Involve local governments in projects

Writer: Walter Akena. PHOTO/COURTESY 

What you need to know:

  • ...The current trend of direct implementation of projects by MDAs, with minimal involvement of local governments is having detrimental effects.

Uganda’s decentralisation framework aims to empower local governments to plan and budget for their local needs, have financial autonomy and robust citizen engagement mechanisms, enhance accountability, and foster ownership and effectiveness of local government interventions.

This framework was premised on local governments being better positioned to identify and address local needs because of their proximity to the local people. Key service delivery functions were devolved to local governments as outlined in Part II of the Second Schedule to the Local Governments Act to achieve this. 

Consequently, the implementation of the decentralisation policy began robustly, achieving several gains in political, administrative, judicial, planning, financial, and legislative functions. For instance, funding from the central government to local governments increased from Shs0.79 trillion in FY1997/1998 to Shs5.1 trillion in FY2023/2024. 

Recently, a concerning trend has emerged that threatens these gains. Government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) have increasingly retained funds intended for local government functions. A study by Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) has established that MDAs retained Shs1.06 trillion, Shs1.3 trillion and Shs3.1 trillion in fiscal years 2019/2020, 2020/2021, and 2023/2024 respectively. 

The ACODE study (2023) established that in FY2023/2024, at least 52 projects under local government mandates amounting to Shs1.6 trillion were implemented by MDAs in different local governments nationwide. In many cases in several districts, infrastructure from different projects installed with processing equipment, machines, and markets has remained unutilised or dysfunctional after experiencing breakdowns.

Indeed, there are many similar white elephant government-funded projects where money has been sunk littering the country.

The reasons cited for MDAs controlling budgets meant for local governments include weak capacity in most local governments, corruption, and donor conditionality. However, Sections 96, 97, and 98 of the Local Governments Act (1997 as amended) require line ministries to provide technical support to local governments and build their capacity. 

The current trend of direct implementation of projects by MDAs, with minimal involvement of local governments in their design and implementation is having detrimental effects. Local governments often do not take ownership, leading to neglect and abandonment of projects. 

Furthermore, centralisation makes it difficult for local governments to monitor and ensure accountability since they are not in charge of implementation.

To address these issues and strengthen local governments, funds appropriated for local governments should be communicated and directly devolved to the beneficiary local governments, as directed by the Ministry of Finance in the second Budget Call Circular for FY2021/2022.

Additionally, the design of programmes implemented directly by MDAs should involve local governments, and roles for all actors should be adequately financed to ensure ownership and sustainability. 

The local governments should also be represented in project negotiations with development partners to address issues of centralisation arising from donor conditionality.
Furthermore, when projects are secured, funds for monitoring and supervision should be allocated to local governments and incorporated into their budgets and work plans. 

Local government projects should be included in the Public Investment Plan and presented to the Development Committee to enhance local governments’ participation in project identification and design.

This inclusion will enable local governments to understand projects from their inception and guarantee participation, oversight, and sustainability. 

The writer, Walter Akena, is a research officer under the Local Government Council Scorecard Initiative (LGCSCI) at ACODE