By Onghwens Kisangala
Government recently created 14 new districts, bringing the total number to 94. But is it sustainable financially and politically to continue with this policy of districtisation? The Independents Onghwens Kisangala spoke to State Minister for Local Government Pereza Ahabwe and below, excerpts:-
Why is government continuously splitting districts into much smaller entities?
There is a constitutional mandate for Parliament to create new districts where necessary. Article 179 of the constitution gives Parliament power to alter the boundaries of districts and create new ones. It is also a historical fact that districts have been created over time. As of 1970 (Obote I regime), how many districts were there in Uganda?
How many districts were created Amins time? In Obote II, how many districts were created? And as we run the country, you see districts increasing from 33 (I think) to 39 to 45, to 53, to you know, progressively, (to 100?) no I think to 80. When we operationalise the 14 districts that are now before Parliament, the districts of Uganda will be 94.
Why have you found it necessary to create these many districts?
When you look at the trends, you realise that more of these districts have come into being when we operationalised the decentralisation policy than before when the central government was running the show. You decentralise services, employment, basically that is what it means. Craving for districts is about distance and bringing services nearer to the people. Look at Kalangala which was formerly part of Masaka. If you have been to Kalangala, you can appreciate that even with the population of 20,000 inhabitants; these people deserved those services in those islands. So the craze for having services nearer becomes real.
While it is governments responsibility to alter and create new district boundaries, isnt it its responsibility too to guide citizens on what is right and appropriate?
Yes, but the other issue is also government policy. We have decided as government that we should have a district hospital. Whether you call it dispensaries or what. When you are in Kabale, a district hospital is in Kabale, a person in Kanungu will therefore look at the policy and say but if we had our own district, it would be mandatory that have our own hospital. The other reason is the quota system of entry in public universities like Makerere. Every district, irrespective of size has been allocated seven slots. The president says in the State of the Nation address that every district should have a road unit with this kind of equipment. Regardless how big or small, they all qualify.Â
Cant government institute these things without necessarily creating new districts?
Government can do that but under what policy framework? It is like you are saying canâ€™t government foresee that these people want another sub-county and move faster to construct another school to forestall that. No government works like that! This is what you must understand. People are strategic.
Okay, but canâ€™t government move in to advise its citizens that it is not wise to ask for a district because you want a particular service?
No, but tell me any â€˜counter factualâ€™ argument you can make to these people who want another school, another health centre IV, III, or II that you say stop demanding for another health centre. Tell me what you can say to them.
We are just a poor country, yet we tend to spend a huge chunk of money on the ever-increasing administrative costs instead of investing in production. It is interesting for government (for example) to have a Parliament that looks like Owino Market?
I want to agree with your arguments partially. Instead of looking for avenues to improve the tourism sector, we are increasingly squeezing even the little revenue we have to cover our administrative cost. But why is it that we donâ€™t have the revenue, when we have the resources, man power? The argument is not about a resource that is small; the issue is that we are not harnessing our productive capacity optimally. In other words, we as government have also failed somewhere. Government, through local governments, through our laws, by-laws and our enforcements mechanisms, have not done well in revenue generation promotions.
But how can someone try to reason that service provision equals to districts?
Besides the strive for autonomy and opportunities in societies, on the supply side, we the politicians have always urged our people to demand for districts. I have cases here where politicians want districts but they donâ€™t know the procedures used to reach Parliament. They come here and start saying â€˜we are marginalised, blah blah blah. They think by delivering a district their political image is boosted and their political survival is guaranteed. Unfortunately, where people agitated for districts in 2005, very few of the area MPs came back to Parliament. It may not be that the population is demanding, but we politicians are supplying these districts for our own selfish interests. I can give you millions of examples. We have them here.
Many of these districts do not raise enough local revenues to support basic services. How does government handle this?
First of all, let me assure you that there is no district in Uganda (even as of 1970, big as they were) that could survive without central government transfers. It can only be by the degree of how much the central helps the district. We support 50% of the budget of KCC. Irrespective of the external resources to districts, even if they were to use the internal revenues 100%, how much would they cover? Therefore, even if KCC decided to use all the resources at their disposal, they would not manage.