Parish Development Model: Same script, different cast?

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What you need to know:

  • Over the last two decades, Uganda has registered growth and development, thanks in part to investments in infrastructure, while at the same time an unacceptably high proportion of Ugandans continued to suffer from severe and multi-dimensional deprivation.
  • The coming of the Covid-19, which necessitated two lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, exacerbated both the deprivation and inequality. As Frederic Musisi writes, how far can the Parish Development Model go in fostering inclusive growth and wealth creation as other anti-poverty schemes floundered in the past?

The residential ‘trainers training workshop’ for the Parish Development Model (PDM) was held at Colline Hotel Mukono, early last month and attended by parish and administrative chiefs, among others, who are the chieftains of this grassroots programme.

After the first day of mundane deliberations, one of the trainers recounted to Daily Monitor: “It was obvious most of the people there were eager to get done, get their per-diem and get out.” 

The training programme usually commenced at 8:30am but participants were often late.

“You have facilitators talking about skilling, business retooling, and entrepreneurship; essential skills that these people seated here in the hotel are supposed to take back to their communities to change people’s lives,” the trainer said.

“This laissez-faire mindset is why we seem to be making baby steps in everything. If the so-called change agents are to behave this way, what will they change?” the trainer added.

Chapter 18 of the 341-page National Development Plan (NDP) III, an offshoot of the Vision 2040, the government’s lofty policy prescription for transforming Uganda into a middle-income country, delves extensively on mobilising communities and mindset programmes through several initiatives to, among others, empower families and communities, to actively participate in sustainable development.

It is also from NDP III, running between 2021/2022 and 2024/2025 under the theme ‘Sustainable Industrialisation for Inclusive Growth, Employment and Wealth Creation’ that the PDM was midwifed as a strategy for organising and delivering public and private sector interventions for wealth creation and employment generation at the parish level as the lowest economic planning unit.

“Its implementation marks a major milestone in Uganda’s development journey in three main ways; accelerating implementation of area-based commodity development planning, which is vital for realising the quantity and quality of agricultural production, and extend the whole-of-government approach for development to the parish level in a consolidated manner as opposed to working in silos,” Finance minister Matia Kasaija told Parliament last year.

Since the last campaign elections, the ruling NRM party has been popularising the PDM under the stewardship of the Local Government ministry. Ministers and NRM MPs have been traversing the country selling the project to rural masses.

A similar script

For long spells, capital injections towards poverty alleviation at the grassroots has remained at the top of the government’s playbook. As regards poverty alleviation, PDM is the latest scheme preceded by a dozen other programmes since 1997, which folded after devouring billions of shillings.

A Parliament probe has established that the most recent Emyooga scheme launched by President Museveni in August 2019 to propel 68 per cent of Ugandans in subsistence production to commercial production and promote access to financial services by association—in the run-up to the 2021 campaign elections, was mismanaged.

Rural development expert/consultant Iga Zinunula told this newspaper in an interview that the PDM has what it takes—ingredients— to succeed where others floundered.

“I have read, heard, and seen, there is a lot of emphasis on mindset change unlike previously, which is key if you are going to transform especially rural communities,” he said.

“PDM has to think long term—it should be given time to work out, business sense should be emphasised, and the facilitators should be good at the details; if they continue doing things the usual mediocre way I am afraid we know what to expect.

“One of the biggest problem has been the longevity of these programmes. They start one, then stop it even before everyone knows it, so we are always on a seesaw and yet you are talking about changing how people operate. The projectisation then leads to begging where we think lack of resources of the biggest problem so officials are focused on writing proposals to capture the attention of donors. This lack of consistent long-term thinking has badly affected us. To focus so much in resources is a poverty mentality,” Mr Zinunula argues.

Before Emyooga, there was Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), another amorphous outfit headed by the President’s brother, Gen Salim Saleh, which has devoured billions of taxpayers’ money. It was an offshoot of the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads), a statutory semi-autonomous body under the ministry of Agriculture, which ran out of steam. A section of MPs led by Kira Municipality’s Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda have been pushing for an audit of all monies sank in Naads. Some of the Naads funds have been re-directed to OWC whose operations remain opaque.

Leaders of different Saccos in eastern Uganda protest over failure to access Emyooga funds in August 2021. Analysts are concerned  that PDM may suffer the same fate as other past programmes.  PHOTO / MUDANGHA KOLYANGHA

Naads itself was designed to operate within the structures of the local government system and farmer institutions. The PDM, whose aim is to lift 3.5 million households out of subsistence production to the money economy, is now going to the lowest local government—the parish—to increase household food security and incomes and improve the quality of life of Ugandans.

Naads itself was an offshoot of the Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA) conceived to guide policies and investment plans to enable the rural poor to improve their livelihoods sustainably, particularly by raising farm productivity, increasing the share of agricultural production that is marketed, and creating on-farm and off– farm employment.

Eradication by gambling?

There is hardly any government closure/audit report that details the successes, achievements, and weaknesses of each of the anti-poverty schemes over the years. But poverty, according to several reports, including the World Bank, has gradually reduced while government has been receiving plaudits from donors for posting economic growth averaging 5 percent in the last decade, neo-liberal economic reforms that have seen Foreign Direct Investment grow two-fold, and revenue collections doubled.

However, critics argue that such rosy economic growth figures are not a measure of societal well-being, and do not factor in the human development index, welfare per capita and rising inequalities.

PDM’s budget was increased from Shs200b this financial year ending in June to a whooping Shs1trillion in the next 2022/2023 FY budget starting in July when each of the 12,000 parishes is expected to receive at least Shs100m.

The specific guidelines to be followed to distribute the money are yet to be detailed by the responsible ministry. There also several unanswered questions such as, where has the scheme been piloted, and what lessons, if at all any, were learnt.

“The politicising of the whole thing. Often times you hear sentiments like ‘this is our chance to have some of the money which was at the top,’ but we don’t ask how much we put in and how much we will recover. The third is corruption; money not doing what is supposed to do,” Mr Zinunula observed.

He revealed: “The way our people grow their foods or organise their farms, growing at least five legumes on a small plot is largely a means of survival. If one fails, another works; they have been doing it for decades, because they saw their parents do it and their great grandparents do. To change that takes some bit of time, effort, and collective thinking not just changing from one scheme to the next.”

The Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture was an ingredient of the first poverty alleviation scheme, the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP), rolled out in 1997 to guide prioritisation of public policy cooperation and resources between the government and donors, especially in education and health. Specifically, PEAP was Uganda’s first poverty reduction strategy paper prepared at the behest of the World Bank.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) posited in one paper on the PEAP at the time that, “poor people must be able to participate in this growth, both by expanding smallholder agriculture and by increasing employment in industry and services.”

A decade earlier, President Museveni, who during the five-year guerilla war he waged against the Obote II/Tito Okello governments, respectively, professed Marxist ideals, had wholeheartedly embraced the neo-liberal dogma of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) crusaded by IMF and World Bank. The SAPs included privatisation of all state enterprises, unbundling of cooperative societies, and a free-market model.

 The cooperative movement played an integral part in poverty eradication across post-independent Africa until the early 1990s when the Bretton Woods Institutions succeeded in imposing the SAPs on aid-desperate governments whose countries had been set back by endless civil strife.

In Uganda, the history of cooperatives dates back to the 1920s with formation of farmers groups, which largely operated underground because the British colonial government feared African grassroots movements. In 1946, the Cooperative ordinance was passed, which legalised them, and successive laws such as the Cooperative Societies Act, 1952, the 1970 Cooperative Societies Act which replaced the 1963 Cooperative Societies Act, the Cooperative Societies Statute in 1991.

Start of problems

The closure of the Cooperative Bank in 1998 following a litany of problems marked the demise of many cooperatives. Later attempts to revive the bank have borne little fruit.

While the last three decades have been marked by neo-liberal development model economic policy of growth at an average of 6 per cent per annum, a 2013 report by ActionAid details that, the outcome has been the maladjusted development with most of the benefits going to a small business and political elite that are urban-based.

“The collapse of cooperatives paralleled increasing income inequality and poverty as the predominantly rural phenomena. This in turn gave new impetus to rural urban migration, resulting in what has been observed as a decline of the rural economy. The failure to address such inequality and poverty has generated debates calling for the revival of cooperatives as a significant institutional vehicle for rural development,” the report reads in part.

Wasted efforts ?

Mr Yusuf Sserunkuma, a researcher, echoes the sentiments of former Finance minister Ezra Suruma.

“Africans/Ugandans will remain poor as long as they cannot own/control their banks and financial institutions. If you are giving people handouts or what they call credit, like what government is doing, you damn sure know the next thing they need is to access capital, from banks that are foreign owned and charge interest rates as they wish. This should be the starting conversation everything else, Emyooga, Parish Model, etc, is just window dressing,” he says.

Mr Sserunkuma posited, “I don’t think government is getting it wrong. What they are doing is deliberate; doing what they are doing because, what do you do if you have a restless public that asks for jobs and credit and you know well are unable to do it. So, you find a way of creating a distraction, of deflecting responsibility from us (the people in charge) to the people themselves. If I give you Shs100m to 10,000 people you are damn sure they will spend and that is their business. The economic environment in this country is so hostile to small businesses, entrepreneurs, so when you give them money the blame shifts from you.”

From PEAP in 1997, the government has vacillated from one poverty alleviation drive to another with the same script and different cast. According to the IMF paper on the PEAP IN 1997, economic growth and employment-generation are necessary conditions for poverty-eradication; PEAP must be based on an understanding of the growth potential of the Ugandan economy, and of the public interventions needed to achieve it.

PEAP, according to a 2005 paper co-authored by the now executive director of the NGO Forum Moses Isooba details that it was partly midwifed after the 1996 elections—the first under the 1995 Constitution—that pitted President Museveni against Paul Ssemwogerere during which people voiced concern that while there was relative peace and security, poverty was widespread.

“The economic growth that was being celebrated nationally was not visible in all communities around the country. There was a need for an alternative approach that could bring about improvements in poor people’s livelihoods. When the 1996 electioneering ended, the incumbent president, who had been re-elected, gathered his policy-makers and donors and took them to the rural communities in the Luwero Triangle (a region where the 1986 guerrilla war had started and thousands had been killed) for a ‘poverty tour’,” the paper titled: ‘Setting the scene: the Ugandan Poverty Eradication Action Plan,’ reads in part.

Seventeen years after the report, and 36 years after the Luweero Triangle offered the NRA a sanctuary for its guerilla rebellion, the sub-region remains enveloped in poverty.

Speaking at the launch of the PDM last month, President Museveni said “during the recently concluded elections, we promised you that that the 2021-2026 term is going to be Kisanja for creating wealth, jobs and incomes for all Ugandans.”

Mr Sserunkuma, however, argued that these are political projects dressed in poverty alleviation garb.

“Projects constantly reproduce themselves. So, they need to find a new language to capture political gesture. This government has mastered the art of symbolism; appearing to do something when you know the ultimate end. If you give a person Shs5m in town for business, because of the hostile business environment they will only subsist; 100m can’t produce a billion business.”

He, further, reiterated Dr Suruma’s views published in the Observer newspaper titled, ‘Ugandans will remain poor until they own their bank.’

 “One of the most blatant aims of new colonialism (neocolonialism) is to ensure that Africans are denied access and control of capital. The evidence is overwhelming,” Dr Suruma, who served as director of research and deputy Governor, Bank of Uganda and later rose to the rank of becoming chief executive of UCB and later fired after he opposed its sale, wrote.

In separate interview on May 2021, Dr Suruma, told this newspaper that the economies of the world are of a synthesis—coming together in finding a way forward where the public and private sector work harmoniously.

“There are two very fundamental interests we have as a society. One is access to credit because most of us don’t have sufficient savings to start without resorting to some kind of borrowing, access to finance remains a big issue. We have made an attempt to bring access to rural areas although we have a long way to go,” he argued.

The government has received plaudits from donors for posting economic growth averaging at 5 percent, neo-liberal economic reforms that have seen Foreign Direct Investment grow two-fold, and revenue collections doubled.

However, the World Bank says poverty is much more than the mere lack of money; it is about deprivation in other important areas of wellbeing such as education, health, water, and housing.

Finance minister Matia Kasaija speaks during the launch of Emyooga in Kampala in 2021. PHOTO / ABUBAKER LUBOWA

In Uganda today, politics has been commoditised in a clientele-patronage setting where the elite buy the electorate vote for the highest bid. It appears that this strait-jacket method of expenditure has been transplanted towards poverty alleviation and the lens has only been fitted with economic jargon and metaphors, which is devoid of pragmatism.