Strengthening Parliamentary oversight to improve service delivery at the local government level
MBALE - Lack of drugs in health centres, poorly maintained roads and inadequate funding to districts were some of the issues that dominated debate at the Parliamentary outreach held in Mbale town on Friday April 20-12.
Over 100 representatives from 25 districts in Eastern Uganda participated in the event held at the Mbale Resort Hotel, chaired by the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, and attended by her deputy, Jacob Oulanya, the leader of opposition in Parliament, Nandala Mafabi, and several ministers and area Members of Parliament.
- The outreach was the fourth to be held following others in the Central Region (Masaka), Northern Region (Gulu) and Western Region (Fort Portal).
- The outreach programme is aimed at bringing Parliament closer to the people.
- Through the outreach, accountability mechanisms have been strengthened at the regional level, helping to improve service delivery.
One by one, the district representatives, including chairpersons, chief Administrative officers, Speakers of district local councils, and women, youth and child representatives shared their experiences and highlighted the challenges that appeared to cut across the region.
All districts reported suffering from chronic budget shortfalls caused in part by low collections of local tax revenue, following the suspension of graduated tax in 2000. This has made it difficult to provide essential services such as healthcare, education and better infrastructure, they said.
Currently, only about 17 percent of the national budget is allocated to local government administration, which is not sufficient to meet the needs of the districts.
On average, each district councillor is paid an allowance of Shs 15,000 per sitting, which again is subjected to 30% Pay As You Earn tax.
Furthermore, a big percentage of the development funds transferred to the districts are conditional grants that are tied to specific sectors, leaving no room for districts to allocate funding to address specific local concerns.
“We need to have the flexibility to determine how and on what we want to spend the money because we know exactly what our people need on the ground,” Bernard Mujasi, the district chairperson, Mbale said to huge applause from the gathering.
Grace Watuwa, the Bulambuli district chief administrative officer revealed that disbursement of funds for Universal Primary Education for term one of the school calendar which ended two weeks ago, had not been received at the district despite reminders to the ministry of Education.
“We are about to start the second term, and I do not know how we can be expected to provide quality education when we have not even cleared the fees for the first term. Government needs to help us if they are serious about service delivery,” she appealed.
Districts further complained that the salaries and allowances paid to local officials were not commensurate with the volume of work they carry out, and noted that this is making it difficult to attract and hire highly qualified staff.
A proposal to halt the creation of new districts threw a spanner in the works and sparked some heated argument with some supporting the proposal while others firmly opposed it. A consensus however, emerged in end that there is need for government to temporarily stay the process until the current districts have built enough capacity to generate sufficient revenue without depending too much on the central government for their survival.
Other recommendations included improving roads in the districts; re-constituting the Local council 1-2 as well as women councils; providing more funding to agriculture; increasing salaries for district personnel; fulfilment of presidential pledges; and early disbursement of funds to districts.
In his presentation, Nandala Mafabi, called for political tolerance and bipartisanship on matters of public interest, such as the right to assemble for those who wish to engage in civil protest, fighting against corruption as well as fair and equitable distribution of resources.
Following up on Mafabi’s remarks, Jacob Oulanya outlined the roles and duties of district speakers and clerks to local councils, and urged them to give equal and fair hearing to all councillors during council meetings, regardless of political affiliations.
Minister of Works and Transport, Abraham Byandala pledged to follow-up all presidential commitments to repair and construct new roads in Eastern Uganda and provide feedback to the districts.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga wrapped up the two day outreach with a promise to follow up on the recommendation to conduct an orientation programme for district speakers, clerks and councillors on parliamentary procedures and regulation to improve the quality of debate in the district councils.
Participants were assured that all issues that had been raised during the outreach would be taken note of and duly addressed in the committees of Parliament.
The outreach was funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) following others held in the Central Region (Masaka), Northern Region (Gulu) and Western Region (Fort Portal).
The outreach programme fits well within the theme of the Inter Parliamentary Union Conference, "Parliaments and People: Bridging the Gap" held in Kampala early this month and contributes to the aspiration of Uganda's National Development Plan of accelerating socio-economic transformation to ensure prosperity and participation for citizens