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The making of a needy district

By Eriasa S. Mukiibi

Unfulfilled commitments continue to hamper development in Butambala county, Mpigi district

Clad in a somber black suit, Bavekuno Kyeswa, acting chairperson of the newly launched Butambala district, flips through a thick bundle of papers in his small, worn-down office. After a few moments of silence he explains the frustration he has encountered in his new position. Residents look to him to put in place the infrastructure needed to deliver on the much-publicised services that were committed when former Butambala county was chopped off Mpigi district.

But the resources needed to fulfill these obligations have not yet been forthcoming with the first quarter of the financial year already eaten into by half.

Bavekuno says it was agreed with Mpigi district that Butambala gets a grader, a tractor and six motor vehicles, although the grader, tractor and five of the motor vehicles are grounded and need mechanical repair and spare parts. Even the lone running Toyota pick-up vehicle they received needs about Shs10 million to be restored to full road-worthiness.

He says that the mother district is now reluctant to release the property they had hitherto agreed to cede to Butambala district. He argues that these assets were acquired to serve the people of the greater Mpigi district including those in Butambala and it is only fair that the property is shared now since the district has been divided.

 “We have just been running around to get goods on credit because we have not yet got releases from the centre yet we have to move,” says a disappointed Joseph Byaruhanga, the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of the new Butambala district.

The district passed its Shs8.3 billion budget for the 2010/11 financial year two weeks ago, indicating that it would receive Shs100 million as start up funds. The money is supposed to cater for expenses on equipment, furniture, stationary, and if possible facilitate the acquisition of offices.

Operations started in rented premises, which cost the district about Shs22 million annually. (Government spent Shs200 million on the funeral expenses of the late former president Godfrey Binaisa who died on August 5). The new district administration hopes to put up premises within at least two years and has set out to acquire land and have an architectural plan drawn up this financial year at Shs60 million. These headquarters will be put up just 16 kilometers from the spacious headquarters of Mpigi district, from which Butambala has been carved.

Butambala’s budget will almost entirely be funded from central government releases, with locally generated revenues projected to yield a meager three per cent of the total budget.  The biggest chunk of locally generated revenues, a mere Shs 25 million, is expected to be raised from local service tax, which is principally charged on civil servants salaries.

Of the Shs8.3 billion budget, just Shs1.1 billion will be devoted to development expenditure, covering among other things, water and sanitation, National Agricultural Advisory Services and roads. With the CAO admitting that most of the money will go to salaries and other items that don’t add value to the lives of the district inhabitants, it is difficult to see how service provision would improve.

The central government only pays salaries for the CAO, deputy CAO, teachers and health workers. Salaries for the other district employees are charged on the district account, and this is expected to eat up Shs457 million of the Shs829 million they expect to receive as unconditional grant.

Mpigi district CAO, Nabirye Filda, neither confirms nor denies their reluctance to share property with the up-start district. She says: If you are the mother, you dont give away everything; you only give what you can.

She adds that they accord the new districts all the support they can.

Due to resource constraints, there is no provision for the acquisition of vehicles in Butambala’s budget for this year.Â

Bavekuno seems to have foreseen the challenges that would arise from turning Butambala county into a district. As councillor for Ngando sub-county in the former Mpigi district council, he joined arms with NRM vice chairman Moses Kigongo to fight against establishing what they feared would be a beggar district at Gombe.

Overpowered by Butambala MP Ibrahim Kaddunabbi, Bavekuno changed mind and fought to lead the new district. According to the law, the acting chairperson of the new district is chosen from among the LCV councillors that hitherto represented the sub-counties of the new district in the old council.

Bavekuno now has to cement his position as district boss by winning the polls next year, but this shall heavily depend on how the residents judge his performance during these all-important inaugural months. His teams performance, in turn, shall depend on the resources at its disposal, to deliver what the residents expect.

Butambala was the smallest county of the three that made up former Mpigi district. It has five sub-counties with most of its estimated 98,229 inhabitants engaged in peasant agriculture. Its main road, the one that runs from Mpigi, through the headquarters of the new district at Gombe to President Museveni’s ranch in Kisozi, will hopefully get a layer of tarmac next year since preliminary works have begun and it is on the list of roads to be worked on this financial year. The townships along this road are all bathed in dust.

Gombe, the seat of the new district, is surrounded by marshes and its inhabitants are mostly involved in subsistence agriculture, boda boda riding and petty trade. Two institutions give Gombe a near-urban feel; Gombe Secondary School and Gombe Hospital. Gombe Hospital, the only health facility in the old Mpigi district, has a catchment area of over 30 miles. It offers general outpatient and in-patient care and carries out surgical operations. The complicated medical cases require the patients to pay, even though it is a public-funded hospital.

The hospital and the school, almost fused in one due to close proximity, are a different world from the trading centre less than a kilometre below them. In the trading centre, youths are killing time playing games of chance as others mind their business selling merchandise and looking for passengers to ferry on their boda boda. There is also roasted goat meat, delicious to be sincere, with a sizeable piece going for Shs1000. A few hundred metres from the trading centre, one encounters sparsely spaced homesteads along the road, not different from those found in any rural setting in Uganda.

Setting up a new district aside, a town council also has to be established simultaneously since the law requires that all district headquarters are established in a town council. Typically rural Gombe has therefore been uplifted to a town council and has budgeted to receive Shs40 million as start-up funds. Critics say this is one of the reasons Butambala county MP, Kaddunabbi, fought tooth and nail to have the county cut off Mpigi in order to have his village, Bugoye (located near Gombe), uplifted to town council status.

The decision to break up Mpigi into three districts has created three district councils with enormous opportunities for politicians and their associates. It has also left the districts poorer and there is no evidence to suggest that service provision will improve significantly, at least in Butambala’s case.

Two district administrations have to be set up at Gombe (Butambala) and Kanoni (Gomba) with all the paraphernalia that goes with them.

Instantly, this has necessitated an increase in funding from the central government. Whereas Mpigi district had budgeted for Shs22 billion this financial year before it was divided up, the budgets of the three separate districts exceed this figure by Shs7 billion. The remaining Mpigi district, composed of Mawokota South and North constituencies, has now budgeted to spend Shs10.3 billion, while Gomba will spend Shs8.8 billion. They all look to the centre for increased remittances, in a setting where national revenue collections have been suffering a down-turn in light of reducing tax revenue harvests and cut backs in donor funding.

In one swoop last April, government created 14 new districts, bringing the total to 111. Uganda has experienced an accelerated proliferation of new districts in recent years. In 2000, 11 new ones were created, with 22 more following five years later.

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