Will Parish Development Model really succeed?

Emilly Comfort Maractho

What you need to know:

  • Anecdotal evidence on actors in local governments who have turned village projects into personal development resources are many.

The excitement with the Parish Development Model has surprised me. Four things stand quite firmly in its way, and could undermine development. These are, the understanding of it, the problem of corruption, its one size fit all nature, and its relationship with the political agenda of the day.

The conceptual and understanding of a model. Listening to conversations on this model demonstrates how little it is understood. There are serious questions. What is the model? Which key tenets does it have? Who is at the centre of it? When was it tested? How do we envision its working? And, where has it worked? Or, is it a community development model or participation model? 

I have spoken to some experts on the subject of decentralisation and development and none of them sounded positive.  To them, the very idea of a parish development model beats logic. As one of them put it, ‘it is not based on a good understanding of how communities work. No attention to the challenge of the ‘human element’ in development. There is not a single community where willing to cooperate and capacity for cooperation can be taken for granted.

 In many communities, people hate or are suspicious of each other’. Another one asked me, where has it worked, Emilly? When was it piloted in this country? Where is the evidence that this was well thought through and informed by logic? They all seem to decry the lack of consultation. 

The problem of corruption. Local Government minister Raphael Magyezi acknowledges that the problem of corruption exists, but he has faith in the young people holding their diplomas and tablets to be magical, perhaps oblivious to the nature of structural problems and how they frustrate even the best trained and facilitated. 

The subject of local governments and corruption is everywhere in literature. Anecdotal evidence on actors in local governments who have turned village projects into personal development resources are many. But we may not have the capacity to investigate. 

So we imagine that we can take from local governments which had proper structures for service delivery, including the parish, and hope that the parishes will succeed where they failed in both service delivery and fighting corruption at the local level. 

We are also suggesting, that this approach is a response to critics who have over the years asked for a review of decentralisation or demanded for more money and real power for local governments. This is quite problematic. This may turn out to be another expensive policy experiment of our time, with few of its intended objectives met.

One size fit all? . That every parish will be given the exact same amount is really funny. According to Mr Magyezi, they were initially working with Shs100 million but the actors who decide on the money, were only able to provide Shs200b. 

So a simple formula is applied, divided by thousands of parishes and sure enough, there is Shs17 million for all. The commitment to Shs100 million remains, for the next financial year. Now, this sounds fairly interesting. 

This one size fit all is consistent with our fairly lazy approach to policy and practice. In a country where the parishes vary in terms of population, size and culture, while others still lack the most basic infrastructure, for a one size fit all to apply is to recognise that there was no expectation for it to work. 

Since now the amount of money a district gets will depend on the number of parishes it has, shall we see districts clamoring for creation of more parishes in order to take services closer to the people? It seems after making virtually every county a district in the name of bringing services closer to people and increasing resources for districts, we have gone down to the parish.

Politics and development. This is the only aspect that gives the model a chance, if addressed. I wonder, how we will delink politics from this whole process. One of the biggest challenges decentralisation suffered, was its fusion with politics that affected resource distribution and service delivery. This would need a whole piece on its own. It is easy for now to say this is not about politics or money, but hardly believable.   

In 2017, I published an article about how local governments were severely constrained in their performance by a lack of funds, which, along with development priorities, were controlled by the central government. I explained that, within this scenario, ‘variable performance [of districts] is explained to a great extent by the presence of donors and investments by the private sector, but that these funds are attracted to areas where greater capacity exists’. 

I wonder what capacity parishes have. Unless we are able to get people to understand the model well, embed mechanisms for dealing with corruption, address its one size fit all nature and delink this from politics, the model will join a long list of failed development experiments.

Ms Maractho (PhD) is the director of Africa Policy Centre and senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University.                       [email protected]