In Uganda, the legal reforms and supporting legislation for decentralisation started with the 1987 Local Government Statute, followed by the Local Governments (Resistance Council) Statute, 1993.
These laws were later entrenched in the 1995 Constitution and further operationalized by the Local Governments Act, 1997.
These reforms devolved legislative, fiscal, planning and budgeting functions to Districts, Municipal Councils, Municipal Divisions, Town Councils and Sub-counties.
The idea was to involve the people in the way they were governed. The service provision of basic services as provided for under the Second Schedule of the Local Government Act, 1997, was devolved to local governments.
Thus, decentralisation was conceived in terms of better service delivery to the people. It was also assumed that once decentralisation is undertaken by the government, the local people would not only own the government programmes but also pay taxes and participate and contribute to the design and implementation of programmes.
Consequently, the following milestones have been achieved, albeit with some challenges.
Political devolution: Under decentralisation, the local people are able to periodically choose their leaders through elections.
According to Uganda’s Electoral Commission 2016 General Elections Report, there were 1,298,920 elective positions during the 2016 general elections within the local government structures.
The Local Government Act requires that a third of all the elective positions be occupied by women. The same legislation also provides for representation of the youth and persons with disabilities in all these structures.
These elections, therefore, give citizens the opportunity to participate in self-governance by electing leaders of their choice.
Through elections, parish development committee meetings, budget conferences and council meetings have provided platforms for political inclusion and participation at the local level and promoted the active participation of citizens (including the minority and traditionally under-represented groups) in public consultation processes.
In terms of service delivery, there has been an increase in the volume, access and quality of service delivery over the last two decades in all local governments across the country.
In the Education Sector, for instance, the total enrolment in primary education improved from 3.1 million to 7.6 million and 8.8 million in 1996, 2003 and 2017 respectively despite the challenges it is grappling with such as the declining quality of indicators of the learning outcomes, poor school attendance and low retention rates of learners in schools within their jurisdictions.
The health sector has also posted some phenomenal achievements over time. The sector performance report for FY 2017/18 shows that access to healthcare within a 5 km radius has increased from 83% in 2012/13 to 86% of the population.
According to the 2016 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS), the infant mortality rate stands at 43 deaths per 1,000 live births down from 54 deaths per 1, 000 live births in 2011.
The under-five mortality rate is 64 deaths per 1,000 live births down from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011. The maternal mortality ratio (per 100,000 live births) has also reduced from 687 in 1990 to 343 in 2015.
Despite a recent decline, however, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) of 343 per 100 000 live births still accounts for 18% of all deaths among women aged 15-49 years (Government of Uganda, 2017). Most women in rural areas do not have access to contraceptives, antenatal care, a skilled attendant at birth and postnatal care.
Women in rural Uganda still face delays in deciding to seek care; delays in reaching care (due to lack of transportation and lack of road infrastructure), and delays in receiving adequate and appropriate care (such as lack of skilled birth attendants).
Access to clean and Safe water Coverage: As of June 2018, the national safe water coverage in rural areas was estimated at 70%. Of the 57,974 rural villages in Uganda, 38,183 (66%) of the villages had clean and safe water sources as of June 2018.
To consolidate the gains, the local governments need to focus on further increasing access to clean and safe water and sanitation as it is essential to lower infant, child and maternal mortality. Local urban governments must also be particularly vigilant as urban rates of child mortality areas are stagnating in many countries.
Besides, district roads managed by the District Local Governments have also increased from 27,500km in 2008 to a total district road network of 35,566 kilometres(km). The density of the community road network has also increased from 35,000km to 78,567 km between 2008 and 2016.
With an increased road network, communities can easily connect to service delivery centres like health facilities and schools.
The interconnectedness of these local areas has supported local agricultural production, local economic growth through strengthening transport infrastructure, linkage to markets and promoting local food value chain.
Poverty Reduction. Uganda has had an impressive poverty reduction performance in the past two decades.
Monetary poverty halved, with the poverty headcount rate declining from 56.4 per cent in 1992/93 to 24.5 per cent in 2009/10. According to the 2016 Poverty Assessment, Uganda has reduced monetary poverty at a very rapid rate.
The proportion of the Ugandan population living below the national poverty line declined from 56.4% to 31.1% and to 19.7%% in 1993, 2006 and 2013 respectively. It is envisaged that there will be more gains in poverty reduction through stimulating productivity, economic growth and incomes at the household level.
Despite a remarkable reduction in monetary poverty, increased participation in governance, selection of leaders and access to services; the country still faces widespread deprivation in several non-monetary dimensions of poverty.
These include; improved sanitation, access to electricity, education (completion and progression), and child malnutrition. This warrants a continued focus on improving the access and quality of these basic services.
The milestones of decentralisation, therefore, remain fragile due to the vulnerability of households to adverse shocks, if not consolidated. This calls for a careful reflection on requisite investment in areas that can generate long-term gains for ordinary people if Uganda is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
BY JONAS MBABAZI from Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE).