Decentralisation in Uganda: exploring the constraints for poverty reduction

Decentralisation in Uganda: exploring the constraints for poverty reduction

Resistance to decentralisation in Uganda

It is often claimed that decentralisation is effective for the reduction of poverty due to inherent opportunities for higher popular participation and increased efficiency in public service delivery. However, based on a qualitative assessment of the potential of the Ugandan decentralisation reform for poverty alleviation, this paper identifies a number of serious challenges to the proper implementation of the decentralisation reform. This gives rise to concerns about whether the poverty-reducing potential can indeed be realised.

The main challenges to Uganda’s decentralisation experiment include:

  • low levels of accountability
  • insufficient human and financial resources
  • corruption and patronage
  • central resistance to decentralisation
The paper notes that despite the fundamental assumption in the decentralisation debate about the informational advantage of local governments over the central government with regard to local needs and preferences, the centre ultimately decides how much money is transferred and used at the local level and for which purposes. If poverty was reduced as a result of these resources that are generally channelled towards poverty priority areas, it is not the decision-making at the local level but central policy-making that was behind it.

In the course of the past decade and a half, decentralisation has brought about some improvements in terms of popular participation, responsive policy-making, and efficient service provision but these may not yet be sufficient to exert great influence on poverty.

However, the author makes two cautionary statements with regard to how the findings should be interpreted:
  • first, decentralisation is a complex and medium to long-term reform process that requires comprehensive transformation and modification in political, administrative, and fiscal procedures. An effect on poverty cannot be expected in the short run
  • second, the conclusion drawn here is of a rather indicative nature since it is based on a purely qualitative assessment of decentralisation. A more reliable conclusion cannot be obtained without a quantitative approach that attempts to measure the effect of decentralisation on poverty
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