Uutoni proposes regional development fund in parliament

Erastus Uutoni

Urban and rural development minister Erastus Uutoni has introduced a bill in parliament to create a fund targeting development projects at regional, constituency and local authority levels.

Tabling the bill on Wednesday, Uutoni said that the envisaged fund, called the Regional and Constituency Development Fund, aims to tackle challenges faced by regional councils, where certain constituencies have lacked impactful development due to competing priorities.

Currently, regions plan and get funds for projects starting from the constituency level, then through the community development committees, and finally the regional development coordination committees, where projects are reprioritised for funding in the national budget.

“The other noted challenge is that some national projects that are initiated and implemented by other sectors/implementers of development projects in regions, are not specifically designed to support small-scale community based and grassroots development initiatives,” Uutoni said.

This bill, if passed, will repeal and replace the Trust Fund for Regional Development and Equity Provisions Act, 2000 (Act No.22 of 2000), which Uutoni said was found to have some shortcomings.

According to the bill, the fund will be financed through the national budget, approved donations/grants, investment returns and other lawful sources.

Donations/grants can be used as agreed by donors and the board of directors of the fund, while unused funds can be invested in approved financial institutions.

Uutoni said the fund is a pro-decentralisation initiative, which provides additional funding from the central government to the regional and constituency levels to boost community-based small-scale development projects that are intended to address particular local development needs.

Uutoni said the fund will ensure a yearly budget for development projects in all constituencies, aiming to reduce poverty locally through targeted financial aid for constituency projects.

Additionally, it will enhance community engagement in planning and executing development projects, leading to more job opportunities and better welfare due to direct community involvement.

He said regional councils struggle to fulfil their duties, especially in sustainable development at the constituency level, mainly due to insufficient financial resources among other challenges.

“The proposed funding approach thus empowers regional governments and gives the political leaders and their constituents the opportunity and flexibility to direct resources and/or to support development initiatives at grassroots level,” Uutoni said.

Regional councils and local authorities will be obliged to prepare and submit to the board an annual financial accountability report showing how the allocated funds were utilised.

“This provision also ensures that regional councils and local authorities do not misuse the allocated monies,” Uutoni said.

The fund will be run by a staff member from the urban and rural development ministry, and will be governed by a board, appointed by Uutoni as minister.

“The provision of a fund manager in the bill has no new financial implication to the fund. The fund manager is the accounting officer of the fund. He or she administers the affairs of the fund in accordance with the directive of the board, and is accountable to the board. The bill also provides for the designation of one or more staff members to assist the board and/or the fund manager in the execution of their duties,” Uutoni said.

Uutoni said similar initiatives have proved successful in countries like Kenya and Zambia, among others, which were visited by some members of the National Council, where they learned the first-hand benefits.

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