Functionality of multiparty politics in Local Councils 

Local Council elections are a mainstay feature of political decentralisation in Uganda. 

Every five years, citizens elect leaders to the different local government levels, who contest either on political party tickets or compete as Independents. 

Under the Political Parties and Organisations Act, political parties influence the political process through sponsoring a political agenda or offering platform to candidates for elections. Only six (NRM, UPC, DP, FDC, UFA and SDP) out of the 26 registered political parties in Uganda, have had representation in district councils over the last three election cycles in 2006, 2011 and 2016.

Ideally, political parties operate as vehicles for articulation and aggregation of diverse social interests by recruiting political elites and selecting candidates for public offices, influencing government agenda, policies, and public actions; causing governments to act more transparently and accountably; and proposing alternative policy agenda (Duverger, 1954). 

However, this has not been the case in Uganda, despite 15 years of being in a multiparty dispensation. This is because parties have had limited opportunity to contribute to the process of democratic governance. 

They have remained weak, without adequate funding to facilitate their role in influencing policy issues both at national and local government levels; parties also face a challenge of inadequate staffing and corruption.

Political parties, most of whom have their headquarters in Kampala, seem to be very distant from their members in local governments and do not have much control over what they do.

 For instance, there are scenarios where political parties fail to call to order their members, who are leaders in local governments even when they are implicated in corruption or questionable performance. 

The leaders on their part also do not feel they should remain accountable to the parties they subscribe to; in fact, most of them seem to ride on political parties merely for purpose of winning elections.

Uganda’s Parliament operates in the Westminster system, which has a clearly defined leadership structure for parties represented in the House such as party caucuses, chief whip, shadow cabinet and Leader of the Opposition. 

These are necessary for enforcing party discipline. On the contrary, these structures are non-existent in the Local Government setup. 

Secondly, in Parliament, MPs from the Opposition parties lead accountability committees such as Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase); this is not the case in local governments as members of the local government PAC are nominated by the District Executive Committee and appointed by the District Council. 

This system defeats the essence of accountability as most PAC reports or treasury memorandum are not presented in council as should be the case. 

Usually when a district chairperson or members of the executive are implicated, the report dies a natural death at that level. In fact, most councils exhaust a whole elective term in office without receiving PAC reports. 

Political party affiliation, to a larger extent, does not influence performance of members of local councils both in the plenary and their influence on the delivery of public services in their electoral areas.
Rather than be more active only during the election period, parties should engage more in conducting intensive sensitisation about the roles and functions of political parties, which are not well understood by their members in local councils. 

Beyond the funding from government that they are entitled to as stipulated in the law, parties and their members should actively be engaged in fundraising to mobilise financial resources to facilitate their activities and build structures at the grassroots.
Mr Otile is researcher with ACODE 
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