Decentralization gone wrong
The current National Resistance Movement (NRM) government has over the years made efforts at decentralisation by increasing the number of districts from a mere 33 in 1986 to 116 to date, with six more to be born on July 1, 2017. Six and seven more will become effective on July 1, 2018 and 2019 respectively. Thus by July 1, 2019, Uganda will have 135 districts. The rationale was to empower the people and bring services closer to them. However, just like the Local Council (LC) system, the initial NRM administrative model which had originally “won the admiration of a large section of the population, especially in the rural areas where the poorest and most exploited live,” the decentralization model has been overtaken by politics.
In this model, power vaguely lies in the hands of politically appointed administrative personnel who are accountable only to the appointing authority. The creation of an unprecedented number of districts and the subsequent increase in electoral constituencies has been criticized by political observers as just a tool for consolidating political support for the ruling party prior to an election. Critics see this as a distinct strand of neo-patrimonialism based on a culture of rewarding and mobilizing for political support. They also see it as far from being capable of ensuring sustainable integrity for the local units – their identities, cultures and traditions. “The result is that local government’s capacity to deliver services effectively is being seriously compromised. This inability to deliver services is leading to growing public disenchantment that could ultimately lead to the undoing of Uganda’s attempt to achieve democracy through decentralization.”
Moreover, the new districts, and subsequently big numbers of National Assembly representatives, are not only an added financial cost and supervision burden, but they also fall short of the desired sizeable, freely elected and population related criterion. On the outset, there is no denying the theoretically positive reasons for creating new districts, main among them being making social services more accessible to millions of rural people who feel marginalized. However, such a progressive increase, as an editorial in a local newspaper lamented, “has had no meaningful impact on the lives of the local population because they have always been created as a result of presidential pledges prior to or during elections.’’
Critics argue that the current NRM Government has survived the three decades of her regime by rewarding political loyalists and entrenching economic inequalities. They would argue that both the oversized body of elected representatives and the extremely big size of government are detrimental to national development and transparent governance. For the five-year term beginning 2016, President Museveni appointed 31 full cabinet ministers and 49 ministers of state. Given the big body of local administrators mentioned above in the government’s drive towards decentralization, this looks like a big contradiction in terms and practice. One would think that such a big number of local representatives would require only a small cabinet to enable quick decision-making at the central level, and subsequent quick implementation of policies and services at the ground.