Screen district development authorities


THIS is a good time to scrutinise the district development authority (DDA) concept that came into force seven years ago, replacing joint district development and budget priority committees.
Laws have changed but control over the DDA by the MP as chairman of the board is still there.
This is a little contentious because the electorate would still see the MP as a project manager when he should only be a lawmaker.
Improving basic service delivery at the subnational levels of government was the main motivation for the DDA Act, which is a further step to achieving decentralisation right down to the council ward level.
But according to a discussion paper by the National Research Institute in 2018, the change of law was challenging the capacity to implement and manage the process. It was pointed out that at the district level, there was a lack of qualified officers to implement projects while at the national level, the implementation of the DDA was not effectively monitored for lack of determinants assigning functions and responsibilities.
Previously, it was thought that increased funding would equate to improved delivery of services and implementation of district and council plans, however, structural issues were far more significant than funding.
Among the recommendations to improve the DDA concept was a call for appropriate training for district officers, especially the district chief executive officer and the district finance officer, to ensure that they did their jobs diligently and in harmony with set guidelines such as the Public Finance Management Act.
The lack of expertise at the district level may be hampering progress in some areas of the country.
That has to be determined.
The MP, as chairman of the DDA board, wields sufficient power to influence decisions over the implementation of projects and the expenditure of district service improvement programme money allocated annually.
On paper, each district gets K10 million annually or K50 million in a term of office for key areas of infrastructure services such as health, education, law and justice, economic services and administration.
This is aside from other grants from the national purse.
The Department of Treasury is expected to make quarterly disbursements to the districts depending on cash flow but it has been alleged time and again that the government of the day dictates who gets paid when or how much.
The DDA concept has been around for long enough for the responsible government agencies or independent assessors to measure its successes and failures in the decentralisation of power and delivery of goods and services.
With the MP as the board chairman, there is a real risk of bias in matters such as the awarding of contracts or channelling resources to where there are better chances of winning votes in the next election.
As a result, the quality of goods or services may be secondary to political expediency.
In the event where a mediocre contractor does mediocre work on a vital project meant to serve the electorate, the public suffers while the DDA board and district administration still enjoy their salaries, allowances and other perks.
Delivering incomplete jobs due to shortfalls in funding is a common excuse by a lot of incompetent and insufficiently resourced contractors.
As the next election draws near, there is every chance that districts will begin to spend some of their unused money in a rush.
The end results will tell whether such spending is beneficial or is a gimmick to win votes.
Lest the voter be misled again.