INSIDE MINISTER MAGYEZI’S PLAN TO ADDRESS DISTRICT BOSSES, TOWN MAYORS’ GRIEVANCES
By Samuel Kamugisha
When President Yoweri Museveni reshuffled his cabinet three months ago, one of the new faces that caught the attention of many Ugandans was Raphael Magyezi.
The Igara West MP once again stole national headlines not much for his appointment as Local Government (LG) Minister replacing Tom Butime as for the reason he was included on the coveted cabinet list.
Print, online and broadcast media analysts, and amateurs alike, all seemed to agree that Museveni had rewarded Magyezi for being the brains behind the controversial hewing of the age limit clause from the Constitution to allow the president extend his rule.
But Magyezi kept telling the reporters seeking his comment on the news of his appointment that he was qualified for the job – given his experience working with Parliament’s Local Government Committee. Still, some, including the people in the ministry and local government leaders such as LCV bosses and mayors, harboured doubts.
In fact, others like Minister Kahinda Otafiire warned Magyezi he should be careful when dealing with officials at the LG Ministry because “they use their hearts more than their heads.”
Even with all the questions surrounding his appointment, Magyezi moved in and promised to, among others, expunge corruption out of the ministry.
“The president appointed us to help him fight corruption. He [Museveni] said corruption is unacceptable and it is a disservice to the people,” said Magyezi at a ceremony where he received instruments of power from Butime who was posted to the Tourism Ministry.
“Several reports by Transparency International have shown that local governments are not transparent. Of course, there are other institutions like the police which are already ahead of us in corruption. But are not doing well.”
About a month after he officially assumed office in mid-January, Magyezi has outlined his plan for local government units and made efforts to resolve some of the outstanding issues plaguing service delivery in local council units.
At a recent meeting of district local government chairpersons and mayors of municipal councils held under the theme: Repositioning Local Governments as engines of local economic development; the role of elected leaders, Minister Magyezi, and junior LG Minister Jennifer Namuyangu attempted to address the concerns raised by local leaders.
MAYORS AND LCV BOSSES SPEAK; LG MINISTRY RESPONDS
Describing Local Government leaders as “foot soldiers”, Uganda Local Government Association (ULGA) President Joseph Lomonyang listed five key challenges that required attention. The issues touched on the concern of persistent recentralization of devolved functions, welfare, devolution of funds and exclusion of elected local leaders.
“We have been deployed to work and work we can, but all we are saying is ‘facilitate us better, remunerate us better, and give us tools and adequate resources to leverage on our existing commitment to provide Leadership at the local level for the transformation as a country,” said Lomonyang.
Manafwa District LCV Chairperson John Musila compared the salaries he and his colleagues earn with what their Kenyan counterparts took home at the end of the month.
He observed that governors – who headed units the size of most Ugandan districts – earned over Shs50m while Members of County Assemblies (MCAs) – an equivalent of a Ugandan councilor – were paid over Shs12m every month.
“We do a lot of donkey work for this government down there [at the grassroot level],” said Musila. “While in Parliament, please think about us.”
But Namuyangu, the junior LG Minister, promised to keep pushing for pay increment for mayors and LCV Chairpersons.
“We are working on this as a government. The paper is ready; we will go back and talk about the enhancement. We know and talk about it and we will keep talking. We are still pushing,” said Namuyangu.
Wilson Sanya, the Deputy Chairperson of the Urban Authorities Association of Uganda (UAAU) complained about transport means for the mayors.
“Most of us travel in buses. We need vehicles,” said Sanya, also Koboko Mayor.
On this matter, Namuyangu said government was aware of the mayors’ need for cars and would allocate funds for this cause in subsequent budgets.
Sanya also called for the ‘regionalization of funds’ and for the streamlining of urban planning.
“In most urban areas, development takes place, then planning happens later,” he said.
CHANGE OF NAME, TITLES
He also suggested that the name ‘local government’ be substituted with ‘decentralized units’ as a way of making people take the sector seriously.
“We are looked down because of the word ‘local’; is it possible to make it ‘decentralized?” he asked.
Francis Kibuuka Amooti, the Mubende LCV boss, boldly broached the idea of changing titles of LG leaders, asking the line ministry to push for the renaming of district chairpersons as “governors.”
“We are being challenged down there [in the districts] because there is a mixture of titles [because most leaders of committees are called ‘Chairman/Chairperson],” said Kibuuka. “We feel that much as you are fearing the facilitation issue, you can name us governors as the case is in Kenya.”
In response, Minister Namuyangu asked LCV bosses to raise their proposals as Parliament moves to make Constitutional Amendments in the governance of LGs.
Musila also told the LG minister that Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) had made it difficult for them to do their work.
“RDCs want to be everything,” he said. “Some of them are from the opposition and have been fighting us from outside government but are now fighting us from within. The ministry must rein in on them.”
But Namuyangu advised Musila and ULGA to refer the matter to the Ministry of the Presidency since RDCs were presidential appointees.
THE CAOs CONFLICT
Other LG leaders complained that some Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) were uncooperative, corrupt, incompetent and arrogant, leading to conflicts with elected leaders.
Namuyangu agreed that whereas some CAOs were guilty of the accusations, some district leaders had made it a habit to foment conflict as a way of making offices too hot for the accounting officers to do their work.
“If you make the idea of rejecting CAOs a habit, we also become suspicious. Some of you leaders even reject the CAOs who have been working well, the same people who go to other districts and continue doing well,” she said.
“It is true that these things [of disagreeing with one another] happen even in families but you have to be tolerant.”
She attributed elected leaders’ conflicts with CAOs to cliques that seek to take advantage of the office of the district accounting officer.
“There are cliques. Whichever CAO we bring, one clique grabs, and the other [clique which doesn’t] complains [and pushes for the exit of the accounting officer],” she said.
The Minister also outlined key interventions expected to ease the work of Local Council leaders and Mayors as well as multi-billion projects to be undertaken by districts.
On legal and policy issues, Magyezi informed the LG leaders that the separation of Local Government from Public Sector Management had put LG in “a better position to deal with issues of decentralization”, further telling them it won’t be “business as usual.”
He also reminded the LCV leaders and mayors that the Ministry was in the process of amending the Local Governments Act Cap 243, as a way of bettering service delivery.
His package also includes: funds to procure motorcycles for all LC III Chairpersons in the Country, and procurement of standard Stamps for Village/Cell Chairpersons as a way of weeding out unscrupulous practices.
The LG Ministry will channel about Shs185bn (about $50.4m) through districts as government implements the Local Economic Growth Support (LEGS) Project. At least 17 districts have been selected for the LEGS project which seeks to boost agricultural productivity, water supply, irrigation and micro-finance.
The other project is The Development Initiative for Northern Uganda (DINU) whose funding has already been secured from donors. Some 16 districts will benefit from this project which seeks to improve LG performance in planning, budgeting, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) implementation, financial reforms and enhancing service delivery through a Local Government Excellence Fund.