The Government of Uganda has decentralized the power to develop the nation’s resources to the district level under the principles of responsive and open local government. This has enhanced transparency, accountability, and citizen participation. Districts are expected to use the resources in the district to improve the lives of people. A district is the smallest unit of the Government of Uganda with monetary resource allocations that are provided by the National Government to meet district development goals. This blog will look at how the district government in Mbale District is using this newly acquired power to develop the district.
Transparency, openness, and responsiveness are the names of the game if one is to achieve sustainable development in any government. The Mbale District Local Government in Uganda is a good example of how citizens’ engagement and active participation can be achieved, especially in regard to the decisions which directly affect them and their communities. The spending of the public budget and decisions made by district local governments has the potential to the lives of citizens. Mbale District Local Government must be applauded for its responsiveness to the needs of its citizens. The district has been active in following up on service delivery, establishing a management information system, and a grievance redress mechanism. The district has also been taking a leading role in advocating for transparency.
Abdullah Magambo is a respected and trusted member in his community. Hamza Wamono, an AFIC community monitor and trainer of trainers, trained Abdullah on how to make information requests and track government projects within his area.
“Realizing the growing tensions in my village, I made a formal information request to Mbale DLG through the CAO, seeking information on the acreage of Kolonyi forest reserve in Mbale. The request was received on 19th March 2021.”
“After 21 days, I went back to check on my request. The CAO directed the district planner to avail me with the details of the forest reserve in question. I did not have enough money to photocopy the document; I sat down in the district planner’s office and read through the report. The report showed that actually, 6 acres (not 10 acres) of the forest reserve had been left out during the boundary opening to cater for the high-voltage electric power line from Kapchorwa.” Abdullah Magambo
Abdullah went back to his community and explained the reason for omitting the 6 (not 10) acres of the forest reserve. The locals, convinced by Adbullah’s feedback, acknowledged that they had reacted based on rumors and misinformation. This is attributed to AFIC’s training of contract monitors and trainers resulting in community members, like Abdullah, having acquired skills and knowledge about their right to access information and consequently being able to participate in local government projects in Mbale District.
Citizens in Mbale district are increasingly taking an active interest in the government activities in their area. While the District authorities are not legally obliged to share all information with the public, they have an obligation to be transparent and accountable to the citizens and provide information in matters of public interest as long as that information does not compromise national security or violate the privacy of a person. Transparency and openness help build trust between citizens and the public officials and give citizens confidence in the District’s competence and ability to make sure the government is working and spending on behalf of and for the people. When citizens see that the procuring entities are transparent, they feel like their opinions are valuable, and their voices are heard, fostering a stronger relationship between the District leadership and citizens.
A vibrant democracy requires that citizens are empowered to play their role in ensuring accountability. Mbale District has taken several measures to ensure that citizens are more participatory in governance. Amongst these, are initiatives that seek to increase citizens’ participation in holding public officials to account by providing them with procurement information. One of these measures is the Government Procurement Portal. This is an online platform that was redesigned by Africa Freedom of Information Centre in 2014 to provide citizens with readily available, formatted information about government procurements. Another example is the publication of financial reports of government entities on Uganda’s SPARU Portal. To learn more about your government’s efforts to promote transparency and accountability, you can visit the GPP.
We applaud procurement entities in Mbale for proactively disclosing procurement information on the GPP, notice boards, and newspapers and responding to citizens’ information requests. When the citizens of a community know what is happening around them, they can be a powerful force for good. Local governments need to provide citizens with the information they need to make educated decisions about their communities. An informed citizenry is a powerful citizenry. A local government that keeps the people informed is a local government that will be supported by the people. We urge all local governments to embrace transparency, accountability, and openness for effective citizen participation and better development outcomes.