Why are bylaws relevant for ensuring local governance?
Under Chapter 243 of the Local Government Act, village and parish councils are given the legislative powers to enact bylaws to facilitate the effective implementation of government programmes, national policies, and laws thereby ensuring better local governance. It is upon this background that we partnered with the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung as part of the Okere Leadership Lab Project to organize a workshop to strengthen the capacity of LCI&II authorities in Okere Parish to effectively enact and ensure the successful implementation of bylaws. Indeed, the two days’ workshop enabled the participants who were the LCI, II, and other executives of the Parish Development Committee to; a) be better equipped with a relevant and practical step-by-step guide on how to enact bylaws; and b) be aware of the relevance of the bylaws in promoting local governance and grassroots democracy.
To kick-start the workshop session, the councilors were given a unique opportunity to reflect on and share details of bylaws that had been enacted in the past five years. It was noted that indeed, each of the 14 villages in Okere Parish had enacted at least five bylaws in the past years. Among others, bylaws meant to curb the cutting down of Shea trees; fight domestic violence; control roaming domestic animals; promote participation in the construction of community roads; encourage the management of boreholes; and encourage girl-child education were enacted. The fundamental questions were: did the process of enacting the bylaws meet standards as stipulated in the Local Government Act? To what extent were these bylaws implemented? These two questions formed the gist of the training workshop.
But what should be the key considerations when enacting a bylaw? In addition to having clearly spelt dos and don’ts, a bylaw must be easily enforceable and must not be inconsistent with the laws and constitution of the Republic of Uganda. Similarly, the grassroots communities must be widely consulted and their ideas integrated within the bylaw. At the same time, a bylaw must address local and community issues and not individual concerns.
Participants were also taken through step-by-step processes of enacting bylaws. The 10-step process starts with any council member giving notice to the chairperson and the chairperson informing the council and inviting them to debate the proposed bylaw. This is followed by public-wide consultations and drafting of the bylaw and the sharing/discussion of the draft with the council members. Approval and certification by a higher local government, public awareness, and sensitization are among the last steps of the process.
As a tool for ensuring better local governance, bylaws play quintessential roles. Firstly, they help to localize and contextualize constitutional laws and public policies leading to better management and utilization of public goods. As noted by Ocen Alfred, the Chairperson of Amok Adwong village, for instance, the bylaw they enacted to protect and manage water resources such as wells and boreholes have played huge roles to reduce the breakdown of boreholes and in case they breakdown, resources are readily available since according to the bylaw, every household is mandated to contribute 5,000 UGX to cater for any eventual breakdown.
More so, bylaws quicken the process of administering justice as local authorities are empowered to handle the cases and provide immediate remedies. For instance, according to Moses Otim, the Chairperson of Amon Oneno village, the existence of a bylaw makes it easy to handle cases because the community members are aware of the implications of breaking any law. “My community members know that they have to if you let your animal roam about and it destroys someone’s crops in the farm, you will be fined 150,000 UGX” Otim quipped. On another related note, bylaws provide the quickest mechanism for ensuring orderliness and discipline among rural communities. This is especially true when local communities are consulted and sensitized about the bylaws giving them no opportunities for finding any excuses for breaking the bylaw.
But the process of enacting and implementing bylaws is riddled with multiple challenges. Key among which is that quite often than not, the involvement of local communities is very minimal. Ironically, the extent to which grassroots communities are involved or not determines the degree of success of the implementation of the bylaws. A key drawback to bylaws is the weak capacity of local leaders to enact and implement the bylaws because of the technicalities around the process. In fact, for all the local councilors in Okere, it was their time to receive special training on making bylaws. This was highly applauded by the councilors who pledged to use the skills and knowledge gained to improve their existing bylaws. For Okello Alfred, the Chairperson of Akwala-Akwala village, “the training was a rare opportunity packed with relevant knowledge and insights which will enable us to refine and reshape our existing bylaws starting with the one on protecting Shea trees”.