Several residents in parts of Moyo district have shunned village meetings which have been called to address issues in the villages. Local Council One is the lowest administrative unit of government, responsible for the village. In case of political, economic or social issues at a local level, it is relayed up through the various levels until it reaches a certain suitable official in government with sufficient authority or power to resolve it, while centrally planned directives are relayed downward until they are implemented at the lower local level. For this to happen, the area LC1 chairpersons are supposed to organize village meetings so as to collect ideas from the residents in the village. But in some of the villages in Moyo district, a number of area LC1 chairpersons no longer summon residents for meetings despite the existence of the local council structures in the different villages.
Mawadri John, a resident of Toloro village Moyo Sub County Moyo district says the area LC1 chairperson has never called for any meeting ever since they were elected into office. “There are so many things happening here and little attention is being paid to them. We are seeing new people almost on a daily basis entering and settling in this village. We get security concerns every day and the only way I personally think this can be addressed is by summoning village meetings but nothing is happening. We need the leadership of the village to come out and call the people here to put somethings clear to the villagers. Rumours have been making rounds of a meeting but I personally don’t have the urge of attending it because first of all the leaders have made us get used to not having meetings here”, he said.
Peter Unzimai, another resident of Vura Opi village Moyo district says there has been no village meeting summoned by the area leadership for a long time. “There is no such thing like a village meeting here since God knows when. Information flow is not guaranteed in this village because first of all people are green about whatever is happening here. These people only want to see the villagers when there is something biting. For instance we recently had issues of COVID-19, mosquito net distributions, hoes and others that were given to selected people. Another thing we have been asking is that how many of our young boys and girls are benefiting from the different government programs in this village if the custodians of such information are not availing them to our young people? But to talk of village meetings, there is nothing like that here. So tell me how will we know whatever is happening in this village without them calling for meetings?” he said. Section 50 (b) (1) of the Local Government Act states that the village committee, which is headed by the village LC1 chairperson, shall oversee the implementation of policies and decisions made by its council. And the chairperson is expected to preside over meetings of the council and monitor the general administration of the area under his or her jurisdiction. A number of residents in some of the villages are appealing to the district council to pass a bylaw compelling all the village LC1 chairpersons to make meetings in their respective jurisdictions compulsory and those who fail to attend such gatherings should be fined or punished. But Tarapkwe Rose Sarah the vice LC1 chairperson Celecelea East village in Moyo district says they have been carrying out meetings regularly where individuals express themselves freely. “For us actually we have had village meetings. The last meeting we had was last month. In these meetings, people are always given the chance to air out their views and express themselves freely without dictating on them and everybody is allowed to talk in those meetings”, she said.
However, Scovin Iceta, a journalist based in Moyo says, “This issue of village meetings is a problem in all places I have visited and yet it is one of the channels of making accountability available to the people in the village besides attending to their daily needs. Information should be made available to the people and failure to do so breeds suspicions. At some point, people will begin mistrusting a public office bearer because they may suspect something fishy about them and yet there is nothing going on. You see accountability is simple but leaders make it look difficult by not getting closer to the people who elected them. Get closer to them and they will trust you again”, he says.
The figures A 2017 study by Twaweza East Africa, a non-governmental Organization working in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania on effective public and policy engagement whose results were released in November the same year revealed that Ugandan citizens trust information provided by their respective village LC1 chairpersons than the President and any other political leader in the country. The research was premised on public access to information and freedom of expression as cornerstones of good governance and democracy.
The percentage of citizens interviewed who said they would trust information obtained from the Prime Minister, area Member of Parliament (NRM), any government official, ruling party member/supporter, an MP from the opposition political party were 28, 26, 31, 25, 22 percent respectively, while the trust in information from an area LC1 chairperson stood at 45 percent, with trust in information by both area LC5 chairperson and the President at 34 percent. Also findings of another qualitative research study by the same organization conducted between December 2018 and March 2019 targeting senior civil servants at national level in government ministries, MDA, Parliament of Uganda, selected higher local governments (district local governments) and officers at lower local governments showed that, in principle, citizens have the right to access. Government-held information, but unfortunately most public officials do not know that they are legally obliged to release information to members of the public. In his recent submission, the Minister of State for Planning in the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development David Bahati said the government of Uganda has paid a keen interest in putting people at the centre of all planning and urged leaders at all levels to facilitate this process. “I wish to assure development partners and all citizens of this nation that as a Government and particularly through my Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, we take issues of citizen participation seriously in most of our programmes. The people down at the grass root level are the sources of our planning through ideas generated from them,” he said.
The Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development has over the last several years signed grants and implemented programmes on behalf of the Government of Uganda in which a component of social accountability and citizens feedback and engagement are central. Notable among these are the following programmes; the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE), Youth Livelihood Grants, and the Operation Wealth Creation, among others. But Iceta Scovin, a journalist in Moyo says information should be made available at all levels. “I will tell that regular community or village meetings empower people to understand issues affecting them as well as planning and evaluating them and this will definitely improve community’s knowledge of hygiene, health and others. And you where information is available, the people make informed decisions”, he said.