How local governments perform is vital in attaining SDG targets but there is often a disconnect between them and what the citizens want. Eugene Gerald Ssemakula and Jonas Mbabazi – from Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE)* – explain how a scorecard system has led to a dramatic effect in the performance of local governance in Uganda.
The Local Governments Act 1997 is the primary legislation that guides the decentralisation framework in Uganda. Local governments are hierarchically organised into villages, parishes, sub-counties, counties and districts in the rural structure while the urban structure is based around the cell, ward, division, municipality and city.
In terms of leadership, the local governments are headed by popularly elected political leaders at all levels, while technocrats run the bureaucracy at the various levels.
The devolved services for local government include education, healthcare, water, roads, forests and wetlands, probation and welfare, HIV and AIDS, among other areas.
Thus, the implementation of decentralisation largely depends on the level of interaction between citizens (who give the mandate to the elected leaders); technical officers (who provide services to the citizens); and the elected leaders (who supervise the technical officers).
It is this interaction between the structures – political, technical and citizens in the delivery of services – that is vital in the civil society/ local government nexus in the attainment of SDGs. Since 2009, the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) has implemented the Local Government Councils Scorecard Initiative (LGCSCI), a social accountability and capacity building initiative in 35 local governments of Uganda.
The focus of the initiative is to enhance political accountability and citizen participation. The motivation for the scorecard stems from the disconnect between elected leaders, technical officials and citizens in the delivery of services.
The central premise of the LGCSCI is that by monitoring the performance of local governments and providing information about it to the electorate on a regular basis, citizens will demand accountability from their elected leaders.
In essence, the scorecard is a classic example of how civil society acts as an enabler for service delivery by ensuring that all actors in the service delivery wheel are knowledgeable about their roles and take action towards improving service delivery.
Local leaders and their role in services
In the current legal and policy framework, local governments in Uganda are well positioned to actively contribute to SDGs through their programmes as well as collaborative work with development partners, civil society, and the private sector.
The elected representatives in these local governments have a statutory responsibility to legislate, approve budgets, provide oversight and ensure that citizens receive quality services in their localities.
How the scorecard works
The beginning point in the scorecard process is orienting and training councillors on their roles and functions in service delivery. Subsequently, the scorecard assessment measures the degree to which political leaders fulfill these roles.
For example, under ‘legislation function’, the scorecard measures the number of times a councillor attended council meetings, the number of times that councillor debated, and the number of times the councillor debated issues related to service delivery.
In monitoring ‘service delivery’, each individual councillor is assessed on the number of service delivery units visited in their electoral area (such as health units, schools, water points, roads and agricultural farms), the number of reports on issues affecting service delivery and the actions taken to address these issues.
Individual councillors are also assessed on whether they have been able to regularly contact their electorate to share information on government programmes and collect information from their communities on service delivery issues to be presented in district council meetings. The results of these assessments are then publicised in community meetings and local radios.
Further, the scorecard assesses the performance of district councils in service delivery, accountability to citizens, their response to citizen concerns, oversight over technical officers and monitoring of service delivery. Following the assessment, the LGCSCI engages in advocacy
activities including media campaigns, public dialogues and research for the purposes of informing and influencing public policy.
ACODE, in partnership with other stakeholders, has engaged the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, the Ministry of Local Government and various committees of parliament on policy issues, including the need for adequate financing of local governments; capacity building of elected leaders; local revenue enhancement; service infrastructure and staffing, among others.
Getting the citizens involved
As part of the scorecard interventions, ACODE conducts community engagement meetings where citizens generate action plans called Civic Engagement Action Plans (CEAPs). These are designed to deepen citizen engagement with the scorecard results and activate citizen demand for better services.
Citizens use the tools of civic engagement, like letters, petitions, SMS messages and community meetings, to engage their district councils and councillors to address service delivery concerns. These tools act as vehicles for the citizens’ voice.
As a result of this process, citizens in the districts of Arua, Masindi, Apac and Nwoya, implemented 59 strategies (including letters, petitions, community meetings) in the last nine months in an attempt to attract the attention of leaders and local governments to their plight.
As of July this year, just over 40% of the issues raised had been addressed by the respective local governments. In an interview, the Clerk to the Council of Nwoya District Local Government noted that: “Ever since I started serving in this district, we have not been receiving letters or petitions from the community. But since ACODE started implementing the scorecard in this district, we have been overwhelmed by the letters and petitions.”
In the same vein, the District Chairperson, Kabarole reported that, “ACODE has created a big challenge for us as the district leadership. There are so many demands from the citizens in the letters and petitions they write to the district council. We are overwhelmed. Yet, we do not have capacity to meet all of them.”
As a result of the process, classroom blocks have been built, more teachers been posted in schools, roads rehabilitated, more boreholes sunk in communities; women and youth have received farm inputs; measures to reduce absenteeism in schools and health facilities have been put in place in some districts.
The scorecard effect on local governance in Uganda
A 2017 scorecard assessment revealed that there had been remarkable improvement, not only in the overall performance of the elected political leaders but also in the legislative and monitoring performance areas. The strong-performing districts included Gulu, Kabalore, Mpigi, Wakiso and some hitherto poor performers like Agago and Mbale (scoring above 60%). This is an indication that some of the good performers “have mastered what they ought to do to perform well,” noted the assessment report regarding the 2016/17 findings.
During the assessment covering 2016/17, the average overall score for district councils was 53%. Overall, Gulu District council emerged as the best district council with a score of 82%.
Results from the most recent scorecard assessment, reveal that the number of councillors scoring 80% and above increased from six to 29 to 40 to 52 in 2011/12, 2012/13, and 14/15 respectively. The highest total scores for councillors have also been increasing, from 85 to 89 to 91 to 99 points respectively.
The performance of local government councils, as indicated by their scores over the years, has steadily increased and councillors themselves express increasing confidence in their ability to do their work. Further, the scorecard initiative has had a major effect on voter choices and the decision-making landscape in Uganda. During the 2016 general election campaigns for instance, a number of district chairpersons, speakers and councillors with relatively good performances used their scorecard indicators to campaign and were re-elected.
Overall, only 17% of incumbent councillors were returned in the 111 districts in Uganda. However, statistics from the 30 districts where the scorecard was implemented indicate that 42% of incumbents were re-elected to various positions in the district councils. In districts such as Moroto, Lira and Nakapiripirit, the return rate was as high as 75%, 74% and 64% respectively.
“I thought this scorecard was a witch-hunt but after several trainings by ACODE it has helped me to do my job better. I now understand how I am supposed to conduct the business of a district chairperson better and will continue to improve,” said the Chairman of Lira District during an interview with the assessment team.
Special interest groups
The scorecard assessment for the year ending 2017 reveals that special interest groups such as the youth, women, persons with disabilities (PWDs) and the elderly, perform poorly because they cover more than one geographical constituency compared to the directly elected councillors, who cover only one constituency. This constrains the performance of these groups.
Implications for SDGs
The foregoing discussion has highlighted the pivotal role that local governments play in service delivery in Uganda. The attainment of SDGS is therefore largely dependent on localised planning. Local entities need to appreciate SDGs not as abstract global and national commitments but rather as a culmination of targeted local actions.
Lessons from the scorecard indicate that local government entities need to deliberately focus on local priorities during the planning, budgeting and implementation of service delivery. Adopting a considered focus on initiatives that alleviate poverty, grow incomes and provide services to the most marginalised is vital for attainment of the SDG targets. Beyond being mere vehicles for service delivery, local governments ought to be driving the development agenda if the set targets are to be achieved by 2030.
As the scorecard initiative demonstrates, citizen engagement is key in service delivery. More often citizens are passive recipients of services, yet their voice is a key aspect in ensuring service delivery. Voice as a concept denotes the various ways in which citizens – either as individuals or in organized formations – express their opinions and concerns, putting pressure on service providers, policy makers and elected leaders to demand for better services or to advocate for them.
*The Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) is a Kampala-based independent public policy, research, and advocacy think tank, whose aim is to support pro-people national and regional development policies. It provides available policy options to help confront public policy problems.