After holding office for 18 years, Tuesday this week was curtain fall on many incumbent Local Council chairpersons across the country as they exited after defeat.
Many of them had made the positions nearly hereditary.
They clung to their office as if their entire lives depended on it. They did not have much government resources to lavish around as is common with many public leaders who control vast wealth and power. However, in their small lowly offices, there was always something enticing that kept their interest high in the positions.
The Local Government Act provides for regular Local Council elections and stipulates that there will be village and parish councils in the rural areas while in urban centres, there will be ward or parish and village councils.
The law also provides for an executive committee at each parish and village level consisting of a chairperson, vice chairperson, general secretary and representatives of interest groups.
Under the Act, a parish or village executive committee is mandated to oversee implementation of policies and decisions made by its council. They assist in maintenance of law, order and security, initiate, support and participate in self-help projects and mobilise people, material and technical assistance for such projects.
They also vet and recommend local persons who should be recruited into the army, police and prisons service and local defence units.
They also serve as the link between government, the district or higher local council and the people in the area.
According to the Act, the chairperson is the political head of a village, presides at meetings of the council and monitors the general administration of the area under him or her.
Under the Local Government Act, “members of the executive committee and councillors will be part time and shall be paid allowances in accordance with the First Schedule to this Act but shall be part time.”
This means that they are not entitled to monthly salaries, allowances or advances.
However, Ms Jenipher Namuyangu, the State minister for Local Government, says an LC1 chairperson is entitled to a bicycle for official duties and an ex-gratia of Shs120,000 annually, which translates into Shs600,000 in the five years of their office term.
Given that there are 60,800 villages in the country, government will at least spend Shs7.296 billion in ex gratia for the LCI chairpersons annually, bringing the total in five years to Shs36.5 billion. Another lump-sum pay of Shs9.1b will be spent on procuring bicycles for the chairpersons to mobilise village members for government programmes.
This means in the five year-term, government will spend on LC1 chairpersons a total of Shs45.6 billion in ex-gratia and purchase of bicycles combined.
“Remember this is only for the chairperson and the rest of the councillors are not entitled to anything. The bicycle is official and when you leave office, you hand it over to your successor,” Ms Namuyangu says.
She also said the law entitles the LCI councils to 25 per cent of the locally generated revenue, which they must use for local development projects in their areas. They are also allowed to charge stamp duty/fees on letters of recommendation and court fees when the Local Council is sitting as a court. However, the minister cautions that such fees must be very minimal, not prohibitive.
In the past, many LCI officials, instead of using the 25 per cent remittance for development, ended up diverting it for their emoluments. They have also been charging exorbitant fees on people who seek their services.
For example, in many places they charge up to 10 per cent on every land transaction on both the buyer and the seller. There are also charges imposed for village security, welfare and a host of other issues they create to earn a living.
Ms Namuyangu says such charges are not authorised by the law but since the central government does not facilitate the LC1 officials that much, they are allowed leeway to charge small fees for their survival.
“This 10 per cent is their own creation and they should be careful while making these charges because they are unfair. What happens if I transact land worth a billion shillings, that is a huge percentage, which I cannot give them,” she observes.
Ms Namuyangu further states that the law does not allow LCs to handle cases that involve more than 100 currency points. Each currency point is Shs20,000. This means LCs cannot handle cases where the amount exceeds Shs2m. She also explains that criminal cases do not fall within the jurisdiction of the Local Council courts and therefore are no-go zones for them.