Members of Parliament (MPs) have called for the amendment of the Local Government Act to improve service delivery.
This followed a report of the Committee on Public Accounts (Local Government) on the Report of the Auditor General for Financial Year 2020/2021 on 49 district local governments, six cities and five municipal councils that was presented on 06 January 2023.
The committee noted that the worst performing entities in terms of absorption capacity as Hoima City (30 per cent), Kitgum Municipal Council (36 per cent), Gulu City (36 per cent) and Masaka City (37 per cent).
While debating the report on Tuesday, 17 January 2022, the MPs faulted the low absorption on the centralisation of local revenues, hence causing delays in releases of the funds to districts.
Hon. Alex Ruhunda, (NRM, Fort Portal Central Division) said that if the decision to decentralise the local government revenues is not handled, districts will continue grappling with service delivery.
“There was a motion to reverse the decision to centralise local government revenues and it has never got any response from the minister. I hope this time the Minister of Local Government will do his job well,” he said.
Hon. Isaac Madoi (NRM, Lutseshe County) said that mandating the districts to hold their budgets is a constitutional directive which government should follow.
“It is high time government reviewed the policy of decentralisation. Local Governments should retain their resources and carry out their mandate,” he said.
Hon. Agnes Ameede (Indp., Butebo district) said that the indiscipline by the Local Government staff and lack of independence by the District Service Commission can be addressed by the amendment of the Local Government Act.
“Some of these issues emanate from governance or accountability. There are sectors in the Local Government that need strict supervision but there is minimal supervision. I am seeking the commitment of the representative of the Executive on when they will bring amendments to the law so that we can have better services,” said Ameede.
Hon. Abed Bwanika (NUP, Kimaanya-Kabonera Division) pointed out the challenges faced by new cities, saying that the current legal regime does not cater to their needs.
“We are stuck in these new cities, we cannot deliver services to people. They still give the new cities a budget of a municipality. We want to be considered as Local Government under the law,” Bwanika said.
The Attorney General, Kiwanuka Kiryowa, however, cautioned the MPs against what he termed, ‘clamouring to amend the law’.
“We need to look at the amendments carefully to ensure balanced development. Some cities collect more revenues than others, some will suffer. I hold a considered view that that there is no need to amend the Local Government Act to accommodate cities,” he said.
The Attorney General further explained that Section 4 of the Local Government Act equates a city to a district, and that a city council shall exercise all functions and powers conferred upon a district council within the area of jurisdiction.
“As we look to amend laws, let us find the problem that we are looking to address. Everything that the city needs in my considered view, is considered for in the Local Government Act,” he said.
The Minister of State for Finance (General Duties), Hon. Henry Musasizi, said that collecting local government revenues under the Consolidated Fund has proved to be more effective over the years.
“Under the Treasury Single Account, it is the best practice. It is just for reconciliation purposes. For example, Mbarara City collected Shs9 billion which was sent to the Consolidated Fund but it was immediately sent back to the city,” Musasizi said.
He also clarified that the finance ministry makes timely quarterly releases, saying that any delays could be occasioned when releases go through sector ministries.
Accounting officers with audit queries, he said, will be dealt with by the ministry. “Accounting officers with audit queries should not be re-appointed,” said Musasizi.
The Minister of State for Local Government, Hon. Victoria Rusoke, said that the ministry has embarked on major review of the Local Government Act.
“Decentralisation requires a detailed analysis and where need be, the law will be changed accordingly,” Rusoke said.