Time to Leverage our Assets, Say Ugandan Local Governments

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According to UNCTAD estimates, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will take between US$5 to $7 trillion, with an investment gap in developing countries of about $2.5 trillion. Under the new Development Agenda, it is the actual governments that hold a significant share of the resources needed to achieve the SDGs. The World Bank estimated that between 50 and 80 percent of what’s required will come from domestic resources. Local governments will play a critical role in making or breaking the SDGs but their implementation capacity is restricted by insufficient funding, particularly in the development countries lament.

Meanwhile, there is one potentially significant but often overlooked source of SDG implementation – the existing local government assets ranging from equipment and machinery to public land and infrastructure. Collectively, Ugandan local governments (without the major urban centres) own an astronomical amount of over half a billion USD in assets. Local governments struggle to deliver quality services because of the limited financial resources given the ever-decreasing allocations from the Central Government and the low own source revenue base of local governments. This is what makes proper asset management so vital. Asset management looks at what service the local government delivers and the assets needed to deliver these services. However, local governments lack asset registers, comprehensive guidelines for acquisition, operation and maintenance and disposal of assets and as such are unable to keep track of assets or effectively manage these assets.

A run-down pick-up truck or road grader parked at the district or sub-county offices or a dilapidated municipal real estate is a familiar sight in many districts across Uganda. “During our inspection missions, we have seen a lot of unfriendly asset management. Buildings, office equipment, motor vehicles, government documents and other assets are usually handled poorly. They are misused, abused, sold for personal gain and left to decay until they are valueless,‘’ observed Mr. John Walala, Director of Local Government Inspections. Sadly, this is the state of most government owned assets at the local level in Uganda. Yet it is critical that local governments make the most of what they already have in order to deliver services to the people and achieve the SDGs. This was the focus of the three-day training workshop held on 15-17 October, 2018 in Gulu district, Northern Uganda.

The training workshop under the theme: "Strengthening financing for sustainable development at the local level through the development of local government asset management systems" was jointly organized by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF). Its objective was to help local government officials in the formulation of effective asset management action plans that can be linked to the medium-term budget and long-term sustainable development strategy. The workshop was attended by 53 participants representing five Central Government institutions and 10 local governments from across the country.

The workshop started with a guided tour of Gulu Municipal assets, where asset management challenges came to life. In the registry, lay broken down equipment yet to be disposed and a backlog of documents with no clear filling system. While Gulu has recently acquired a number of valuable assets including buildings, roads and machinery, there is no updated nor comprehensive inventory for the assets.

“I hope this training will delve into the challenges that local governments face with asset management and provide the tools needed for asset management action planning, “ said Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Local Government in a message delivered by Mr. John Walala Director of Local Government Inspections at the opening of the workshop.

The participants discussed policy issues for local government asset management. While there is no national asset management framework yet, the process is in its initial stages and once completed will provide guidance on reporting, monitoring and operational guidelines for both the Central Government and local governments on asset management. Helped by UNDESA and UNCDF, the participants walked through the basics of asset management and a step-by-step process of developing an asset management action plan. Participants worked in groups of their respective local governments and the Central Government departments as one, to define goals, objectives, key stakeholders and performance goals for priority assets.

Participants were engaged and thankful for the workshop. “I am really glad for this training because now I understand the asset management action plan is a living document that works from the time of acquisition till the end of the asset lifespan. This will help us to better plan how to use our assets,” said Steven Bwambale Municipal Engineer, Kasese Municipal.

The workshop is part of a series of activities to promote proactive asset management with local governments and strengthen the implementation of concrete asset management plans. Following the training, the participating ministry and local government officials will serve as Trainers of Trainers cascading the asset management planning process to the 16 core districts of UNCDF’s operations under the Development Initiative for Northern Uganda (DINU) programme and eventually to all Ugandan local governments. The project is expected to be a catalyst for change, the lessons learned will inform the roll out and application of the asset management training in other countries in the region.

The asset management action plan whose development started at the workshop will be completed through more targeted technical assistance in each participating local government, linked to revenue mobilization action plans and will get financial support through matching grants from DINU. “It is important that action management plans are linked to revenue resource mobilization so we can see transformed municipalities. Uganda is one of the pilot countries for this, we are torchbearers and need to lead by example,” said Dr. Jenifer Bukokhe, DINU Programme Manager, at the closing of the workshop.

The Development Initiative for Northern Uganda (DINU) is a Government of Uganda programme overseen by the Office of the Prime Minister and financed by the European Union whose overall goal is to consolidate stability in Northern Uganda, reduce poverty and under-nutrition and strengthen the foundations for sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development. UNCDF works with select Local Governments to strengthen their capacity to fulfill their core mandate.

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