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Uganda's decentralised primary education: Musical chairs and inverted elite capture in School Management Committees



Incl. bibl., abstract Decentralisation policies in Africa increasingly place responsibilities and resources for the provision of public services in the hands of public bodies at the lowest level, for example in School Management Committees (SMCs). This paper questions whether elite capture, which is considered a major reason for the ineffectiveness of the management of public services at a national level, also characterises SMCs. On the basis of field research in Uganda, it is argued that elite capture does not trickle down to the lowest levels in the management of public services. [Cop. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd]
School of People, Environment and Planning, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Conflict Research Group/Centre for Third World Studies, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
Decentralisation policies in Africa increasingly place responsibilities and resources for the provision of public services in the
hands of public bodies at the lowest level, for example in School Management Committees (SMCs). This paper questions
whether elite capture, which is considered a major reason for the ineffectiveness of the management of public services at a
national level, also characterises SMCs. On the basis of field research in Uganda, it is argued that elite capture does not trickle
down to the lowest levels in the management of public services. Copyright #2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
key words — decentralisation; education; Uganda; governance; elite capture; public services
Decentralisation policies in Africa shift responsibilities and resources for public services to lower tiers of the public
administration to improve the effectiveness and accountability of service providers (Ju
¨tting et al., 2004). The
ultimate step in decentralisation is taken when users of public services are directly involved in the management of
public servicesas in School Management Committees (SMC), Health Unit Management Committees and Local
Water Committees.
In spite of the widespread implementation of and international support for decentralisation policies, there has
been scepticism about its effectiveness or its relevance as leverage to change governance practices. One of the
major problems that has been identified is the phenomenon of elite capture, where elites take control of
decentralisation policies and resources (World Bank, 2003: p. 73; OECD, 2004; Ahmad et al., 2005). This has also
been the case for essential services like education and health, wherein the poor are neglected in favour of the
wealthy (Darrow and Thomas, 2005: p. 475).
It has been documented how several local governmental bodies (Francis and James, 2003), non-governmental
organisations and community-based organisations (Mansuri and Rao, 2003) are prone to elite capture, but there is
very little research on this issue for user committees. Although they are described by Manor as a damaging second
wave of decentralisation, he concedes that his concerns are‘... limited by the shortage of solid empirical evidence
on user committees’ (Manor, 2004: p. 193). This paper aims to reduce this shortage of empirical research by
studying elite capture in SMCs, which are the ‘statutory organs that govern the schools on behalf of Government’
(GoU Ministry of Education and Sports, 1999: p. vi) and the lowest level of Uganda’s decentralised public
public administration and development
Public Admin. Dev. 28, 149–164 (2008)
Published online 19 March 2008 in Wiley InterScience
( DOI: 10.1002/pad.487
*Correspondence to: G. Prinsen, School of People, Environment and Planning, Massey University, Private Bag 11222, Palmerston North,
New Zealand. E-mail:
**Correspondence to: K. Titeca, Conflict Research Group/Centre for Third World Studies, Ghent University, Universiteitsstraat 8, 9000 Ghent,
Belgium. E-mail:
Copyright #2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Elite capture in SMCs can take various forms and this research analyses from different angles. This is done firstly
through a theoretical introduction on elite capture and decentralisation and then through a series of empirical
questions. These should not only give us empirical insights into the specific degree of elite capture in SMCs, they
should also allow us to analyse the role of informal and formal norms in causing or preventing elite capture. Firstly,
the issue of membership is discussed, in order to ascertain whether SMC members belong to the local elite.
Secondly, effective elite capture would suggest that, once occupying public offices, elites hold on to these positions
for as long as they can— the ‘president-for-life’ being the ultimate example. This research verifies if SMC members
turn SMCs into lifelong fiefdoms. Thirdly, there is the possibility that individuals within the SMCs capture all
power for their own benefit and resist the delegation of tasks, which leads to the question of the distribution of
power. Lastly, there is also the possibility that groups at a higher level capture local SMCs. This is especially the
case for two groups with particular power over SMCs, namely politicians (local, regional and national) and
education officials. Politicians can take direct control over SMCs (through becoming a member); while both
politicians and education officials can capture resources destined for SMCs (cf. Reinikka and Svensson, 2004). The
potential capture of politicians and education officials will therefore be explored in the last two sections.
These questions are answered via a complementary analysis by two researchers who investigate SMCs from
different perspectives. To understand the ‘inside’ of SMCs in three rural districts, one researcher conducted group
interviews with 17 SMCs and took individual questionnaires from 127 committee members.
The schools were
randomly selected from schools within 1 h drive from the district capital (ANNEX 1). The group interviews
included open questions, Venn diagrams, and individual brainstorming on cards coupled with plenary pairwise
ranking, and peer-reviews. The questionnaire had 13 items; 11 closed questions on members’ profile and opinions
and 2 open questions.
In a second perspective, in-depth qualitative research was conducted in one of the three above districts, now
looking from the ‘outside’ at SMCs.
The data-collection mainly used unstructured and semi-structured
open-ended interviews, including a household survey, with a range of actors: individual district officials (politicians
and bureaucrats), SMC members, as well as parents of pupils. A ‘snowball sampling approach’ selected these
actors, taking care as to include informants from different social and political networks. By combining these two
perspectives, the paper unites the ‘breadth’ of a quantitative approach with the ‘depth’ of a qualitative approach
(Carvalho and White, 1997; Kanbur, 2005).
Decentralisation is generally defined as a transfer of authority, responsibilities and resources by a central
government to lower levels of government or other organisations. Rondinelli’s typology defines forms of
decentralisation on a continuum in which central government control over the transferred authority, responsibilities
and resources is gradually reduced. The typology thus ranges from deconcentration to delegation to devolution to
privatisation (Rondinelli et al., 1983: p. 14; Rondinelli, 1999: p. 4). Although many other analysts take Rondinelli’s
typology as point of departure, most exclude privatisation (and deregulation) as forms of decentralisation, if only
because this transfer of public resources to private entities implies that the objectives of these entities are
determined by their members and not by the public as a whole. The process therefore positions itself outside the
realm of public administration and public policy (Ribot, 2001: p. 1).
Most research reveals that operational practices of decentralisation in Africa countries are rather diverse and the
various types of decentralisation occur in mixed forms, parallel or in isolation (Smoke, 2003: p. 8). Nevertheless,
This research was carried out in three rural districts in Uganda between September and November 2004 by Gerard Prinsen, as part of his PhD
research at Massey University in New Zealand. Like most districts in Uganda, these three districts are multi-ethnic and primarily agricultural
districts, relying on farming for employment and income.
This research was carried out in one of the above three districts between October and December 2005 by Kristof Titeca, as part of his PhD
research at Ghent University in Belgium. This paper obscures names of districts and persons for reasons of confidentiality.
Copyright #2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Public Admin. Dev. 28, 149–164 (2008)
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most analyses of decentralised governance are categorised by the degree to which central government empowers
local government bodies to make decisions on policies and the allocation of resources (financial as well as human),
as well as the direction in which they are principally accountable, varying from central government to the local
communities (Manor, 1999; Oxhorn, 2004). Obviously, there are sector-specific considerations that influence the
institutional arrangements of decentralisation. In the education sector, central governments usually retain a
dominant role for efficiency or equity reasons in fields like setting standards, textbook production, teacher
recruitment and overall financing. Local governments and school committees acquire authority and resources in
areas like construction and maintenance of buildings and paying teachers’ salaries. In other areas, a mixture of local
and central decision-making is required to optimise efficiencies (McLean and King, 1999).
However, aside from such sector-specific considerations, the character and institutional forms of
decentralisation are more fundamentally determined by central government’s motives to initiate decentralisation.
Rondinelli upholds in 1999 that decentralisation is primarily driven by political concerns of national politicians
about a loss of political support or legitimacy. Several of the economic benefits of decentralisation, as better
allocative efficiency or increasing citizen’s willingness to pay for public services, are secondary motives with
‘potential’ to solve these problems of centralised governance but for which meeting the necessary preconditions ‘is
a tall order, but achievable’ (Rondinelli, 1999: p. 6–8). Others point out that most decentralisations seem mostly
driven by mixed motives, but conclude likewise that national politicians are mainly driven by the political
predicaments at national level, like ‘a loss of popular confidence’, rather than the unproven economic benefits or a
desire for democratisation at local levels (Manor, 1999: p. 34; Smoke, 2003, Oxhorn, 2004; Jutting et al., 2005).
Decentralisation and elite capture
In this light, it is not surprising that the degree to which central government genuinely cedes authority and control
over resources continuously appears as a key determinant of outcomes of decentralisation. ‘Waves of
decentralisation’ (Selee and Tulchin, 2004: p. 297) in the past century have usually been deconcentrations initiated
by national elites to establish a larger and stronger presence of government officials at local levels that helped the
state ‘to get a handle on its subjects and their environment’ (Scott, 1998: p. 2). Decentralisation policies are then a
next phase in ever-evolving networks of patrons and clients, rather than a genuine reform of the public
administration. Yet there may be reasons for ‘guarded optimism’ (Rondinelli et al., 1983: p. 8) that contemporary
decentralisation practices offer scope for more efficient service delivery or create opportunities for genuine local
control over resources (Ribot, 2001: p. 4; Devas and Grant, 2003). Nonetheless, there are also many cases where
contemporary decentralisations merely disguise older patterns in which national elites use decentralisation to build
alliances with entrenched local elites ‘to create and sustain power bases in the countryside’ (Crook, 2003: p. 86;
Boone, 2003; Ribot et al., 2006).
Alternatively, when the position of national elites is weakened, local elites may capture decentralised public
services and escape the control of the national state. Rao and Ibanez (2001) demonstrate how decentralised funds
appears to be driven by a local elite’s interests and dominated by a small group of better educated and networked
individuals. This mirrors other research which shows how decentralised resources are captured by local elite groups
(Baland and Platteau, 1999; Crook and Sverrisson, 2001; Johnson and Start, 2001). Local elites are more likely to
mobilise themselves successfully for these positions and can more effectively present themselves to the donors,
central government and the local population as the effective conduit for handling these funds (World Bank, 2003: p.
73). Obviously, this increases the risk of capture of public resources by these local elites, and the exclusion of
disadvantaged groups (Bardhan and Mookherjee, 2000).
It comes therefore as no surprise that virtually all analyses consider it essential that a supervisory role of central
state and effective local accountability mechanisms are required to limit the risks of local elites capturing the
decentralised authority and resources. Failure to meet both or either of these conditions is indicated as the reason
why decentralisation does not fulfil its potential for more efficient and effective delivery of public services or more
accountable and democratic local governance: ‘the picture is rather gloomy in most African countries’ (Manor,
1999; Wunsch, 2000, 2001; Jutting et al., 2005: p. 644). Rather than expanding democratic spaces (Heller, 2001:
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p. 139), decentralisation therefore tends to favour nepotism and favouritism as the guiding principles of service
delivery (Platteau and Gaspart, 2003).
Decentralisation and institutional change
A useful perspective on the outcome of governance reforms and elite capture is the classic work on institutional
change of Douglas North (North, 1990, 1991). Whereas his perspective is most often used in explaining economic
performance of organisations, it also offers important political insights into the outcome and effectiveness of
governance reforms: it points out how the dynamics of organisations such as SMCs are being strongly influenced by
a general institutional framework, consisting of formal and informal rules
(Powell and Di Maggio, 1991). Formal
rules are, for example, political and judicial rules, economic rules and contracts. Laws and constitutions fall under
this category (North, 1990: p. 46–53).
Informal norms can be categorised into three groups: (1) extension, elaborations and modifications of formal
rules, (2) socially sanctioned norms of behaviour and (3) internally enforced standards of conduct. Sanctions,
customs and taboos fall under this category (North, 1990: p. 36–45). Informal rules are crucial in institutional
change as they change slowly, even if new formal rules are introduced (Kingston and Caballero, 2006: p. 11). These
rules are not codified and somehow flexible (Patterson, 2003). As a result, the overall outcome of a governance
reform ‘tends to be a restructuring of the overall constraints in both directions to produce a new equilibrium
that is far less revolutionary’ (North, 1990: p. 91). Consequently, decentralised public services will be far less
effective if certain informal constraints work against the introduction of new formal rules. Governance reforms
therefore have to be supported by the institutions in the environment surrounding the organisation. These
institutions are not always functional with regard to achieving the organisation’s goals, which Campbell (1995,
quoted in Hall and Taylor, 1996: p. 949) describes as a ‘logic of social appropriateness’ instead of a ‘logic of
SMCs and elite capture in Uganda
Uganda’s far-reaching decentralisation process is seen as an exemplary in the region (Langseth, 1996: p. 1, 19;
Ndegwa, 2002). Particularly in the education sector, there has been a rapid decentralisation of the management of
primary schools (CAI and Smith, 2000). Universal primary education (UPE) was introduced in 1997, fulfilling an
earlier election commitment of President Museveni (Stasavage, 2005). UPE abolished the school fees for four
children per family and allocated government grants directly to primary schools (GoU Ministry of Education and
Sports, 1998: p. 4; Suzuki, 2002). Overall, UPE led to a large increased student enrolment in primary education
from 3.4 million in 1996 to 6.9 million in 2001 (World Bank, 2002: p. 6). In 1998, the SMCs were reconfirmed as
the ‘Statutory Organs at the school level and they represent government’ and are thus formally in control of
decentralised education (GoU Ministry of Education and Sports, 1998: p. 17). However, as a legal body, SMCs had
a rather patchy history.
Uganda’s government introduced legislation that established the SMCs in December 1969 (GoU Ministry of
Education, 1969). However, these SMCs hardly came into operation due to Amin’s coup in January 1971 and the
ensuing political conflict in the 1970s. In fact, a detailed account of the administration of education in Uganda of
1971 makes no mention of SMCs and elaborates that public schools are supervised by District Councils and
managed by Boards of Governors on the basis of 1963 legislation. Nine of the 13 members could be nominated by
the religious group that had founded the school, but all required approval of the Minister. It required ‘one of the
longest debates on education in Parliament’ to establish that central government was taking control over schools
from voluntary organisationsagainst the recommendations of a Commission of ‘outstanding Ugandan men of
learning’ (Ssekamwa and Lugumba, 1971: p. 16, 78). However, the same source concludes that most of these
Boards were not very effective. This left schools effectively in the hands of the Ministry of Education.
North makes a clear distinction between institutions and organisations. Whereas institutions are considered a set of ‘rules of the game’, the
organisations are considered as a single entity which are the ‘players’.
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In the ensuing years of civil war and economic collapse in the late 1970s and first half of the 1980s, all manner of
support by government for schools disappeared. Parent–Teacher Associations (PTAs) effectively kept the primary
schools afloat and many PTAs assumed responsibility for the funding and management of primary schools
(Reinikka and Svensson, 2004), a practice confirmed in our districts of research: parents were participating strongly
in the management of the schools; funding was collected from them and managed on a central account by the
district education office, from which instructional materials and other goods were bought.
This funding mechanism was in place until the introduction of UPE, after which the government resumed the
responsibility for the funding and support of primary schools and indicated that SMCs were to have the formal
responsibility for primary schools. This power shift from PTA to SMC was underscored drastically by the banning
of PTAs at the onset of the UPE, a measure that was lifted later in the face of protests (Dauda, 2004: p. 30).
Nevertheless, it made clear that, with the resumption of public funding of schools, the government ensured that the
school management was also accountable to local government and not, or not exclusively, to parents or religious
groups. Unsurprisingly, several PTAs are not pleased with the loss of influence and the limits placed on their powers
to raise money from the parents (Saito, 2003: p. 158). On the other hand, practices in our districts of research
suggest that with the introduction of UPE, parents are no longer keen on participating voluntarily in the
management of the schools, as they expect everything to be done by the government.
Decentralised education budgets
Decentralised education budgets in Uganda are significant in volume and have weak accountability procedures,
making them prone to elite capture. All SMCs receive capitation grants between 2.70 and 4.40 USD per child per
year, depending on the child’s class, to cover expenditure in instructional material, extra-curricular activities,
maintenance and utilities and administration costs (GoU Ministry of Education and Sports, 1998: p. 4). About a
quarter of central government’s budget is disbursed downwards via grants, salaries and funds to the education
sector, 70% of that to primary education (Saito, 2003: p. 152). The fact that donor agencies contribute about half of
these funds (Dauda, 2004: p. 31) does not matter at local level.
Added to this are budgets that district councils contribute to primary education. Saito’s study of three districts
reveals increasing contributions to education projects from the mid 1990s to 2001, peaking between 43 and 70% of
total district expenditure (Saito, 2003: p. 166). As for accountability processes, it is claimed that UPE funds are
swindled ‘with impunity’ (UPPAP, 2002) and that education is the sector most affected by political corruption
(Centre for Basic Research, 2005: p. 58). Reinikka and Svensson (2004: p. 688) suggest that well-connected
citizens, politicians and district officials sit together in order to decide how these funds should be used. A survey
from 1991–1995 indicates that only between 13 and 20% of the central government grants reached the local
primary schools. The government also increased its funding for the primary education sector in the early 90s
(between 1991 and 1995, funding increased by 40% in real terms). The central government provided the salaries of
the primary school teachers and non-wage spending through capitation grants and funding for rehabilitation
(Reinikka and Svensson, 2004).
The levels of embezzlement have dropped considerably in recent years and the average school in 2001 received
80% of its entitlements (Reinikka and Svensson, 2005: p. 261). Our districts of research also confirm to this
tendency, whereas key-actors (both within the government, education sector in general and civil society) strongly
complain about the levels of corruption during the 80s and 90s, they also claim that this has strongly improved in the
recent years. This tendency is confirmed in our districts of research. An analysis of 15 schools which were part of
our research shows that how the central government grants allocated to the district— where they are publicly
displayed in the office of the DEO— reached these schools for the full 100%, without any money being embezzled
on the way to the school.
Once in the school, the SMCs are responsible for spending these funds within
well-specified bandwidths on specific issues: 50% on instructional materials, 30% on co-curricular activities, 15%
on utilities and maintenance and 5% on administration (GoU Ministry of Education and Sports, 1998: p. 6).
Formally, 5% of the grant is being kept by the district for inspection purposes, and 10% is kept by the Ministry of Education for buying
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Decentralisation and corruption in Uganda
According to the USAID 2005 Democracy and Governance assessment of Uganda (2005: p. 37) ‘corruption in
Uganda is pervasive, institutionalised and on the increase’. General reports on Uganda’s politics emphasise the ‘the
neo-patrimonial character of Ugandan political culture’ (Robinson, 2006: p. 33, see also Barkan et al., 2004). This
corruption problem is also reflected in public perceptions on the extent and the intensity of the phenomenon. The
2003 second National Integrity Survey found corruption taking place on both a national and local level; the highest
levels of corruption taking place among the traffic police (83%), tender boards (79%), electoral commissions (78%)
and Uganda Revenue Authorities (77%) (Deininger and Mpuga, 2005).
This political culture has a strong impact on processes of decentralisation. Francis and James (2003: p. 336)
argue that in practice, ‘(...) those with vested interests are capable of turning the institutions and opportunities
created through decentralisation to their own advantage’ (see also Ellis and Bahiigwa, 2003: p. 1010). Juma (2002)
argues that the decentralised structures of local government have come together with the National Resistance
Movement (NRM) structure and ‘have become symbols of decentralised corruption as well as instruments of
patronage for political loyalists of NRM regime’ (Juma, 2002: p. 19).
The 2004 Joint Annual Review of Decentralisation of the Ministry of Local Government points out the fact that
the decentralisation principles are not fully grasped with, increasing the risk ‘for the process of decentralisation to
degenerate [...] into a scramble for local influence and local power’ (GoU Ministry of Local Government, 2004:
p. 4, quoted in Steiner, 2006: p. 62). In such a political context, decentralised public services run a high risk of being
captured by local elites. This view is also reflected in national government policies, in which references to local
corruption and incapacity of local institutions have been used to roll back progress on decentralisation through
recentralising key local government appointments and eliminating sources of local government revenue such as the
graduated tax (cf. USAID, 2005).
This section aims at answering the research questions which were brought up in the introduction and which
investigate whether SMCs are prone to elite capture and which formal and informal constraints play a role in this.
Firstly, do SMC members belong to the local elite? Secondly, have SMC members captured the committees?
Thirdly, what is the distribution of power? Fourthly, do politicians capture the committees? Fifthly, do education
officials capture the committees? Through answering these questions, we will be able to analyse whether SMCs are
prone to elite capture and which formal and informal constraints play a role in this.
Do SMC members belong to the local elite?
Parents only elect two of the nine SMC members directly among themselves (the headteacher is the tenth,
non-voting, member). Three of the SMC members are to be formally appointed by the Ministry of Education and
the remaining four members, including the chairperson, are to be appointed by the District Council’s Education
Committee (GoU Ministry of Education, 1969, art. 1.2). This arrangement of 1969 has not been changed in
subsequent education policies (it was reprinted in the official SMC manual of 1999) and formally reiterates central
government’s desire to keep control or provide a framework for central government to make alliance with local
However, in practice the headteacher and a sitting SMC propose to the district authorities a list of the other seven
candidates for appointment to represent the Ministry of Education (three) and the District Council’s Education
Committee (four). The Ministry’s manual for headteachers advises to follow this procedure (GoU Ministry of
Education et al., 1996: p. 85, 87). The interviews confirmed this practice, which suggest that SMCs can hardly be
considered a framework in which local and national elites establish alliances. Rather, it seems that central
government deliberately leaves the control over decentralised education in the hands of local political dynamics.
Table 1 sheds light on the profiles of SMC members. About half the committee members are in the age bracket
30–44 years and about a third of the members are women. Especially the latter is interesting because the regulations
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that guide the election process for SMCs do not stipulate a one-third quota for women, unlike, the regulation
regarding the composition of District Councils (GoU Republic of Uganda, 1997, Article 21 (e): p. 15) or
management committees for Health Units (GoU Ministry of Health, 1998: p. 7). This contradicts other research of,
for example, Agarwal (2001), who found that women in Community Forest Groups end up being underrepresented
if there is no quota set aside.
Table 2 reveals that, by their own accord, 90% of the (s)elected members of the SMC have at least completed
primary education and half of them completed secondary education. This education level is confirmed by two other
sources of information. First, it was noted that only about a quarter of the SMC members required assistance to fill
in the English questionnaire. Second, Table 3 reveals that about one-third of the SMC members are active or retired
civil servants, who must be literate. Furthermore, in these rural districts, the overwhelming majority of parents must
be subsistence farmers, but only 40% of the SMC members identify themselves as such. The majority of SMC
members can be considered the ‘better-off’ and identify themselves as farmers with employees, traders, salaried
employees or civil servants.
Have SMC members captured the committees?
Legally, SMC members’ office tenure is limited to 2 years and members are re-eligible once for another term (GoU
Ministry of Education, 1969: p. 2.1–2.3). In practice, almost all SMCs claimed that their effective term in office was
4 years (Table 4). The graph reveals that three quarters of the members has an office term within the legal limits and
the even distribution suggests that members are replaced at a regular interval. (The fact that a quarter of the
respondents has an office term of more than 5 years suggests more of an irregularity than it actually is because this
quarter consists in its majority of headteachers, who are ex-officio members of the SMC).
The impression that SMC members do not turn their seats into personal life-time fiefdoms is further confirmed
by interviews with current and former SMC members. Most members saw it as an honour to be member of the
SMC, as it gave them some social esteem and standing. Nevertheless, this social value was not deemed very
significant when compared to other local bodies (such as local councils). Moreover, a lot of hard work is required,
Table 1. Sex and age representation of SMC members
Male (%) Female (%) % n
18–29 years 2 2 6 7
30–44 years 38 13 50 64
45–60 years 21 13 35 44
61 years or older 8 2 9 12
Total 69 30 100 127
Note:n¼127 elected and ex-officio members of 17 SMCs in three districts in Uganda.
Source: Field research in 2004.
Table 2. Educational background of SMC members
Uncompleted primary education 10 10
Completed primary education 21 21
Uncompleted secondary education 19 19
Completed secondary education 17 17
Secondary education plus other training 30 30
Other 2 2
Total 100 99
Note:n¼99 elected members of 17 SMCs in three districts in Uganda.
Source: Field research in 2004.
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taking up many volunteer hours. Former and current SMC chairpersons gave a variety of reasons for rescinding
their positions: the lack of financial reward, the hard work and the lack of support from the parents. As a result, very
few members aspire a re-election.
While SMC positions are not captured as personal fiefdoms, an analysis of SMC members’ other public
positions (e.g. in churches, soccer clubs, water committees, village councils etc.) does reveal an interesting pattern.
The inside questionnaire asked SMC members to indicate if they held other positions in committees or boards,
14 specified local bodies were listed for ticking. Table 5 reveals that only a few (9%) of the SMC members claimed
Table 3. Professional background of SMC members
Farmer 40 40
Farmer with employees 9 9
Trader or business (wo)man 9 9
Employee in a business 4 4
Active civil servant 12 12
Retired civil servant 18 18
Student or homemaker 3 3
Other 4 4
Total 100 99
Note:n¼99 elected members of 17 SMCs in three districts in Uganda.
Source: Field research in 2004.
Table 4. Duration of office tenure of SMC members
1 year or less 26 33
1–3 years 27 34
3–5 years 22 28
More than 5 years 22 28
Other 3 4
Total 100 127
Note:n¼127 elected and ex-officio members of 17 SMCs in three districts in Uganda.
Source: Field research in 2004.
Table 5. Number of positions held in other committees or boards by SMC members
No other positions 9 12
One other position 1 1
Two other positions 35 45
Three other positions 27 35
Four other positions 17 21
Five other positions 4 5
Six other positions 5 6
Seven other positions 1 1
Eight other positions 1 1
Total 100 127
Note:n¼127 elected and ex-officio members of 17 SMCs in three districts in Uganda.
Source: Field research in 2004.
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not to hold other positions, and a stunning 90% claim to hold in effect three or more positions in public bodies.
Only 1 in 127 respondents held a mere two positions.
This pattern is further confirmed by a survey (n¼64) on the
life histories of SMC members, which found that on average, SMC members first were an executive member of two
other institutions before becoming a member of an SMC. Only 5% directly became an SMC member, without
having been a member of any other executive committee. This suggests that SMC members need to have a certain
experience and maturity before they can be elected in the SMC. Moreover, of the 20 SMC chairpersons which were
interviewed, 8 had no children in that particular school. This confirms that having children in the school is not a
strict requirement for the school, but that SMCs are looking for local elites as ‘all brains must come together for the
If SMC membership is a typical example of membership of public bodies at village level, then these findings
suggest that public bodies at village level in Uganda are controlled by three or four dozen individuals. However,
rather than seeing one or two persons dominate a particular local body on a permanent basis, the control over local
bodies seems to be rotating among the members of a select group of villagers who are likely to be the locally
better-off, and about a third of them have a background in the civil service. They move over the available positions
of public bodies in the village as if they were musical chairs. With most positions having some sort of electoral
process, it can be argued that the music is playedand stopped by each organisation’s constituency.
These findings are strongly confirmed by in-depth research in two villages (which both have a primary school
with a SMC) that looked from the ‘outside’ at the SMCs. In every village, the whole adult population was
interviewed (village I, n¼222; village II, n¼204). In village I, 25.6% of the adult population are holding executive
positions in local institutions, while the remaining 74.4% does not hold a single executive position. These executive
members hold on average three positions per person. Out of the adults with no executive position, only 6.6% had an
executive position in the past. More or less the same image arises in village II: 23.5% dominate executive positions,
and hold on average three positions per person. Among the adults without executive position, 14% had an executive
position in the past. This accumulation of positions suggests that the image of ‘recycled elites’ who have to do ‘hard
work’ is apt (Chabal and Daloz, 1999: p. 38).
Distribution of power
Findings from individual outside interviews mostly argue that power in SMCs is concentrated in a tandem of two
persons: chairpersons and headteachers. This is probably fed by two factors. First, according to most of the outside
interviewees there are many SMC members with low education levels unaware of their rights and duties. Three
quarters of the parents believe these uneducated members are brought in because they are ‘easier to control’ by
elites within the SMCs. They can be easily manipulated by the better informed members like the chairperson and
the headteacher. This is reinforced in many cases where ordinary members lose interest in the activities of the SMC.
This leaves the more ‘powerful’ chairpersons and the headteachers to work on their own. It could therefore be
argued that if chairpersons or headteachers embezzle funds, this is possibly as much due to their pursuit, as by a
pattern in which other SMC members abdicate from responsibilities. This was strongly the case before the
introduction of UPE, as there was little training and sensitisation of the SMCs. After the introduction of UPE, the
government had all advantage in ensuring a proper check on the government money being used. As a result, it
strongly increased funding for trainings for the SMC members. All key-actors confirm how members consequently
became more aware of their rights and responsibilities, leaving less room for mismanagement by the headteachers
and chairpersons.
A caveat may be in place. When puzzled by the overwhelming number of 90%, we considered that the high percentage may arise partly from the
possibility that some respondents mistook the question ‘Are you also a member of a Committee or Board in other organisations?’ with simple
membership of other organisations.
The 127 respondents in Uganda form part of a wider sample of 420 respondents in local committees in Uganda and Tanzania. Of those
respondents, 344 (82%) claimed to hold three or more other positions and only one—indeed this very same SMC member in Uganda —claimed
to hold just one other position.
Interview local teacher and PTA chairman, 9 November 2005.
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Second, the potential power of the tandem chairperson-headteacher is reinforced by the way in which financial
management in schools is executed. The joint signatures of headteacher and SMC chairperson are required to
authorise expenditure and payments (GoU Ministry of Education and Sports, 1999: p. 82–83). Outside interviews
confirm that this coalition is the main vehicle of corruption in SMCs— many examples were given of cases wherein
the headteacher and chairperson embezzled money. For example, the chairperson signs an empty cheque for the
headteacher, and in return gets financial and material rewards. Again, much of this had to do with the lack of
information for the other SMC members, in which they were not aware of the limits on the power of the headteacher
and chairperson; some members were also easily bribed with ‘lunch money’.
Nevertheless, this administrative
requirement of a double signature is one of the checks-and-balances in the schools’ financial management that
actually limits the potential for one single person to rule and SMCs seem to adhere to the rules. It seems unlikely
that increasing the number of signatories will stop embezzlement, it will rather make the system more cumbersome
than transparent.
Observations during the inside group interviews with the SMCs recorded the number of persons who made at
least a twice above average (that is total effective interview time, divided by the number of participants) verbal
contribution to the interview (Table 6). Findings indicate that only rarely the meetings were dominated by one
person, generally two or three persons shared the floor often indeed the headteacher and the chairperson
(a parent) as well as a parent representative. Likewise, notes were kept on who assumed effective leadership during
the participatory exercises (Table 7). In three quarters of the interviews, the headteachers or the chairpersons led or
facilitated the group dynamics. Overall, findings do not show a pattern in SMCs of a concentration of power and
control in one single person or function.
Table 6. Number of persons with twice above average contribution to SMC group
One person 1
Two persons 7
Three persons 7
Four persons 2
Total 17
Note:n¼17 SMCs in three districts in Uganda.
Source: Field research in 2004.
Table 7. Informal leadership during group interviews with SMCs
Headteacher 9
SMC chairperson 4
Other member 1
No individual leadership 3
Total 17
Note:n¼17 SMCs in three districts in Uganda.
Source: Field research in 2004.
Interview coordinating centre tutor Teacher Development Management System 07 June 2007.
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Do politicians capture the SMCs?
Uganda elects councillors at three levels: in a village council, a sub-county council and a district council. Table 8
indicates that about a quarter of the SMC members also hold elected positions in the village council; every SMC has
at least one. However, the village councils do not hold much power or resources (SMCs’ budgets far exceed village
councils’ budgets) and do not prove very functional: in the villages of research, none of the village councils were
It is more relevant that, out of the 17 SMCs, 7 have a sub-county councillor among their members
sub-county councils are the lowest level of the hierarchy that do hold some effective sway for the education sector
(Saito, 2003: p. 149). There are no district councillors among the SMCs of research.
All in all, there are relatively few politicians present in SMC’s. Rather than having politicians trying to ‘capture’
the SMC, the research suggests the inverse: SMC’s continuously try to involve higher-level politicians beyond the
village horizon. The interviews reveal thatcontrary to the regulations most actors (parents, SMC members,
politicians) assume that it is formally required to include local, higher-level politicians in the SMC. When SMC
elections are due, politicians will be approached. In spite of their often substantial efforts in net-working and
travelling, most schools fail to attract a (sub-)district councillor to their SMC. And even if these higher-level
councillors allow themselves to be ‘enlisted’, their attendance at meetings or the provision of extra resources to the
school is often a source of sotto voce disappointment. An analysis of SMCs’ efforts to involve powerful persons in
their school brings to mind the image of ‘inverted elite capture’: it is the committees that try to capture the elite, not
the other way around. One SMC chairman puts it bluntly: ‘Politicians don’t approach us to get support —it is we the
SMC, who try to approach politicians!’.
Although SMCs mostly fail to involve councillors formally, they continuously try to establish informal
relationships with them by inviting for special occasions such as fund-raisings, school days or meetings. Repeatedly
villagers indicated that councillors need to be involved for two reasons. First, councillors are expected to assist in
addressing problems with an SMC. Not only can councillors command attention from parents, they are also
expected to be effective in solving corruption cases because they are better educated or experienced. Additionally,
councillors are expected to have better access to district education authorities and they are less vulnerable to
reprisals. Second, councillors are expected to lobby for additional funding for the school. All schools lack resources
and schools compete for a small pool of ‘additional’ resources.
The first additional resources can be found in a School Facilities Grant that the Ministry of Education allocates to
districts for investment in schools (Saito, 2003: p. 157). A second source is a council’s own budget from which it
can allocate discretionary grants to schools (GoU Ministry of Education and Sports, 1998: p. 18). This money
comes from LGDP resources or from locally generated revenue.
A third source is material support from NGOs.
Table 8. SMC members who also hold a political office
Holds no political office 69 87
Member of village council 25 32
Member of sub-county council 6 7
Member of district council 1 1
Total 100 127
Note:n¼127 elected and ex-officio members of 17 SMCs in three districts in Uganda.
Source: Field research in 2004.
A similar analysis was found by, for example, Karlstrom, who found that out of seven LC1’s in southern Uganda, only one was described as
‘very active’ (Karlstro
¨m, 1999: p. 112–114).
Interview SMC chairman, 24 November 2005.
The abolition of the Graduated Tax in June 2005, which was the principal source of local revenues, however affected local governments and
their service delivery activities. Compensation is provided by the central government, but this often falls short of replacing revenue shortfalls
(USAID, 2005: p. 39–42).
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This support should, however, not be overestimated. Firstly, within the ‘outside’ district of research, NGO support
was only given to two out of fivecounties. Secondly, this material support usually consisted of a few bags of cement,
some sheets of corrugated iron or extra books; never something that would normally be beyond the SMCs’ own
budgets. In fact, the ‘inside’ interviews suggest that SMCs appreciated the access to advice and information just as
much. Although this NGO support mainly passes through the DEO, district and sub-county councillors also play a
role in the identification of beneficiaries. An informal relationship with a councillor is therefore considered to be a
strong advantage in the allocation of these funds, something which is strongly confirmed by councillors themselves.
As one sub-county councillor argued ‘I am lobbying my colleagues to support schools in the parish in case I want to
move the money to my parish. (...) Of course we try to get funding to our schools of interest. Moreover, whatever
problems schools have, they first come to me, before going to the sub-county’.
These are the perceived benefits for the SMC, but what are councillors’ considerations when looking at SMCs’
requests for involvement? Rent-seeking from SMCs is unlikely to bring much, whatever is to be obtained needs to
be shared with headteachers and chairpersons. This might be one of the reasons where relatively few councillors are
a member of the SMC: they face high expectations on their time and there is little economic ‘added value’. On the
other hand, schools can be useful for a politician’s profile and legitimacy. Supporting schools improves a politician’
visibility and legitimacy by tying their name to ‘delivered’ goods through openings, school days or fund raisings.
Also for national politicians, schools are a good ‘investment’ for local political legitimacy. All MPs and ministers of
the district had donated goods to schools. However, contrary to local politicians, parents do not expected them to get
involved in solving management problems in the schools.
These practices can be described as ‘pork barrel’ politics, a common form of clientelism in which politicians
take care of their own constituencies by providing them with whatever they can get out of the governmental ‘pork
In other words, school funds are allocated not on the basis of need or merit, but to build political support
for a politician in an area. Anyone outside of this favoured circle will have difficulty accessing these public
resources. As one councillor in charge of education comments: ‘There is no rationality in the council. Everyone
fights for his own area! (...) Some of the politicians are development minded, but others are sectarian. They only
give School Facility Grants to areas which give them votes. (...) They also look if the headteacher and SMC are of
the same political colour as them’.
In this respect, some schools claim they have not been able to access appropriate funding because they lack
political connections: they have no councillor representing their interests, or they do not support those in charge of
the education budget. Although pork barrel politics is legal, those excluded feel they have been treated unfairly. In
this sense, funding for SMCs is often subject to a political bias and ‘captured’ by politicians (cf. Pasuk and Baker,
Do education officials capture the SMCs?
SMCs receive their grants from the Ministry of Education via the district education department in their bank
account in nine payments per year (GoU Ministry of Education and Sports, 1998: p. 4), and are accountable to the
district education office. Although the regulations accompanying the introduction of UPE do not state that the
SMCs report to the DEO or the District Education Committee, the 1996 manual for headteachers does (GoU
Ministry of Education et al., 1996: p. 83), as well as the older, still standing, 1969 regulations (GoU Ministry of
Education, 1969: p. 14.1). In practice, each of the three DEOs stated that the reporting on budgets and expenditure
must be done by the headteachers with the SMC chairpersons’ signature to the District Education Committee (and
DEO) before next tranches of grants can be released.
The respondents particularly stress the importance and power of the district-based DEO, even though recent
policies also establish that the sub-county authorities should supervise and support SMCs (GoU Ministry of
Interview sub-county councillor 23 November 2005.
Pork barrel politics can be defined as ‘(...) publicly funded projects promoted by legislators to bring money and jobs to their own districts, as a
political favour to local politicians or citizens’. (Brinkerhoff and Goldsmith, 2002: p. 6).
Interview district councillor, 6 December 2005.
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Education and Sports, 1998: p. 13). But even sub-county authorities themselves indicate unanimously in the
interviews that they lack time, resources and knowledge to deal with SMCs. Likewise, the interviews show that only
4 of the 17 SMCs mention the sub-county as an actor of medium importance with whom they deal, but all 17 place
the DEO on or near the top of their list of contacts as a major actor. SMCs are acutely aware that their core
government funding (capitation grants) continues to come via the DEO’s office, not the sub-county.
Besides the DEOs’ capacity to influence decisions about additional resources from the School Facilities Grant,
the inside interviews also show that DEOs are far more influential than councillors as an intermediary between
schools and (international) NGOs with resources. Fifteen of the 17 SMCs mention that they receive materials or
advice from NGOs. However, only two SMCs received assistance directly from NGOs, whereas 11 SMCs accessed
this assistance via the DEO. (The profile of the first two SMCs did not differ from the other SMCs, so coincidence
rather deliberate action seems to explain the direct contact between these SMC and the NGO). In only two cases
councillors were indicated as the intermediary. It should also be noted here that NGOs are largely dependent on
DEOs in their targeting of schools. And because this targeting largely takes place outside public scrutiny, DEOs
have ample room to introduce personal preferences for certain schools. These tendencies are strongly confirmed by
outside interviews: most actors think the DEO has an overall responsibility to support the school, as he or she has
more power and resources.
As the DEO is the main actor in a district’s education policies and resources, accusations of embezzlement are
frequent and in one of the three researched districts, the DEO had recently been dismissed for corruption. In another
district, it was rumoured by several interviewees that the DEO had set up a scheme with the headteachers of the two
biggest primary schools in which part of the UPE money was being divided between the DEO, the headteachers and
the SMC chairpersons.
This paper started with the observation that current decentralisation policies in Uganda increasingly place the
responsibilities and the resources for the delivery of public services in the hands of public bodies at the lowest
possible levels, in this case SMCs. These decentralisation policies take place in a wider governance context in
which public bodies of the central state have proven to be rather ineffective in the delivery of these services, an
ineffectiveness that several analysts attribute to elite capture. Through a series of empirical questions, this paper
investigated whether SMCs are prone to elite capture and which formal and informal constraints play a role in this.
Our research finds that SMC members’ personal profiles do not prima facie suggest they are the local elite: most
fall in the younger age bracket 30–44 years and a third of them are women. Furthermore, formal constraints are an
important and reasonably effective check against elite capture. First, election procedures are respected with regard
to the election of SMC members. Second, although the SMC members differ from the average parent in that most of
them have a regular cash income, almost half finished secondary school and a third have a professional background
in the civil service (giving them a potential ‘elitist’ character), the formal rules with regard to term limits prevent
them from personally capturing control over the committee because virtually all of them are replaced in elections
after one or two terms in office. Third, the formal constraint in which both headteacher and SMC chairperson are
overall responsible of the SMC also prevents capture of power in the hand of one single person. In structure as well
as in practice, the management of schools reflects a pattern in which power and responsibilities are generally
divided between these two persons. Whereas there is a danger of embezzlement by these two actors, increased
training and sensitisation of SMC members after the introduction of UPE proved to be an important check against
the capture of the SMC by headteacher and SMC chairperson.
Apart from these formal rules, there are also several informal constraints at play in the functioning of SMCs. The
most striking informal rule or better an ‘internally enforced standard of conduct’ and an ‘extension of formal
rules’ (North, 1990: p. 40) is the practice of ‘inverted elite capture’: SMCs always try to capture the higher level
These statements were frequently and independently made by key actors, for example, interview PTA chairman (21 October 2005), former
SMC chairman (11 November 2005) and (4 December 2005), local district councillor (6 December 2005).
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elites into their organisation. Notwithstanding this informal practice, most SMC fail to succeed. Rather than
becoming a member of SMCs, political elites use ‘pork barrel’ politics to ensure the political support of certain
schools, through which resources get ‘captured’ for a particular school. In this sense, informal (political) standards
act as an elaboration of the formal technical rules for the distribution of funds, which may affect coherent and
effective policy, in that resources for particular schools can be intercepted by powerful politicians contrary to the
interests of underprivileged schools
(Johnson and Start, 2001: p. 12–15). Whereas this informal practice may
have favourable outcomes for individual SMCs, it undermines policy intentions with regard to SMCs. A similar
dynamic can be seen for district education officials. Through their formal and informal power, DEOs seem to have
more opportunity than politicians to steer resources to personally favoured schools and thus lay a basis for
clientelism. This opportunity emerges particularly when DEOs are the exclusive intermediary between NGOs and
Whereas it is clear that individuals have not personally taken control of the SMC, there is strong evidence that at
village level a group of about three or four dozen individuals controls all positions in local public bodies (ranging
from church to soccer club) because almost all SMC members accumulate three or four positions in these various
bodies. In the course of the years, they seem to rotate over these positions as if they were musical chairs, mostly
sanctioned by elections. Therefore, there seems to be an informal constraint, not only within the SMC, but within
the whole village that only a ‘rotating elite’ group is eligible for SMCs.
On balance, the combined findings from these two research projects find that there are two tendencies at work
which influence the functioning of SMCs and the outcome of elite capture. On the one hand, informal norms lead to
the problem of ‘indirect capture’, in which resources of SMCs are subject to political (in the case of politicians) or
personal bias (in the case of the DEO’s). Moreover, our findings suggest a rotating elite controlling local
institutions. On the other hand, formal rules effectively prevent this local elite taking direct, permanent or personal
control over SMCs.
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Key data on the sample of School Management Committees (SMC)
Total number of group interviews 17
Total number of individual interviews (questionnaires) 127
Statutory total of SMC members (incl. 1 headteacher as ex-officio member) 10
Average number of SMC members in sample 7.5
Mode of SMC members in sample 6
Ratio of nin sample: nin district (%) District 1 ¼9:73 (12%)
District 2 ¼4:416 (1%)
District 3 ¼4:112 (4%)
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DOI: 10.1002/pad
... On the other hand, in 1998, government reintroduced SMCs as a legal entity at the school level to represent government and formally take control of decentralised education (MoES 1998, cited in Prinsen andTiteca 2008). The SMCs control all recurrent income and expenditure of the schools and are tasked to ensure proper and efficient management in accordance with government policy (Asiimwe and Nakanyike 2004). ...
... The SMCs control all recurrent income and expenditure of the schools and are tasked to ensure proper and efficient management in accordance with government policy (Asiimwe and Nakanyike 2004). Since conditional grants were introduced, the SMCs spend the funding according to government specifications, namely 50% on instructional materials, 30% on co-curricular activities, 15% on utilities and maintenance and 5% on administration (Prinsen and Titeca 2008). SMCs are also responsible for supervision of teacher and pupil attendance, teacher performance, monitoring the utilisation of school funds and ensuring that parents contribute towards pupils' midday meals. ...
... SMCs are also responsible for supervision of teacher and pupil attendance, teacher performance, monitoring the utilisation of school funds and ensuring that parents contribute towards pupils' midday meals. However, studies have shown that most SMCs fail (Prinsen and Titeca 2008;Nanyonga and Nanziri 2013;MoES 2017). Some SMCs have been informally captured by politicians, some who have been found to use their political influence to channel resources to particular schools, or by dominant individuals in society who may be the community representative on many institutional committees (Reinikka and Svensson 2004;Prinsen and Titeca 2008). ...
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This study seeks to establish the role decentralised governance has played in the performance of primary schools in eastern Uganda. Exploratory and descriptive data drawn from 104 school managers and district officials participating in the study indicate that decentralised governance has strengthened management of the payroll, increased regularity of monitoring and supervision and introduced school management committees. Despite these improvements in governance, there is however evidence that the quality of primary education continues to be low. Only a small and declining percentage of pupils complete primary education, and with increasingly poor grades. This is because, for a number of reasons, both the supply and demand side of governance are still weak. Despite this, overall the author finds that decentralised governance of primary education is a positive development, as it has enhanced the supply side of governance. There is, however, a need to control negative practices in the supply side of governance, and to systematically develop the demand side of governance, if the performance of Ugandan pupils is to improve.
... However, neither the UPE Handbook nor Guidelines for Health Unit Management Committees, the health counterparts of SMCs, specified any representation for marginalized groups. The CV&A experience of the defunct state of many of Uganda's SMCs and Health Unit Management Committees (HUMCs) reflects this democratic gap, and is consistent with evidence of seemingly benign capture by small local cliques (Prinsen 2007;Prinsen and Titeca 2008). Unsurprisingly, marginalized citizens do not readily recapture and revive these institutions. ...
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Citizen Voice and Action (CV&A), a rights- and strengths-based social accountability approach developed in the global South, enables communities marginalized by unfair power relations to counter vicious cycles of weak accountability. Fostering a dynamic of entitlement within communities and obligation by duty-bearers directed at health and human rights helps progressively change the opportunity structures of living together within which communities build more inclusive knowledge capabilities regarding health system performance, make collective decisions, take collective actions, and foster health rights claims. After outlining capability theory and its links to human rights, this paper explains CV&A’s community praxis and its origins in democratic struggles for rights. Using nested Ugandan case studies, it examines how communities of citizens facing weak accountability claim valued health and human rights as they engage with each other and with duty-bearers, directly and indirectly. Social accountability understood in terms of organised collective freedoms and capabilities helps explain how action by and for communities at multiple levels aligns policy implementation and service performance with public healthcare each community and its members have reason to value.
... However, neither the UPE Handbook nor Guidelines for Health Unit Management Committees, the health counterparts of SMCs, specified any representation for marginalized groups. The CV&A experience of the defunct state of many of Uganda's SMCs and Health Unit Management Committees (HUMCs) reflects this democratic gap, and is consistent with evidence of seemingly benign capture by small local cliques (Prinsen 2007;Prinsen and Titeca 2008). Unsurprisingly, marginalized citizens do not readily recapture and revive these institutions. ...
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Failures in essential public services persist where citizens cannot influence layers of policy decision-making and implementation needed for functioning services. Resigned to low policy influence, citizens disengage. Disengagement enables politicians and service providers to neglect core duties to fund and provide acceptable services. Repeated cycles of these processes destroy constructive relationships and expectations essential for mutual accountability, eventually producing accountability traps. To advance our understanding of these real-world traps, I investigate instances of such traps in health and education systems in rural Uganda, using the case of Citizen Voice and Action (CV&A), a social accountability intervention introduced by World Vision. I study circumstances under which such interventions empower citizens to improve public primary health and education systems in low- and middle-income countries, and ask how CV&A can be improved. The evidence shows that facilitating the following processes releases capabilities for escaping accountability traps. First, repairing relationships helps unite communities whose rights are being violated by poor services, while increasing solidarity within service-marginalized groups fosters cohesion, collaboration and trusting reciprocity during struggles. Second, subjection to local law reduces inequalities between communities and duty-bearing government and legitimates joint investigation. Third, identifying, measuring and diagnosing policy gaps and contradictions before citizen dialogue with duty-bearing agents promotes agreement on a localized social contract for collective action. Fourth, rapid public feedback about policy gaps between citizens and duty-bearing service providers fosters rights claims on official duty-bearers. Fifth, as resulting public transparency regarding gaps threatens relevant duty-bearers’ reputations at each level of governance, there is an increase in responsive behaviours which enhance health and education system performance at multiple governance levels. Releasing cultural capabilities enables people to politically free each other from these traps. By explaining which capabilities enable citizens to contest and collaborate with various duty-bearing agents in collective action conducive to accountability, I bridge competing normative theories of accountability. These theories emphasize the expected relationships between actors and the collective action these relationships should produce. Using evidence from diverse low-accountability settings where CV&A is practiced, I also geographically generalize and broaden findings beyond rural Uganda. I conclude that embodying diverse forms of knowledge empowers citizens to increase accountability. Freedoms to contest knowledge arise by subjecting each other to local law, sharing awareness of policy gaps and mobilizing inclusively. When marginalized groups are free to mobilize each other, set their own agendas, vote, diagnose public-system performance and systematize knowledge they generate, in dialogue with duty-bearers and other mediating agents, they can socially enforce accountability, locally and beyond. Learning about policy gaps increases shared confidence, political will and action to democratically resolve policy failures. Actionable knowledge catalyzed and systematized by dialogue and feedback sustains cycles of collective action. Collaboration between citizens and allied intermediaries extends emancipatory knowledge-generating processes beyond local communities. Together, they advocate to change policies, and the rules by which policies are decided and implemented. Improving practice requires understanding what causes low accountability, appropriating context-sensitive cultural capabilities, civic education which mobilizes marginalized groups, flexible longer-term funding and adaptive programming.
The adoption of school‐based management (SBM) reforms has led to the formation of local‐level school committees in many low‐ and middle‐income countries. These committees are usually created with the stated aim of giving parents or local community members a greater say in school management. Various studies have, however, highlighted difficulties with parental and female participation, casting doubt on the extent to which greater community representation improves school management. The article examines empirically whether greater parental and female representation in Indian school management committees (SMCs) is associated with school improvement as measured by increases in the school‐level provision of basic infrastructure and services. Fixed‐effects regression models are estimated using school‐level panel data. I find that increased parental representation is not associated with improvements in school infrastructure/service provision. Rather, what contributes strongly to improved outcomes is increased representation of elected local authority members. Overall, schools with female‐majority SMCs also perform better. While the requirement for Indian SMCs to include representation from local government appears to be an effective feature of their composition, there is a need for capacity‐building efforts to ensure that parent members also contribute effectively to school management. SMCs should also be encouraged to meet the female representation quota, as the analysis suggests a positive association between female representation and school outcomes.
Conference Paper
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Decentralisation of education is among the current reforms that have been taking place in different African countries. Tanzania, as part of African countries, has also adopted decentralised policies in its education system. The arguments for advocating decentralisation are to give more power to the local people, minimise unneccesary bureaucracy and to ensure a proper utilisation of the educational resources. Findings from Dar es Salaam and Mbeya in Tanzania indicated that community involvement in school development plans has reduced the absenteeism and truancy among the pupils and it has improved the pupils" disclipline and attendance. There were also some improvements in classroom contruction especially in peri-urban schools in both Kindondoni Municipality and Mbeya City. The school committee members, however, focussed their attention on the Standard VII results and did not take care that the schools improve in all levels from Standard I-VII. The visited schools faced a massive problem of congested classrooms and shortage of desks. While the government promised the schools to receive the Capitation Grants (CGs) and Development Grants (DGs), the provisions of these funds from the government were far short of these promises. The findings in the visited schools indicated that the amount that was contributed by the pupils far exceeded the amount pledged and provided by the government. The school committee members appeared to be a mere signatory tool of the funds from the District Education Office (DEO) as they came with specifications on how to use them. The argument in this paper is that while involving the community in school-development plans in a decentralised setting may be good for local democracy and for the improved accountability of the service providers. The government needs to intervene where seems to be a problem in order to safeguard the interests of the pupils.
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‘Elite capture’ largely refers to local elites usurping the benefits of community development and decentralisation programs in the Global South. Development interventions can be understood in terms of political and normative struggles that determine resource flows and socially constructed notions of development. As Bourdieu predicts, development actors’ disposition toward elite capture frequently aligns with their position in these struggles: development researchers and practitioners identify elite capture as a central problem with bottom-up development approaches and use the elite capture critique to legitimise top-down control of project resources, while the participants of development projects see many of these alleged instances of elite capture as unproblematic. We employ Bourdieu’s notions of reflexivity and symbolic power to investigate the history and use of competing conceptualisations of elite capture. We examine the narrow framing of the elite capture critique, and we evaluate the critique’s relevance to the roles and capacities of local elites in West African villages. Finally, we understand elite capture in terms of the larger context of powerful actors throughout the aid chain capturing development resources. Our findings suggest that the elite capture critique is a form of symbolic power that legitimises arbitrary power relations between international development institutions and rural communities in the Global South.
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This chapter discusses the nature and role of evidence in advocacy by civil society organizations (CSOs) in the context of international development. It focus on CSOs’ efforts at the direct influencing of policymakers. The chapter show the important and diverse roles of evidence in CSO advocacy, while problematizing the supposed objective quality of evidence and its usage. It identifies the ways in which evidence creation and usage is shaped in relational dynamics between CSOs and the policymakers they target, and between CSOs that are differently positioned in power relations. Charting the political dynamics involved in the relations and interactions involved, the chapter calls for a recognition of the implications of these for inclusion, ownership, representation and legitimacy, and presents ways forward drawing on these insights.
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This chapter advances a perspective that recognizes diverse epistemic resources that engage with gender in international development. Rather than assuming that knowledge is exclusively produced through a decontextualized academic viewpoint, the chapter highlights the entanglement of knowledge with the material conditions in which it is produced. Building on insights from feminist epistemology, the chapter examines the situated knowledge about the notion of ‘gender equality’ in the CGIAR according to three different sites of knowledge production: institutional documents, gender specialists, and men and women from rural communities. The chapter identifies potential opportunities of embracing a transdisciplinary perspective on gender mainstreaming by expanding the treatment of gender equality into one that acknowledges its contested and context-specific nature. The chapter concludes by highlighting pathways for gender transformation in agricultural research for development work.
This chapter is culled from my PhD thesis. The purpose of this study was to conduct an empirical study on the ascribed roles of School Management Committees (SMCs) in monitoring the implementation of UPE in Uganda. SMCs are mandated to participate and monitor all the activities that make a school operational. The research questions that guided this study were twofold: (1) How do SMCs describe their roles in monitoring the implementation of UPE? (2) To what extent the SMCs influence the implementation of UPE? Secondary data is used in this study. The results of the study seem to suggest that SMCs understand their roles and execute them in some schools. However, some members seem not to understand their roles according to the study findings. Even those understanding their roles, they were not fully implementing them as a result of not understanding their mandate fully. The study finding further seem to suggest that in schools where SMCs were active in their monitoring roles, there was an improvement in UPE implementation seen in increased enrollment and support supervision that are vital for promoting teaching and learning. There is need for a policy by the government that stipulates a minimum level of education and experience as a requirement for one to be elected as a member of an SMC. This should be accompanied by a clear policy of continuous training in new skills of monitoring and managing school resources to support teaching and learning in schools.
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Administrative and political decentralization have emerged as high developmental priorities in Africa and elsewhere. Although the possible benefits of such reforms have been well theorized, the actual politics of decentralization are not well understood. Often there are large gaps between reform rhetoric and governments'real commitment to decentralization. And often legal changes have not produced decentralization's supposed political and administrative benefits. These dynamics have been especially clear in rural Africa, where a decade of decentralizing reforms has produced generally disappointing results. When do regimes pursue state-building strategies that involve real devolution of political and administrative prerogative? This article addresses this question and proposes an answer for rural West Africa. The author employs a political economy approach to propose a model of regional variation in the political capacities and interests of rural societies and rural notables and argues that these differences shape the institution-building strategies governments choose trying to entrench their power.
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Decentralisations in the 1980s transferred powers to multi-purpose local governments. In recent years, international donors and central governments are increasingly turning towards single-purpose user committees. Although these committees appear to be less democratically accountable and less representative than local government, donors view user committees as a mechanism to give local peoples greater say over the development decisions that affect them. Central government officials establish user committees at the insistence of donors but then manipulate them by selecting committee members and by reigning in their powers. This contribution explores how these proliferating single-purpose committees are undermining the democratic processes that were presumably institutionalised with the creation and strengthening of elected local governments in Third World countries. This new approach fragments local participation, reducing its coherence and effectiveness; the poor may even be worse off than before. These committees appear to usurp local government functions and deprive local governments of revenues. These myriad problems result in destructive conflicts and the undermining of local government authority.
This book provides the kind of on-the-ground look at the process and results of decentralization that we have been missing in the debates over "decentralization" and in efforts to plan for more effective meeting of people's needs through a process of devolved responsibility and financing, especially in Africa. Norman Uphoff, Director, Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development Cornell University, U.S.A.
Community-based and -driven development projects have become an important form of development assistance, with the World Bank's portfolio alone approximating $7 billion. A review of their conceptual foundations and evidence on their effectiveness shows that projects that rely on community participation have not been particularly effective at targeting the poor. There is some evidence that such projects create effective community infrastructure, but not a single study establishes a causal relationship between any outcome and participatory elements of a community-based development project. Most such projects are dominated by elites, and both targeting and project quality tend to be markedly worse in more unequal communities. A distinction between potentially "benevolent" forms of elite domination and more pernicious types of capture is likely to be important for understanding project dynamics and outcomes. Several qualitative studies indicate that the sustainability of community-based initiatives depends crucially on an enabling institutional environment, which requires government commitment, and on accountability of leaders to their community to avoid "supply-driven demand-driven" development. External agents strongly influence project success, but facilitators are often poorly trained, particularly in rapidly scaled-up programs. The naive application of complex contextual concepts like participation, social capital, and empowerment is endemic among project implementers and contributes to poor design and implementation. The evidence suggests that community-based and -driven development projects are best undertaken in a context-specific manner, with a long time horizon and with careful and well-designed monitoring and evaluation systems.
Se concentrer sur la décentralisation et la société civile en Afrique demande aux chercheurs d'examiner les facteurs affectant les institutions (c'est à dire les règlements et procédures) des organisations locales de développement. En se basant sur deux cas d'étude dans le Sénégal rural, cet article examine comment les préférences des participants au groupe, la position d'autorité des acteurs du groupe, et les alternatives proposées aux individus et offrant les mêmes bénéfices que ceux de l'organisation, façonnent les institutions des organisations locales. Cet article illustre ensuite comment les règlements émergeant des négociations institutionnelles affectent les décisions prises par les organisations locales sur les problèmes tels que l'allocation des ressources et la mise en œuvre de projets de développement.
In the past two decades, cash-strapped countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have been unable to provide even rudimentary primary education systems. User fees for primary education have become common, as has the intervention of parent-teacher associations (PTAs), which requires further fees. A look at the relationship between PTAs and local government in Jinja, Uganda, demonstrates that the de facto decentralization of the provision of primary education to PTAs provides an opportunity for building political accountability; when parents bring resources to the table, governments must share resources and responsibility and relationships of accountability emerge. These relationships are threatened by the new universal primary education (UPE) policy for which Uganda has few resources and little accountability. Current UNESCO initiatives for establishing UPE in Sub-Saharan Africa call for participation and accountability but may ignore the potential for accountability and improvement through partnerships between governments and PTAs.
This article analyses the implementation of governance reforms in Uganda in the 1990s, highlighting the political and institutional factors that explain different trajectories of reform. The three cases of governance reform – civil service reform, the creation of a semi-autonomous revenue authority and anti-corruption agencies – share a number of common features. First, they all followed a similar trajectory in their implementation, achieving a degree of initial success that was then gradually undermined. Second, the institutional features that appear to account for that initial success – strong political support to technocratic or bureaucratic elites with some degree of insulation from political and societal interests – also help explain why such reforms are susceptible to a process of unravelling. Third, the main explanation for the loss of reform momentum or reversals lies in the imperative of preserving the institutional foundations of neo-patrimonial politics.
Participation, a 'buzzword' in social development in both developed and developing countries, has several different interpretations in terms of purpose, form and implication. For instance, parents are encouraged to participate individually in choosing the school for their own children, and they are expected to participate collectively in school development through the work of school governing bodies. Furthermore, participation in education is often considered to be a means of assuring accountability of decentralised institutions. This paper explores the notion of parental participation in school governance, based on data obtained from field research in Uganda. It argues that parents' perceptions of the accountability of the school affect the way they participate in education. Thus, accountability is one of the crucial factors for realising local democracy through decentralisation.