A review of the 2014/15 Local Government ministerial policy statement shows that almost all 111 districts are weighed down by dire funding and under staffing.
As a result, Local Government Minister Adolf Mwesige says, districts are limping, without key strategic staff, which partly explains the poor levels of service delivery across the country.
The approved strategic posts in a district are 12: the chief administrative officer (CAO), deputy CAO, principal personnel officer (PPO), chief finance officer (CFO), district planner, and district health officer (DHO).
Others are principal district engineer, district education officer (DEO), internal auditor, production officer, and principal community development officer (PCDO). For all the 111 districts directly under Mwesige's docket to be managed effectively, a total of 1,332 strategic staff are required. Only 647 (49 per cent) are available.
Although this has saved government at least Shs 1.126 trillion in annual salaries, the citizens are suffering. These revelations will increase pressure on a government whose critics accuse it of carelessly splitting the country into unviable units. At the district level, the CAO is the accounting officer and head of civil service. But at least 34 districts, such as Abim, Alebtong, Amudat, Bukomansimbi, Bundibugyo, Masaka, Mpigi, and Sironko don't have CAOs.
Interestingly, there are some districts such as Agago and Amolatar which are run solely by a CAO. Some districts, such as Buhweju, Lamwo, Buyende, Kween, Lwengo and Lyantonde, are run by only two officials; a CAO and probably an Internal auditor or PCDO.
Other districts like Alebtong, Kole, Zombo, Amudat and Kiryandongo are managed by deputy CAOs. Municipalities are better off than their parent districts. They have at least 148 jobs filled out of the approved 264 jobs, although some - such as Mukono - are run by a town clerk alone.
To fill the gaps, Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze Bakireke told The Observer on July 18, work at the municipal council headquarters is shared by staff at Goma and Mukono Central division, the two divisions that make up the municipality.
Over the past 10 years, local government financing from the centre has dropped from 25.4 per cent to 15.3 per cent this financial year. In the previous financial year, local governments were allocated Shs 2.009 trillion in central government transfers (conditional, unconditional and equalization grants) but received Shs 1.3 trillion.
This financial year, the districts were given Shs 2.3 trillion of which Shs 1.5 trillion is for salaries, Shs 394.2bn for non-wage recurrent expenditures and Shs 414.9bn for development, which Mwesige says is too little to improve service delivery at the district level.
According to a study commissioned recently by the Local Government Finance Commission, the inadequate performance in service delivery is largely attributed to the financing gaps estimated at Shs 1.29 trillion in the recurrent budget. To improve effectiveness and efficiency in service delivery at the district level, the parliamentary committee on Local Government last year recommended that government provides an additional Shs 46bn under the local government payroll to enable local governments to increase their staffing levels to at least 65 per cent.
Under the non-wage component, the committee also suggested an additional Shs 21bn under the unconditional grant to enable districts effectively monitor and supervise government programmes.
"Despite the committee's recommendation, no change was effected and the figure is programmed to remain the same at Shs 60.3bn for districts and Shs 19.2bn for urban councils. This implies that local governments will continue to face serious constraints on operational funds to cater for operations and maintenance of local government investments, administration and management of [their] activities," Mwesige says in his policy statement.
The policy statement also shows that several other Parliamentary recommendations have been ignored by government.
"The paradox of decentralization is such that the financial resources available to local governments in terms of transfers and locally- generated revenue is hardly enough to enable them to optimally meet their service delivery obligations," Mwesige notes.
In her alternative ministerial policy statement, MP Betty Nambooze, the shadow minister for Local Government, suggests a redirection of funds from administrative activities to service delivery. But it is a catch 22 situation. While staff are needed to provide services, hiring more staff would put a strain on the government envelope for service delivery. One logical conclusion is that the creations of districts needs to be reviewed with technical sobriety as opposed to political excitement.
How they operate?
Kalungu East MP Vincent Ssempijja, a former district chairman of Masaka for 13 years, told The Observer on Friday that to minimize costs, most districts prefer employing less qualified staff who don't eat too much into the resource envelope.
"Because maintenance of a qualified district engineer is too expensive, districts settle for an engineering assistant; a certificate holder or at best a diploma holder who will take a small salary and few allowances," Ssempijja said.
For Kyankwanzi Woman MP Anna Maria Nankabirwa, the solution lies at the centre.
"We are paying more taxes than we used to when graduated tax was still in place; government revenues have tremendously improved, why isn't the government compensating the districts?" Nankabirwa said on Friday.