By Mukwaya Emmanuel Official
Daily Express Contributor
Ssembabule District councilors fronting a motion to separate Lwemiyaga constituency touched my mind and here is my submission.
Going by the notion of more districts, more services, Uganda would be a star performer given that it ranks number one in Africa and the fourth in the world among countries with the largest numbers of highest level of sub-national administrative uints and the smallest population per unit area; Yet uganda has one of the worst world’s poorest indicators of social services delivery.
Uganda had 16 districts by 1959, which increased to 17 in 1962, and were 33 in 1986 currently we’ve almost 112 districts. Furthermore, a range of local government units operate under the district. Some of these units are political bodies and others are mainly administrative. With the number of districts now standing at 112, it can be estimated that the current number of local political and administrative units (excluding support staff) may stand at 90 000. It has been argued that this makes Uganda one of the most “over governed countries in sub-Saharan Africa”.
The demarcation of local authority boundaries is an important component of the process of democratic devolution. The demarcation delineates electoral boundaries and determines the size of the unit of local democracy. The Constitution provides for demarcation of a district into electoral areas in an equal manner according to the number of inhabitants.
However, this may vary due to logistical factors, such as communication, geographical features and population density. The demarcation of electoral areas is subject to Article 181 of the Constitution. Demarcation takes place according to a number of criteria. The number of inhabitants and the need to ensure that women constitute one-third of any local council plays a prominent role.
What the above provision means is that a district is a basic unit within which electoral areas are determined. Furthermore, counties in a district are usually constituencies for national elections. Ultimately, creating new districts inevitably increases the number of new national constituencies, since new counties have to be created as constituencies for national elections.
The demarcation of districts is governed by the 1995 Constitution. Parliament is empowered to alter district boundaries or to create new ones. Changes in or alteration of boundaries must be supported by the majority of the members of Parliament. Demarcation is based on three factors. First, the change or alteration to a district boundary must be based on the need for effective administration.
Secondly, it must be based on the need to bring services closer to the people. Thirdly, the means of communication, geographical features, population density, economic viability and the “wishes of the people concerned” must be considered. There is no specific injunction on Parliament to assess these wishes through a consultative procedure. Despite the existence of criteria for creating new districts, there is evidence that some of the newly-created districts serve as inducements to communities to vote for a specific political party (usually the ruling party).
As long as the ruling party has the numbers in Parliament that it does, it can create as many districts as it wants without a significant input from independent stakeholders. Establishing more local government units is aimed at creating more space for nurturing democracy and to stimulate development and service delivery at the local level by creating closer proximity between communities and local government. The policy rationale for enhancing the number of local government units is intimately connected to the debate about the advantages and disadvantages of devolution.
We all seem to be excited with getting a new district attached with jobs being created for the community people, constructing health facilities, clean water, education facilities and improved local road network, exploitation of resources, extended grants from the central government and NGOs. It can be argued that closer proximity of communities to their leaders promotes good governance. Communities can demand explanations more quickly and more easily from smaller local government units than from bigger local government units.
Downsizing local government units may also enhance the state’s ability to address poverty as decision-making at the lowest levels is better able to synchronize development with the needs of communities. I am not against the creation of Lwemiyaga District per se but bare in mind that many of the new districts like Luuka, Kalungu, Motooma, Butambala, Rubirizi mention them, are One county Districts. This creates conflict of roles with the county council’s. Deprive the mother districts of vital revenue sources with narrow tax base.
Local government taxes and rent for business premises are likely to be hiked, cost of living likely to rise. Every district must have a district chairperson as the political head, a vice chairperson, a speaker and deputy speaker, a resident district commissioner, Chief Administrative Officer, District planner, District Education Officer, District Environment Officer, District Agricultural Officer, NAADs coordinator, District Health Officer and councillors including those councillors that cater for special interest groups such as women, the youth, the disabled and the elderly. All drawing hefty salaries and allowances.
Creating a new district means that each of the above political and administrative offices is created. It also means that the number of councillors increases. Each district requires the services of a district engineer, to mention but a few. This capacity requires time to develop. It may thus be argued that the creation of new districts strains existing capacity to realise the above socio-economic rights. It is important for district councils to be populated with capable councillors. District councillors should be literate. They should be knowledgeable in simple arithmetic, be computer literate and be able to analyse complicated documents such as budgets and financial statements.
The above skills are critical to the performance of the council’s oversight role. The debate about minimum education standards for elective posts illustrates that the quality of district councillors is a challenge in Uganda. The failure to set minimum education standards for all elective posts:“ because the majority of voters in the country are either illiterate or possess minimal educational qualifications and in order to please them and covet their votes, many political leaders shy away from rewarding those who struggled to be educated.
In any event, a nation can only develop and prosper if the majority of its leaders both at the national and local levels are enlightened through education and reading. The tolerance and acceptance of mediocrity in our elections have meant a temptation on the part of those who do not qualify under the very minimum standards, to cheat and forge educational certificates and diplomas”.
The conclusion is that the creation of too many districts increases the pressure on the capacity of the central government to sustain systems of already struggling communities. Yes there are achievements attached to creation of new districts, but do the local natives basically benefit from the motion of creating Lwemiyaga as District.
The writer is a Concerned Citizen, born of Lwemiyaga Ssembabule District
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