Published by Patra K on

Whose interests does the proliferation of districts serve?

A map showing the districts in Uganda

The Parliament of Uganda in September this year moved a section of its staff to Kingdom Kampala a private building owned by mogul Sudhir Ruparelia on Nile Avenue, approximately 400 meters from the Parliamentary building.

This is because the current space at the main Parliamentary building on Queens Avenue can no longer accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of legislators who are a result of the proliferation of districts and cities. The 11th Parliament has a total of 529 Members of Parliament from 426 in the 10th Parliament. 323 of the 529 now sit in one of the wings of the rented outbuilding with the 206 MPs left at the Parliamentary main building.

Parliament now rents office space at Kingdom Kampala for UGX 800 million ($226.3 thousand) monthly translating to UGX 9 billion ($2.5 million) per year and UGX 18 billion for two years ($5.6 million), the estimated timeframe for the completion of the new Parliamentary chambers. All this, an additional burden on the taxpayer.

Over the recent years, Uganda through decentralization has created a large number of new local administrative units. The East African nation currently has a total of 146 districts, one of the highest in the region.

According to a study by ACFIM on Commercialization of Politics and Captivity of State Institutions in Uganda, until the year 2000 when the total number of districts stood at 56 having risen from 33, there were legitimate reasons for doing so mainly driven by the desire to improve the delivery of social services. However, the proliferation of districts as witnessed between 2011 to 2020 where the number stood at 135 by July 2020, seems to have been driven by patronage interests.

To have a sense of which interests are served by the proliferation of new districts and cities, one needs to interrogate what senior technocrats and advisors in the Ministry of Local Governments are putting forward as the benefits. The technocracy in the Ministry of Local Governments argues that whilst proliferation of districts and cities increases the cost of administration which is enormous to the taxpayer, it is unavoidable because the benefits of creating new districts and cities local governments outweigh the cost of administration.

These benefits include strengthening capability of the state to deliver services. Accountability is even more effective under decentralization since the distance for rights holders to complain or raise issues is shorter. Another advantage of creation of new districts or town councils is that they increase the resource base of the area through central government transfers and local revenue collection. Consequently, the amount of money that plays into the local economy increases.

With the above factors notwithstanding, the SecretKnown is that the proliferation of new districts (districtisation) and cities is by and large a political scheme aimed at increasing the number of legislators in Parliament with a view of maintaining the numerical advantage of the ruling party (NRM). 

This numerical advantage is vital for ensuring the longevity of the executive arm of governance. The demand for districts is often politicized by conditioning it on the political support for the ruling NRM party. In other words, notwithstanding the burden on the taxpayer of a ballooned Parliament, districts and cities have been created as a form of patronage.

In the same vein, the President often responds with assurances to the voters that only those that vote for him will benefit from government programs.  The Prime Minister, Rt. Hon Robinah Nabbanja is also quoted in recent statements saying;

“…If you want to benefit from the government, you must support it because government cannot invest its resources in communities that are against it…”

The SecretKnown, therefore, is that districtisation and citisation have thus become transactional dealings that meet the interests of both the voters and the President, ensuring that the elections are won. Districtisation refers to the proliferation of new districts while Citisation refers to the proliferation of cities.

While the technocracy in the Ministry of Local Governments (MoLG) describes local governments as service delivery structures, it appears that the NRM government and its cronies view local governments as political mobilization structures. Beyond elections, the creation of many small, financially weak, and dependent districts across the country has made it easy for them to swim in a wider sea of patronage.

For more on this study by ACFIM, click here

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