Monday, September 23, 2013

The State of Democratic Governance and Accountability at the Local Government Level in Uganda

The Country Director of KAS, Ms. Angelika Klein and ACFODE Director Ms. Regina Bafaki launch the report with representatives from civil society and government 

On 19th September 2013, Action For Development (ACFODE) and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) launched the final report on the state of democratic governance and accountability at local government level in Uganda. The report was the final product of the project: "Action for Strengthening Good Governance and Accountability" implemented with support from the European Union under the Democratic Governance and Accountability Programme. 

It is an outcome of an assessment conducted in 11 districts in Uganda namely: Kiboga and Masaka in the central region, Jinja, Palisa, and Soroti in the eastern region, Arua, Lira, and Pader in the northern region, and Kabale, Kisoro, and Mbarara in the western region. The assessment tool was designed to monitor and measure the state of governance in the selected districts and inform major stakeholders about key trends and needed interventions.

The assessment established a general improvement of democratic trends in the districts characterized by general elections that enlist high levels of citizen participation, the presence of frameworks for citizen engagement in the decision making including in the district planning processes, as well as increasing opportunities for participation of women and young adults in decision making. The assessment however highlighted a number of issues that require urgent improvement including;

• Limited awareness of local citizens about their power and the extent of this power in the democratic system. This restricts their ability to exercise their right to promote and demand for democratic practice and accountability. Citizens are not fully confident to demand accountability from their leaders. 

• The disconnection between elected leaders and citizens, which facilitates an atmosphere of limited consultation and feedback between the electorate and their democratic representatives. 

• Limited transparency in decision making, especially regarding the allocation of limited resources within the districts. 

• Failure to hold elections for lower local councils, which has promoted illegitimacy and ineffectiveness, thereby curtailing a key channel to grassroots democratic participation. 

• Unfair politics, which is especially disadvantageous to the political opposition as their activities at the grassroots are limited by local authorities. 

• Limited levels of identification with and ownership of public affairs and resources, among citizens. Also, a culture of tolerance for corruption among all stakeholders, including citizens. 

• Limited channels for citizens to access information 

ACFODE Executive Director, Ms. Regina Bafaki, making remarks after the launch of the report

The key recommendations from the assessment were:

• Civic education can no longer continue to be a sporadic endeavor usually targeted around election times. The several calls that have been made for continuous civic education should be heeded. This intervention needs to be targeted towards elected leaders in as much the same way as it will address local citizens. While civil society organizations can continue to play a strong role in this regard, it is important that the Uganda Human Rights Commission in fulfillment of its constitutional mandate takes lead as the front runner in carrying out civic education.

• The long-existing demand for elections at lower local councils needs to be met. Since their elections have not been conducted for the last two electoral cycles, the existing office bearers are generally illegitimate and less effective. However, the units avail the state with governance platforms close to regular citizens, thus providing a key avenue for democratic participation. 

• Local authorities in the districts, sub counties and villages need to demonstrate a better appreciation of the pluralistic political system, which currently governs Uganda. In particular they need to desist from unnecessary limitations on the free operation of political parties and other legal associations that express interest in engaging in public discourse on political topics. Public institutions cannot act partisan in a multiparty setting.

• The close interconnection between the state and politics needs to be addressed. Within the districts there remain several public officers who act as if they represent the ruling party. Their actions have been reported to curtail free political competition.

• Budget limitations withstanding, elected leaders in the districts need to come up with innovative ways to improve contacts with citizens. The idea of a public accountability day at district and other lower levels presents some of the initiatives that can be considered. This initiative has already been taken up in Kiboga district.

• There is need for strong public education to promote zero tolerance for corruption. Citizens also need to identify more with public affairs and hold ownership of public resources.

• There is also need to improve and sensitize citizens about existing channels for accessing information from local governance units.

Story credit:

Photo credit: Esther Namitala, KAS

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