Public accountability: Explaining variation across local governments in Uganda
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5 Abstract What makes some local governments thrive while others fall short of answerability? What are the different dimensions/indicators/forms of accountability in local governments? What factors promote or hinder accountability in local governments? Implicitly, can struggling governments be made more accountable? These are some of the over arching questions this study attempts to examine as a way for creating firm theoretical and conceptual foundation for empirical investigation into the interactions between citizen awareness, local government capacity and political history on one hand and local accountability; (namely: transparency, participation and complaints and response mechanisms) on the other hand in Entebbe Municipal Council and Maracha District. Accountability is an elusive concept that is difficult to define but it refers to obligation of one party to provide information and/or justification to another and/or face sanctions from the second party for inaction or inappropriate behaviour. At theoretical level, the study is grounded on the principal-agent model. The citizens here are the principals and local government leaders (both appointed/bureaucratic and elected/political) are their agents. The major theoretical argument is that, citizen awareness; local government capacity and political history affect transparency, participation and the use of complaints and response mechanisms in local governments thereby causing variation. The study adopts a comparative case study methodology. Primary data was collected using in-depth interview of 12 respondents and observation from the selected local governments. The primary data was supplemented with review of relevant documents namely reports, statistical abstract and strategic plans from selected local governments. One major methodological challenge is the operationalisation of the elusive variables of accountability, because not many empirical studies are conducted on the subject being studied. The findings of this study indicate that compared to Maracha District, Entebbe Municipal Council has more open and transparent government with better citizens access to local government budget, revenue and expenditure, it has annual audit of lower local governments and institutions such as schools and health centres, and citizens also have access to access to approved work plans projects and tenders. In addition, the municipality has many political parties represented on the council. There is also active participation of citizens in public meetings and participation in civil society organisations is found to be more active. Parliaments Public Accounts committee also has had closer working relations with the municipality where corruption cases were investigated. This shows that Entebbe Municipal Council is more accountable. The better performance of accountability in the municipality is attributed to better communication mechanisms, better capacity of municipality internal audit department, better ability to supervise, a long history of leadership and better supervision abilities. The study also found out that, the often neglected informal accountability mechanisms seem to greatly influence variation in local government accountability and not many studies are focused on this in a developing country context. Therefore an empirical study focusing on informal accountability in developing country context would enrich the literature.