Friday, 17 May 2013

Take services closer to people – Kagame


Rwandans have taken on home grown initiatives such as the monthly Umuganda.
President Paul Kagame has called on Commonwealth nations to take services closer to the people. He was delivering a keynote address at the Seventh Commonwealth Local Governemnt Conference in the Ugandan capital Kampala, yesterday.

The conference, which opened on Tuesday under the theme: ‘Developmental Local Government: Putting Local Government at the Heart of Development,’ brings together government leaders, policymakers, and decentralisation experts from around the world.

“In Rwanda we believe the principal role of any government – central or local – to be transformational, improving the well-being of citizens and empowering them to participate fully in their development,” Kagame said.

Rwanda, he said, had learnt that when the citizens take responsibility for their development processes, a lot can be achieved in a relatively short time

He noted that the country allocates up to 15 per cent of its domestic revenues to local governments, besides additional resources for specific community projects.

The President told delegates that Rwanda had attained a degree of food security and reduced poverty by embracing an effective decentralisation system. 

“Over a five year period, Rwanda has reduced poverty levels by about 13 per cent and raised one million people out of poverty.”

This, he stated, was proof about the effectiveness of local government as the base for both national and local levels and that over the last 13 years of decentralisation, local government units had become ‘engines of socio-economic transformation.’ 

According to the President, through decentralisation, Rwandans were empowered to fully participate in planning, implementing and managing their own development processes.

Rwanda, the Head of State said, had institutionalised accountability and transparency through several measures such as a peer review mechanism, open governance days, citizens’ report card and governance scorecard, as well as the public evaluation of performance contracts.

“These measures have given decentralised entities more budget autonomy and increased the share of their contributions to the national economy,” he said citing the creation of the Agaciro Development Fund, a sovereign scheme initiated last year to help move the country closer to self-sufficiency.

Social protection 

He explained that such home-grown initiatives as Imihigo (performance contracts) ensured responsiveness to local needs and timely delivery of services, while promoting accountability and transparency.

The Head of State observed that social protection and poverty eradication mechanisms such as Girinka (One-cow-per-family) not only helped reduce poverty but also served as social solidarity mechanism.

Other life changing programmes, he said, include the Vision Umurenge Programme (VUP), which seeks to boost people’s financial capacity and promote a cashless economy. 

Kagame said his government also encourages arbitration of local disputes by volunteer mediators, known as Abunzi, as well as community voluntarism in such activities as basic infrastructure development and constructing houses for the vulnerable during the monthly Umuganda sessions (community work).

Rwanda also promotes citizen participation through local councils at various administrative levels, locally known as Inteko z’Abaturage, which serve as consultative and oversight forums, the President told the conference.

Another key benchmark, he said, was the annual ranking of districts in terms of meeting their own priorities (Imihigo), which he said had created healthy competition.  

The President also cited the gains in the country’s democratic process. “Citizens choose their local leaders through regular elections, and the fact that leaders are elected and not appointed ensures that they are accountable to the people and must transact their business in a transparent and accountable manner.” 

New chapter

“Citizens of our respective countries expect and deserve better and more efficient services. They aspire to better lives and are prepared to work hard to achieve that. It is the duty of local government authorities to harness their aspirations, energy and resolve so as to create the right conditions for the realisation of their collective ambitions. 

“When we do that, we shall have written an important chapter in the history of our countries and of the Commonwealth,” the President said.

During the conference, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, Carl Wright, handed President Kagame a report on the assessment of local democracy and local governance in Rwanda. 

Wright said Rwanda had performed well in all the indicators, which were developed before the country became the 54th member of the Commonwealth club in 2009. 

The indicators cover constitutional and legal recognition, the ability to elect local representatives, partnerships between spheres of government, defined legislative framework, opportunity to participate in local decision-making, open local government – accountability, openness to scrutiny, inclusiveness, adequate and equitable resource allocation, equitable service delivery and building strong local democracy and good governance.


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