political
disruptions. The grant transfer system, too, needs to be improved to ensure
adequate financing of thedecentralised services.
f) Restructuring of Local Governments: Thishas tobedone afresh. Thecountry
needs to re-think its sub-national structures, their responsibilities and
composition. Implications on financing have to be adequately addressed.
Where necessary some of the redundant structures should be removed and .•..
small and unviable units be amalgamated. It is important to ensure
appropriate and motivated staffing in key positions that will help to
transformand modernise theLocal Government systems.
g) Information Communication Technology: The need for up-to-date ICT for
Local Governments cannot be over-emphasised. Investment is required for a
properly co-ordinated information system to avail the necessary data in a
timely, relevant and accurate manner. This is necessary for roll out of IFMS,
IPPSand other upcoming initiatives. Thesystemwill require retooling aswell
asenhancing thepersonnel and resource capacity for local research, statistics,
demography, policy analysis, management and libraries/ documentation.
h) Local Economic Development: One of the objectives of the Government
programme of Wealth- for -all is for every household to have the means to
earn the minimum to meet basic needs. Decentralisation can be used as an
effectivetool to achieve this vision. Local Government's role is envisaged in
increasing investment and productivity in agriculture, industry and services
and rural transformation. Instead of focusing our energies on expanding the
administration, weshould turn LGsinto vehicles of increased production and
wealth creation.
i) Training and Capacity Building: This is a continuous need for both the
political and technical officials. The local elections continue to produce high
out-turn of new councillors. This shows the importance of preparedness and
continuity inlocal training.
j) Urbanisation: Uganda is getting increasingly urbanized due to rural-urban
migration. Factors for this are many, mainly to do with employment, and
social-economic attractions in towns. Unfortunately, the towns are ill-
equipped to meet the challenges of an increased population. Physical
planning, urban service delivery, and urban management need to betackled
as a matter of urgency, together with an appropriate rural development
strategy. TheRegional Centres, such as Mbale, Mbarara, Arua and Gulu need
tobeelevated tocity status, soastoimprove their planning and management.
k) Civic education and Sensitization: This will involve a deliberate move to
create awareness about the decentralization policy and it must be a
continuous process nationally. More effort is required to mobilize the
community and sensitise them about decentralization and the civic
obligations of everyday in planning, implementation as well as supervision,
monitoring and evaluation of services rendered by the Local Authorities.
Sensitization should go onhand inhand with adult literacy. Thisispartly the
roleof CSOs. Voter education isnecessary and should bedone in good time,
instead of being done hurriedly towards theelections.
1) Crosscutting issues: These are important to the development of local
democracy. Local Government's capacity to respond effectively to theissues
of gender, HIV/ AIDs, environment, disability, etc... needs tobecontinuously
built and enhanced.
12. Conclusion
Given the background of a political history that was characterised by highly
centralised government, especially under the political party and military
dictatorships of post-independence era, Uganda was truly ripe for
decentralisation when the NRM took power. The decentralization policy,
however, requires patience and participation of all thestakeholders, particularly
theordinary citizens most affected by the policy. While Uganda has been given
the credit of being one of the countries that have undertaken far reaching LG
reforms, the current issues pose significant challenges that need to be carefully
examined and managed by both policy makers and implementers. The sudden
turn around and inconsistency on policy matters must beavoided. Thepolicy of
decentralization isat thecrossroads and itsstrength will betested by itsabilityto
persist inchanging political and economic environment.

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