The effects of Covid-19 have massively been debilitating to many countries that have registered thousands of Covid-19 cases and deaths.
After registering the first case of coronavirus, government announced measures to prevent the spread of the virus, which included social distancing, frequent washing of hands, among others.
In Uganda, local governments (LG) are the first line of connection to the communities. During the coronavirus pandemic, they have been mandated to enforce government guidelines in regards to preventing the spread of the virus.
In a statement issued by the Minister of Local Government, Mr Raphael Magyezi, on April 4, council meetings at district level were suspended and LGs were ordered to only operate with essential staff and have the rest work from home.
Given that it is a budgeting period, the minister instructed that LG budgets should be approved by the business committee as an interim measure. The district chairpersons and mayors were allowed to move and designated as core staff in the district and members of core Covid-19 taskforce in their respective jurisdictions.
LGs are at the frontline of citizen engagement, service delivery and management of public space.
One significant area of LG action in the context of Covid-19 is to prevent exposure and vulnerability of their jurisdictions.
To achieve this, they should be able to disseminate information on prevention, exposure and vulnerability to Covid-19 provided by the Ministry of Health and World Health Organisation.
The LGs have free airtime on radio and television stations and thus should be able to use this airtime to regularly disseminate this information in the local languages.
They must use these platforms to deal with misinformation. Where necessary, they should also be able to compel the radios and televisions in their jurisdictions to run adverts on how to avoid contracting the virus.
The LGs should also be able to provide information at the different public areas like health centres and district offices that are still operational.
Use of other digital platforms or apps to keep citizens informed and enable public participation for continued citizen engagement would be an added advantage during this period.
The LGs have a great challenge to support the Ministry of Health on collecting information of members of their community that could have returned from “high risk” and other neighbouring countries, to ensure that they are tested or quarantined before returning home.
There should be open communication where anyone with information can be able to reach members of the district taskforce.
The local communities are facing unprecedented challenges and stress during this time and are increasingly looking to local leaders for help and guidance.
However, LGs do not have budgets for crisis management, placing additional financial pressure on them as they continue to deliver essential services and support their communities.
They thus must use the available resources and (or) locally mobilise others to protect their communities from the pandemic and its devastating effects.
The LGs should engineer and drive citizen-led community responses like mobilising resources, material items from stakeholders to support the activities of the district task forces, take care of the vulnerable and ensure mobility for critical services like health services.
The writer is a Research Fellow and Project Manager for the Local Government Councils Scorecard Initiative (LGCSCI) at ACODE and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org