By Hellen Nyamweru;
Do the communities and the Government engage/relate in matters of development? How is this relationship? What is the need of this relationship? What impedes this relationship? How the relationship evolved between communities and local authorities in Uganda? How can we ensure that these relationships are sustainable even in the future to come? Many questions to say but they were the sole purpose of the German Agency for International Corporation (GIZ) and SDI mission in Uganda from the 26th -29th  of January.2013.The team consisted of David Satterthwaite from the International Institute for Environment and Development, Celine D’Cruz coordinator  SDI/SPARK  and Sonia Fadrigo  ,the SDI regional coordinator for Asia.

The mission to Jinja was part of a larger mission supposed to cover 2 more identified cities Harare (Zimbabwe) and Pune (India) under the GIZ proposal. The teams’ main focus was on joint projects between local government and the urban poor and the conditions that allow such projects to succeed.

The communities and the Jinja Municipality were very receptive during this mission. The officials at the municipality availed themselves and were very cooperative  while interacting with the team.

The Jinja municipality officials; the Town Clerk, Deputy Town clerk as well as other technocrats showed a lot of interest while giving their account of how their relationship with local Jinja communities has evolved overtime. According to the town Clerk of Jinja, the relationship between the municipality and the slum dwellers/communities   in Jinja can be termed as ‘protective’ in such a way that even if some individual wants to overstep then the rest will keep an eye on him or her .Jinja municipality has become a learning site for most municipalities who want to explore the successes in Jinja. Mbarara, Lira and Rukunjiri municipalities have visited the municipality in learning missions so as to know how to drive development in their municipalities.

The physical planner of Jinja municipality-Tabitha describes the relationships as a cordial one and which dates back to 1995 from a research exercise that saw programs such as the Danida project in Walukuba division .Several settlements have been set aside for planning; Soweto, Kikaramoja, Kibuga Mbata.The structural plans to enable this are being developed. A detailed plan has been prepared for Soweto where the municipality will work on roads. A consultative meeting was planned for Soweto that afternoon.

In Kibuga Mbata, consultative meetings are underway on how to best plan for the settlement. People have to be sensitized that planning standards are not an obstacle but that they facilitate good development for beauty, orderly development  and it is important to economic,environmental,health benefits’.

The team was keen to learn how community expectations are reconciled with the Municipality mandatory requirements for instance building codes, construction designs among others which are usually set to be followed by law. Such issues are bound to arise especially due to affordability of houses while dealing with the poor. To this, the physical planner shared that such cases are addressed by holding community discussions around an issue. A case in point was Kawama construction site whose building plans had to be realigned so as to fit an agreed design reached at after several meetings between the council, ACTogether and the communities. The technocrat’s offices are always open and the parties are ready to interact with communities over issues.

Issues on the sustainability of this relationship were also explored in view of changing government and structural adjustments which might bring new persons on board who might not be as supportive to communities and their projects as their predecessors. To this query the town clerk shared with the members of his experience in Jinja. He is new in Jinja and has been at the station now for 4 months but he has been working with the communities like he has known them for  10 years and beyond. The relationship is strong and almost natural because the communities are also eager to collaborate and bring development to Jinja. It leaves one with no choice but to blend in and move with the times. He says he was briefed by his predecessor upon taking office 4 months ago and this is what happens to any new technocrat joining the municipality. This has ensured continued collaboration with communities. A Memorandum of Understanding is also to be signed to seal this deal amidst other joint working group exercises already underway in Jinja between the municipality and the communities/slum dwellers.

The question of local revenues contributing to developing Jinja municipality was also broached and according to the technocrats at the Jinja municipality, local revenues mobilized in Jinja are necessary but not sufficient to develop and supply adequate services for the fast-growing population. Jinja  originally instituted as  colonial administrative institutions, has not been restructured to cope with the fast-growing population .The municipality is financially weak and relies on financial transfers and assistance from the central government .Moreover, tax administrations are often inefficient and not able to properly  account for revenues collected, for instance,25% of the local revenue collected goes to the Local Council leader s and once distributed it leaves no finances to develop the many zones and parishes in Jinja municipality.

Cities Alliance TSUPU projects

In a meeting with the Commissioner of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, the relationship between the Government and communities was further expounded. There has been a change in the way communities relate to the Government and vise versa in the recent past especially under the TSUPU project. The Government carried out a few projects before  trying to address the issue of slums in Uganda for instance in some settlements in Kampala such as Namugongo .The Government acquired land but did not conduct comprehensive engagements with the slum dwellers/communities. The communities were not regarded as partners but as beneficiaries and in fact regarded themselves as beneficiaries; they felt that the Government was doing them a favour and hence left the Government take control over everything such that even when the construction was over, the now planned  area started suffering from lack of public accountability, collective responsibility for sustainable development. Soon after the market values of the area went up because the area was now planned   the people were bought off; (silent eviction), they sold their houses and moved to a nearby wetland hence creating another slum, Kanyogoga/Soweto in Kampala. All that was done there was not sustainable because it did not involve the partners (slum dwellers) who the settlement was being planned for.

The Government has learnt a great deal from then on and has tried to take in lessons from partners such as the SDI who recognize that slum dwellers are part of the urban economy.Urbanization in Uganda unlike in other developed nations is driven by poverty. The high rural-urban migration is a major contributor, when people come to town to make a little more income than they make in the rural areas then decide to make their stay permanent finding unprepared cities which have to absorb these migrants. This tells us that the slum issue is not about to end and hence the time to act is NOW.

The people in Uganda have the power to solve many issues if only they are organized; one of the good practices of SDI is organizing slum communities into a homogeneous group championing for a cause. In Uganda   elective politics is practiced and this gives communities an upper hand in deciding on leadership for example and they can choose pro-poor leaders and engage in profitable partnerships to change their lives.

Experiences of TSUPU in Uganda

The program of TSUPU by the Cities Alliance and World Bank has been a successful one and one that has clearly shown a shift in the way the Government relates to the local communities .It is collaboration between the Central, Local Governments and the communities working together and in a complimentary nature. The program has three major components, the urban forums, the Community Upgrading funds and now the Municipal Development funds.

Urban Forums have been a forum in which the slum dwellers, the middle class, the academia, municipal officials and generally the public have been engaging in discussions to develop their municipalities. These forums have now scaled down to settlement level where we have the communities engaging with their leaders such as local council leaders over issues aimed at bringing development in their settlements. In the past there was a little tension whereby the middle class felt the slum dwellers should not be part of the discussions but this arbitrated in the many meetings where people were made to realize the need of engaging each and everyone in the discussions

How do the Community Upgrading fund operate?

All the Ministries are required to have to have accounts with the Central Bank. A memorandum of Understanding is signed between the Ministry and the municipality .The ministry then transfers the funds to the municipalities’ accounts in dollars. The Community Upgrading Fund is regarded as a public fund hence managed as the law requires. It calls for procurement of services from a contractor by competitive basis. The current CUF procurement guideline is rigid  because it excludes slum dwellers who do not have companies themselves to compete with those who have been in business for ages.

This state of affairs can be corrected by either, revising   the CUF guidelines and including a clause which calls for community/slum dwellers certification of payment to a contractor only after the work is well done. This is in view of the shoddy work some of the CUF projects portray such as the Masese toilet which is only 3 feet deep! This is very disturbing especially because this is a community facility. Logic suggests that even a household toilet is much deeper than this! Yet it’s a community project, even a household toilet is much deeper.

The second option would be to register a slum dwellers Construction Company that will be able to compete favorably with the other companies once a bid is out is yet another option to be explored by the federation. The federation has a history of excellent community facilities and they would surely give competition to other firms when that time comes.

Community finance
How can local authorities support the local communities in accessing financial services?

From a visit to BAMU (Bring Amber coat Members to Unite),a saving group in Amber Coat market ,there is a lot of financial discipline among members of the saving group. The loaning system is up to task with members being fined if the rules set out by the group are not adhered to. This group has borrowed large sums of monies from a financial institution; Pearl Micro finance which has a very high interest rate 36% per annum and collateral of 60% of the total loan required which is very expensive for the communities. The community hopes to continue engaging the municipality to find out how the issue of collateral security can be addressed so that they can access funds. This is however a long shot because most, in fact all financial institutions in Uganda are privately owned and are very profit oriented.

BAMU savings group is also seeking a loan from SUUBI for the second time. They have a good history is repayment of large sum of loans and it is hoped that BAMU will act as a success pilot for the SUUBI to be scaled up to other community groups in due course.

Local communities in many municipalities are able to access Community Driven Development funds (CDD) but these are usually small sums of monies not exceeding UGX 5,000,000 approximately USD 1,899.This kind of money is welcome but it cannot support big projects that have a big impact to communities such as slum upgrading funds for instance construction of toilets, water stand points, opening of some roads among others. The remedy here would be widen the threshold for the CDD funds so that communities can be able to access it since they are further limited in getting these funds when it comes to the Community Upgrading funds as of present unless some of the recommendations discussed with the players such as the Commissioner of Lands, Housing and Urban Development could be adopted..

USMID-How does the USMID program feed into the TSUPU project?

Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructural development (USMID)  is an extension of TSUPU in which 9 more municipalities will be supported by the World Bank and Cities Alliance with the aim of  responding to the municipal Local Governments’ challenges in the context of the Government of Uganda’s broader Local Government Development Program by addressing the need for the institutional and financial strengthening of selected municipal Local Governments’ and financing limited infrastructure investments needs by introducing an enhanced urban window to the government Local Government Development Program.

The 5 cities program (TSUPU) has been a training ground and the experiences are invaluable for USMID though the lessons are still being learnt. For instance, there will be need to collaborate with the Ministry of Local Government especially on the issue of transfers of municipal town clerks over the USMID program period. Such transfers have in the past under TSUPU caused major delays and program reception problems. There also still needs a mentality change at the municipal council level; the municipality should stop viewing TSUPU as a Ministry’ program but as a program for their own municipalities and designed to benefit their own municipalities.

The mission was very beneficial to all the parties involved as it is always good to get an outsiders view of how the federation is working and how the relationship between the government and the local communities is evolving. Lessons from other SDI affiliate countries were shared and ideas exchanged on how we can all continue to build from best practices to develop Uganda.