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Why village Councils are Important

Ofwono Opondo
July, 2, 18 
The long awaited elections for the village and parish, otherwise known as the Local Committee (LC) 1 and 2, leaders, are schedule for next week July 10, and it is important that Ugandans take serious interests in them because they form the core of community security, stability and social harmony as they provide the most immediate response to their needs. Data from the national Electoral Commission (EC) provided to all stakeholders indicate that there are 60,800 villages and 8938 parish across the country where elections will be taking place. 
During this exercise a total of 425,600 leaders will be voted. The village chairpersons shall be elected by the simple and transparent method of lining behind the candidates who were already nominated early this week. Each chairperson shall then appoint six members of their respective executive who shall be approved by the voters present through voice acclamation. If a nominated person is rejected, the chairperson shall nominate another person for that post. Earlier in the week, 60,800 villages already elected five leaders for each of the respective women councils bringing the total number of women elected to 304,000. The chairperson of the village women council, by law, becomes the village LC Secretary for Women Affairs.
Although according to the Local Government Act, LCs have a number of statutory roles, often, they do perform much more than provided in the law. It is necessary that after the elections, the Local Government Ministry, through the respective district councils, conduct a vigorous and comprehensive orientation to familiarise the new leaders with their critical roles to avoid overzealousness, abuse, and arbitrariness, which have all bred the rampant and evident ongoing corruption and extortion. In particular, the regulations should be written down so as to guide them in their day-day work.
Among the statutory roles of the village committees headed by a chairperson, are, passing byelaws, which are then forwarded to the sub-county council to certify that they are not inconsistent with any other byelaw, or ordinance passed by a higher council, or indeed the law and the constitution. The village and parish executive committees also oversee the implementation of policies and decisions made by their respective councils, and in particular, ensure the maintenance of law, order and security. They initiate, encourage, support and participate in self-help projects and mobilise people, material and technical assistance in relation to such self-help projects.
At the village level they vet and recommend persons in the area who seek to be recruited into the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF), Uganda Police Force (UPF), and Uganda Prisons Service (UPS), and local defence units. Village committee leaders serve as the main and formal communication channel between the people, and the parish, sub-county, district and Central Government. They generally monitor the administration in their area of jurisdiction and report to higher or district council on projects and other activities undertaken by government, and nongovernment organisations (NGOs).
 
In addition, a village committee carries out and enforces other functions which may be imposed by law such as respect for public property, or necessary for the public good such as mobilization in education, health, and emergencies alerts. Apart from these, LCs also act as the primary mediators and adjudicators in local civil disputes to ensure that family, community, and inter-community harmony prevails.
 
Currently, LCs act as the source for primary documents required in most government transactions such as national Identity cards, telephone and business registration, as well as passport acquisition. They are the main link for official data collection during most of the enumeration for census such as national housing, population and economic surveys.
 
In the court system, LCs sign certification for those seeking to be granted bail in courts of law to authenticate that they are bona fide residents of their areas who will return to court as and when required. Furthermore, LCs are the main and official link between the people and law enforcement agencies such as the police, and local government administrators. 
 
These elections have been delayed many times over for among others the high financial costs associated with secret balloting. It is prudent that parliament re-examines the role of the national EC in village and parish elections, and limits it to only providing registers and presiding officers, otherwise keep it a community affair where residents simply gather and use cheap and transparent methods to chose or remove leaders they prefer, or those found below expectation.
 
This method was used between 1986 and 2002, under the Ministry of Local Government supervised by district officials. Voters queued behind candidates in an open ground, and so, bribery, intimidation and other electoral malpractices were minimal. The same method was used to expand the interim parliament in February 1989.
 
Uganda held those elections when it didn’t have as much money, qualified personnel, government systems, information platforms, and technology infrastructure as is today. I do believe, that with a little bit of modesty and mutual goodwill even within the competitive multiparty dispensation, Uganda can hold successful and relatively cheaper LC1 and II elections on time and regularly.