Local Government leaders have asked the government to increase their budget allocation to at least 38 percent of the national budget.
Speaking at a retreat for leaders from local and central government as well as the civil society as government kicked off consultations for the review of the decentralization policy, Joseph Lamonyang, the Napak LC-V chairman who is also the president of the Uganda Local Government Association (ULGA), challenged the Local Government Finance Commission (LGFC) to ensure equity and fairness in the distribution of development grants.
Lomonyang argued that given the critical role local governments play in the implementation of government programs towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as sanctioned by the United Nations, government ought to put special focus on local governments.
“Government should allocate 38 percent of the national budget to local governments if the policy of decentralisation has to be achieved. This policy had a very good objective and many countries in the region would come to benchmark us. If you crossed the border into Kenya, the government is giving enough resources to the county governments,” Lomonyang said, further calling on the government to empower local government leaders to exercise their full authority.
“According to the Constitution, a district chairperson is the political head in the district; the title is so big, but in terms of exercising that authority including implementing your [manifesto], it becomes a challenge because of [the inadequate funding]. It is our humble appeal to the government to consider, and appreciate that if we are to deliver quality services to the people of Uganda, they must increase the budget to 38 percent,” Lomonyang said.
Local Governments currently get about 9 percent of the national budget allocations which is 31 percentage points less than what the districts used to get 15 years ago when government started to systematically re-centralise the roles that had been devolved to the districts in 1997 when the decentralisation policy was implemented with the coming into force of the Local Government Act that has since undergone several amendments. The policy fundamentally decentralized service delivery institutions and their governance to improve access to services for the rural poor.
ULGA secretary-general Gertrude Rose Gamwera, welcomed the policy’s review which she said has been long overdue since the current arrangement has been curtailing efforts by Local Governments to deliver effectively as expected under their constitutional mandate which calls for the transfer of power to local government to be able to implement different programs.
She added that under the current practice, money is collected by local governments and then sent to the Central Government to determine a specific amount that should be sent back to offer services.
Gamwera proposed that Local Governments need to be given power and discretion to be able to plan and decide with their communities so that they equally participate in planning and the implementation of projects.
“There is a narrative that local governments have failed to implement government programs due to lack of capacity but this is as a result of undermining the due processes. The implementation of projects by government agencies and Ministries should also be revised since it’s the role of local governments to carry out the implementation,” Gamwera said.
She cited a need for vibrant, well-funded Local Governments that will churn out policies passed by councils and eventually help in the implementation of national policies. Gamwera also said that local governments which she described as implementers should be allowed to play their role as stipulated in the Constitution.
Gamwera also called for a review of other laws such as the Public Finance Management Act which takes away the power of local governments when it comes to financial planning.
ULGA vice-president (Eastern) Patrick Kayemba noted that even though they welcome the move to review the decentralization policy, they have advocated for this for the past 15 years and that there has been the partial implementation of both the administrative and political roles in the decentralization policy yet the fiscal implementation has been ignored.
Kayemba said that as the government is carrying out its review, there is a need to understand why the government has deliberately not implemented this policy.