Need for harmonisation in local development

The series of stories that Nation Publications Limited (NPL) newspapers run recently were depressing.

The poor villager—the ultimate beneficiary of the various local development financing mechanisms—has been kicked out of the equation both in terms of participatory planning, budgeting and execution.

Members of Parliaments (MPs) and Council Secretariat officials are doing pretty much whatever takes their fancy or that which they know will further their political and personal interests, but disguised as development initiatives for the poor.

MPs and officials are busy flouting guidelines. Fraud, corruption and misprocurement are the common denominators in the management of the Local Development Fund (LDF), the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and the District Development Fund (DDF).

These funds are one big mess and there does not seem to be a clear line of accountability. Where is the problem?

First, it is not necessary to have so many funds doing the same things. To appreciate my point, one needs to understand what these funds are there for.

Let’s start with LDF. It was designed to pool together all funding for local development initiatives into one basket to realise a harmonised approach in their implementation to achieve efficiency and effectiveness of development resources.

Thus, its mission has been to ensure sufficient, harmonised and decentralised development funding for Local Authorities and achievement of improved development outcomes at local and community level.

Ideally, therefore, there should only have been LDF—with CDF and DDF pouring into the basket. In terms of functionality, all the three funds eye same goals.

For example, the main purpose of the LDF is to improve community livelihoods and local service delivery through mobilisation and financing of socioeconomic development interventions and local capacity enhancement at the Local Council and Community.

Now look at what CDF does. It channels money from the central government directly to electoral constituencies for local infrastructure projects—again, benefitting communities. The DDF has almost identical objectives.

The question is: why are we having three funds in a council that delivers the same outputs and outcomes? Should anyone be surprised that there is so much confusion and free-for-all behaviour when it comes to these funds?

With so much chaos, how can decentralisation processes, including participatory budgeting—in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget—be anywhere close to reality?

How do we ensure that the system indeed gives real power to the people and ensures that people are involved in the political process?

With the current confusion, none of these questions can bring positive answers unless we overhaul the current system for managing local development financing mechanisms.

My proposals are radical. First, the LDF, CDF and DDF must be dissolved and be replaced with one fund that harmonises and coordinates all local level financing mechanisms.

New guidelines must be developed for this new fund that takes out (a) the duplicity, (b) sharply cuts the power that MPs have over allocation of resources at council level when they already have the chance to do so at national level and (c) holds Council secretariats accountable—an oversight role that should be left to ward councillors.

In other words, there should be just one fund for community development that truly embraces demand driven and participatory development principles.

Second, the LDF Technical Support Team (TST)—which mobilises and provides technical backstopping on LDF resources—must be disbanded. The same should happen to the National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC).

Out of these two institutions, a new body with legal mandate in form of an authority or commission should be set up to mobilise and oversee all council and community level resources.

This institution should, when it comes to fiduciary issues, report directly to the Ministry of Finance, but the line Ministry—and for local development policy direction—should be the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. Parliament, through relevant committees, would provide oversight to this institution which, by the way, should be given powers to sanction errant councils. And, most importantly, its full time job should be to harmonise local development financing, develop guidelines and operational tools.

That would help end the current chaos and stop the fiscal bleeding. But my proposals require political courage, which is really in short supply at the moment.

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