A key feature of Uganda’s governance system is its decentralization that splits power between the central and local governments. While bound by the same laws and constitution as their national counterpart, local governments operate at a distinctly ground level, with their smallest administrative units formed as village councils. But what exactly do local governments look like and more importantly, what do they do?
Where in urban settings, the local government takes the form of a council at the city, municipal, division/town, ward or cell level, in rural areas, there are district councils, counties (which are administrative units without a council), sub-county councils, parish councils and village councils.
The rural councils are typically led by an executive committee comprised of a Chairperson, directly elected by the people for a term of 5 years, a speaker and their deputy, two youth councillors and two councillors for the disabled, one of each required to be female, and an elected woman councillor who represents each electoral area in the district. While the county administrative unit is staffed by civil servants who assist the district council in executing and/or coordinating the business of lower levels, the sub-county council structure mimics the district structure, and the parish council also includes secretaries for information, education, security, finance, production and environmental protection.
Village councils are unique in that they are ideally composed of all citizens in the village who are 18 years or older, and then take on a form similar to the parish council.
These councils serve as the planning authorities for their respective units. For instance a district council is recognized as the planning authority of a district and — in addition to the procedures it establishes for itself — works according to the guidelines established by the National Planning Authority to prepare a comprehensive and integrated development plan, incorporating plans of lower level local governments for submission to the aforementioned national body.
District councils also have the power to levy and collect taxes including rates, rents, royalties, stamp duties, and registration and licensing fees. Its legislative powers allow a district council to make laws (where those laws are not inconsistent with the Constitution or any other law made by Parliament) and this is done by the passing of local bills into ordinances by the council and signed by the chairperson. Such a local bill, once passed by a district council, is forwarded to the Attorney General through the Minister to certify that it is not inconsistent with the Constitution or any other law enacted by Parliament before the chairperson signs it into law. A bill enacted by the district council and signed by the district chairperson under this section shall be an ordinance of the council and shall be published in the official Gazette and in the local media, giving the public access to it.
The lower level local governments follow similar procedures meaning a sub-county or village council (in the rural setting) or an urban or division council (urban setting) can make bylaws which are then forwarded to the district council for certification that they are not inconsistent with the constitution.
The mandate of the parish and village councils is to assist in the maintenance of law, order and security; initiate, encourage, support and participate in self-help projects and mobilise people, material and technical assistance in relation to self-help projects; at the village level, to vet and recommend persons in the area who should be recruited into the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces, the Uganda Police Force, and the Uganda Prisons Service and local defence units; to serve as the communication channel between the Government, the district or higher local council and the people in the area; to monitor the administration in its area and report to the higher or district council; to monitor projects and other activities undertaken by the Government, local governments, and nongovernmental organisations in their area; and to carry out other functions which may be imposed by law or incidental to the above.
Bolstered by the Local Governments Act 1997 (Cap. 243), which also provides for a 30% minimum of seats to be held by women, these local governments exist as foundational governance structures that hold the next level structures in place, providing support and direct feedback from the lowest level upwards. Local government elections are held every five years with candidates elected on a party ticket, and while still much smaller in scope compared to their national counterpart, local government expenditure in 2014 was cited as 15.1% of total government expenditure.