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Issue 08 | August 2023
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Functionality of Local Government Accountability Mechanisms and Structures in Uganda

By Walter Akena, Research Officer, ACODE


The overarching goal of Uganda's decentralisation policy has been to promote accountability, openness, and efficiency in government and service delivery1. Nonetheless, three decades later, the quality of public service is less than acceptable, and local leaders' ability to remain accountable has been called into question2. The appalling degree of accountability for public resources at sub national levels throws into question the efficacy of systems and structures charged with enforcing accountability at that level. This article clarifies how the structures and accountability mechanisms at the local government levels work, with a focus on the citizens' agency, council, and statutory bodies in particular. It also offers policy recommendations to strengthen these structures and improve accountability and transparency in local governments.


Uganda’s decentralisation reforms initiated in 1992 is widely regarded as the most far-reaching local government reforms in the world and its policy thrust has been promotion of local accountability and efficient resource allocation and utilisation3. Objectives II and IV of the decentralisation reform aimed at; bringing political and administrative control over services at the point where they are actually delivered, thereby improving accountability and effectiveness; and improving financial accountability and responsibility by establishing a clear link between the payment of taxes and the provision of services they finance respectively.

Tamale & Cunningham (2019) argue that accountability in local government can be categorised in three broad themes; political, fiscal, and administrative accountability. Political accountability relates to responsibility for political actions and can be sanctioned through political means such as being voted out of office. Fiscal accountability on the other hand relates to proper use of and answerability for public resources while administrative decentralisation focuses on conduct of civil servants in the discharge of their duties. Fiscal and administrative accountabilities can be sanctioned through legal and administrative means4.

Local government authorities are accountable at two levels; firstly, to the citizens electorally, and secondly, to central government institutions5. To guarantee accountability at both levels, the government through various legal and policy instruments, created elaborate systems and structures such as Standing Committees, the Technical Planning Committees and Statutory Bodies. The latter include the District Service Commissions (DSCs), the Public Accounts Committees (PACs) the District Land Board (DLBs) and the District Tender Board (DTB), which later transitioned into the District Contracts Committees Committee6.

Despite the existence of these structures, their functionality have significantly weakened7. Bainomugisha et. al. (2023) found that notwithstanding their regulatory importance and function, their role as an added citizen representation and voice, these were declining in visibility and significance, and that the structures were exhibiting varying levels of resilience and functionality8.

The challenges relating to functionality of the local government accountability structures have progressively deteriorated fiscal accountability at the subnational levels. For instance, the percentage of district local governments with unqualified (clean) audit declined from 91% in FY 2017/2018 to 90% in the FY2018/20199. Similarly, the Local Government Management of Service Delivery Performance Assessment-2022 revealed that implementation of Audit Report recommendations was among the most dismally performed indicators by local governments. On the other hand, weak administrative accountability, often symptomized by to internal delays in recruitment, limitations in the wage bill and inability to attract and retain highly qualified personnel, have been largely attributed to operational challenges within District Service Commissions10.

Functionality of Local Government Accountability Mechanisms and Structures

  1. Citizens’ participation: The decentralization concept was developed on the premise that local governments are better suited to handle residents' local needs and that people can hold their leaders accountable, enhancing equity in resource distribution and minimizing wastage brought on by corruption and ineffective resource allocation11. Involving citizens in decision-making is one of the most successful ways to increase accountability and responsiveness because it allows service beneficiaries to participate directly in crucial choices about these services12. Since the policy's introduction, there have been discernible attempts made to establish local institutions, empower local residents, and involve local communities in problems that affect and concern them. For instance, in 2009 government adopted Baraza to create space for citizens to discuss and evaluate government programs, the barazas provide local people the opportunity to hold Government officials, especially at Local Government level, to account for the resources spent on public programmes in their areas. Despite these, the demand for accountability from local governments has remained very low, primarily due to a general lack of awareness among citizens regarding the roles and responsibilities, the absence of pertinent information at the local government levels, and the absence of a mechanism for holding leaders accountable13.
  2. Councils and Committees of Councils: District councils are established under Section 9 of the Local Governments Act, Cap 243 (As amended) as the highest political authority in the district with legislative and executive powers. Council plays its oversight role and enforces accountability through standing committees. The Standing Committees are responsible for, among others, scrutinising monthly expenditures, returns, contract awards, and quarterly reports; and monitoring and reviewing the performance of respective sectors for which they are responsible14. A study by ACODE revealed several operational challenges that undermine the efficacy of standing committees in playing their oversight role and enhancing accountability. In the scorecard assessment for FY 2018/2019, ACODE revealed that; heads of departments did not regularly attend committee meetings and failed to submit sector reports in time thereby hampering the committees’ effectiveness in scrutinising the documents. Furthermore, it was revealed that committees failed to conduct monitoring which greatly undermined their oversight role. In addition, councils failed to debate and take action on recommendations by the Local Government Accounts Committee15.
  3. Statutory Boards and Commissions: In order to improve accountability at the subnational level, political and technical public officials must be held to a high standard of accountability in order to ensure that government programs are effective in achieving their goals and serving the requirements of their intended beneficiaries. In order to support and oversee local governments, the Statutory Boards and Commissions (District Land Board, District Service Commission, and Local Government Public Accounts Committee) were established under Sections 54 and 88 of the Local Governments Act, Cap. 243, as amended and Sections 56 of the Land Act, Cap. 227. The existence, strength, and full-cycle performance of these boards and commissions are crucial in ensuring the much-needed supervision and examination to ensure that public officials in local governments are accountable. ACODE assessed District Service Commissions, District Land Boards, and Public Accounts Committees in 26 districts in FY 2021/2022, which indicated critical operational issues for the boards and commissions. There were also concerns with independence and integrity, which hampered the boards and commissions' capacity to perform their oversight functions and, as a result, improve accountability. The assessment revealed that the statutory bodies were known “in the reference” and not from an output-outcome and result point of view.


The wheel that spins the turbine of decentralization in Uganda is the goal to develop responsive and accountable governance at the local level. However, despite the complex procedures and processes in place to ensure accountability, they have not yet been completely realized because of several issues that have reduced their effectiveness. Every effort should be taken to overcome these issues and fortify local government accountability institutions if decentralization is to fully achieve its intended aim in terms of accountability.

Policy Recommendation

a). Strengthening citizens’ participation

There is need to strengthen mechanisms for citizens’ participation and engagement through:

  • Rolling out the barazas-, Office of the Prime Minister should roll out the barazas to become a countrywide programme, decentralise the responsibility of convening the barazas and introduce mechanisms for guaranteeing participation by the local government leaders in the barazas. This can be achieved through introducing sanctions for leaders who deliberately decline to attend the barazas.
  • Revitalise the Parish Development Committees-Local governments should revitalise the Parish Development Committees, which are critical for enhancing localised planning.
  • Community sensitisation- Using the Parish Chiefs and Parish Development Committees, local governments should embark on massive sensitisation of the citizens on the need to participate in the governance process.

b). Strengthening councils’ oversight role

There is need to strengthen the oversight role through various interventions such as:

  • Continuous induction of local government leaders’ ad structures - Ministry of Local Government should prioritise the induction and training of local government leaders and structures on their roles and responsibilities
  • Enforcement of compliance by technocrats - Chief Administrative Officers should develop mechanism of compliance to accountability norms by technocrats. This can be done by introducing sanctions for technocrats who frustrate committees of council.
  • Monitoring Compliance - Ministry of Local Government should develop mechanism for compliance with guidelines for planning and budgeting, and rules of procedures among others, and develop support mechanism for local governments that fail to meet standards.

c). Strengthening the statutory boards and commissions. To strengthen these structures, there is need to:

  • Prioritise funding for boards and commissions - The Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development (MoFPED) should increase the financing for the activities of statutory bodies. The MoFPED should increase indicative planning figures for statutory boards and commissions in local governments
  • Regular induction of the boards and commissions - The Ministry of Local Government should prioritize the allocation of resources in the budget for the induction of members of statutory bodies.
  • Provide policy and legal documents to boards and commissions - The Responsible Officer (the Chief Administrative Officer) for each district shall ensure that the district budget includes funding for the acquisition of appropriate laws, rules, circulars, guidelines, and policies related to the duties of the statutory boards and commissions.
  1. Ojambo, H. (2012). Decentralisation in Africa: A Critical Review OF Uganda's Experience. Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal (PELJ), 15(2), 01-21. Retrieved July 20, 2023.
  2. Tumushabe, G., (2010). Monitoring and Assessing the Performance of Local Government Councils in Uganda: Background, Methodology and Score Card. ACODE Policy Research Series, No.31, 2010. Kampala.
  3. Francis, Paul; James, Robert (2003): Balancing rural poverty reduction and citizen participation: The contradictions of Uganda’s decentralization program, in: World Development,31(2), pp. 325-337.
  4. Lillian Muyomba-Tamale and Kiran Cunningham (2019), Strengthening Accountability by Assessing Performance of Local Government Leaders: The Case of the Local Government Councils’ Scorecard Initiative in Uganda: In A. Bainomugisha, K. Cunningham, L. M. Tamale, & W. W. Muhwezi, Local Governments in Uganda (pp. 81-106). London: Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd.
  5. Iñaki Albisu Ardigó(2019), Local government accountability mechanisms. Transparency International.
  6. Mushemeza, E., D., Decentralisation in Uganda: Trends, Achievements, Challenges and Proposals for Consolidation, Kampala: ACODE Policy Research Paper Series No.93, 2019.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Bainomugisha, A., Muhwezi, W. W., Akena, W., Mbabazi, J., Mukwaya, N. R., Ssemakula, E. G., Atukunda, P.K., Otile, O. M., Ayesigwa, R.,. (2023). Beyond Compliance: A Performance Assessment of Statutory Boards and Commissions in Uganda’s Local Governments FY 2021/2022, Kampala, ACODE Policy Research Paper Series No.112. 2023.
  9. MoFPED, (2020). Accountability Sector Annual Report FY 2019/2020.
  10. Bainomugisha, A., Mbabazi, J., Muhwezi, W., W., Bogere, G., Atukunda, P., Ssemakula, E.G., Otile, O., M., Kasalirwe, F., Mukwaya, N., R., Akena, W., Ayesigwa, R., The Local Government Councils Scorecard FY 2018/19: The Next Big Steps; Consolidating Gains of Decentralisation and Repositioning the Local Government Sector in Uganda. ACODE Policy Research Paper Series No. 96, 2020.
  11. Eugene G, Ssemakula, and George Bogere (2019), Implementation of Fiscal Decentralisation in Developing Countries; Illustrations from Uganda. In A. Bainomugisha, K. Cunningham, L. M. Tamale, & W. W. Muhwezi, Local Governments in Uganda (pp. 37-56). London: Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd.
  12. Kyohairwe, Stella. (2014). Local democracy and public accountability in Uganda: The need for organisational learning. Commonwealth Journal of Local Governance. 10.5130/cjlg.v0i0.4064.
  13. Eugene G, Ssemakula, and George Bogere (2019), Implementation of Fiscal Decentralisation in Developing Countries; Illustrations from Uganda. In A. Bainomugisha, K. Cunningham, L. M. Tamale, & W. W. Muhwezi, Local Governments in Uganda (pp. 37-56). London: Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd.
  14. See Rule 91 (C) (b) and (d) of the Standard Rules of Procedure for Local Government Councils in Uganda, Revised July 2019.
  15. Bainomugisha, A., Mbabazi, J., Muhwezi, W., W., Bogere, G., Atukunda, P., Ssemakula, E.G., Otile, O., M., Kasalirwe, F., Mukwaya, N., R., Akena, W., Ayesigwa, R., The Local Government Councils Scorecard FY 2018/19: The Next Big Steps; Consolidating Gains of Decentralisation and Repositioning the Local Government Sector in Uganda. ACODE Policy Research Paper Series No. 96, 2020.

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