The establishment of local government system in Tanzania was based on political devolution and decentralisation of functions and finances within the framework of a unitary state.
The Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania defines objectives of the local governments as 'to enhance the democratic process within its area of jurisdiction and to apply the democracy for facilitating the expeditious and faster development of the people''.
Local governments are obliged to follow national priorities as they are expressed in national legislation and development plans.
In Tanzania mainland, local government structures are divided into urban and rural authorities. Urban authorities include city councils, municipal councils and town councils, ward development committee and mtaa (neighbourhood committees).
District councils, townships, ward development committee and village councils and vitongoji (hamlets) are constituted in the rural authorities.
The structures allow citizen participation in decision-making through the bottom-up planning and participatory budgeting processes. The amended local government Act 1992, for example, requires councils which constitute the highest political authority within the jurisdiction of a local government and have powers to make by-laws, pass annual budgets and tax according to regulations, and to organize public hearings for people to question political leaders and staff.
Councils are also required to establish service boards open to all citizens in the area in order to provide them with the opportunity to influence service provision.
At village level, villages assembly is a conventional forum for all villagers beyond the age of 18 to discuss openly about their development priorities. Village priorities are decided by the village council and subsequently sent to a ward level where ward development committee (WDC) would discuss proposals from all villages and compile a ward development plan which is then sent to the district authorities.
Ward development plans form part of the district development plans which is compiled at the district level and presented before a 'full council' for debating and approval.
The full council constitutes democratically elected representatives. Counsellors from each of the wards in any particular district and some few appointed members as required by the law. The full council is the voice of the people and can discuss, amend or approve the district plan as it is.
Approved district plans are taken to the Prime Minister's Office - Regional Administration and Local Government through the Regional Administration office which oversees the coordination and compliance with the central government guidelines.
As local government authorities are required to comply with central government guidelines they are also challenged to follow a more rigorous planning and accounting standards. In this context, organizational checks and balances, for instance through internal audits, councilors and audit committees, offer great opportunities to improve local government accountability, but they remained far from unfolding their full potential.
Local government reforms that Tanzania embarked on since 1999, were also aimed at strengthening service delivery through increased autonomy of local government authorities and increased accountability to the people.
The reform programme opened up promising new opportunities for more legitimate and democratic governance, and demand creating pressures for accountability through elected councillors, civil society and citizens at large.
Civil society ought to implement activities which promote accountability at local government levels. However, the lack of capacity, both financial and technical, within and among civil society organizations, means most CSOs could not effectively engage in accountability work.
While there exist a plethora of CSOs in Tanzania, most of them have no clear understanding of the current context for local accountability. Some of them however, working on national or regional level or based in Dar es Salaam, are seizing these opportunities.
These CSOs have been implementing programmes which are empowering to citizen and are facilitating them to understand their rights and obligations; how the local government system work, what are the processes for planning, budgeting, and reporting. What opportunities exist in policy for stakeholders to have a voice, and what obstacles are hindering accountability.
Various approaches to accountability e.g. public expenditure tracking survey (PETS), public service delivery assessment (PSDA) and a more comprehensive social accountability monitoring (SAM) method and tools have been deployed. These approaches to public accountability have raised the bar high in terms of citizen empowerment.
In some areas people have organised themselves as PETS committees to monitor and follow implementation of development projects intended to benefit them.
One such example was the monitoring of Bridge construction at Zombo- Nyameni village in Kilosa district where the committee followed the proposed construction only to realise that the contract was changed to pave ways for corruption. Finally they were able to save more than Tshs five hundred million that would have otherwise been misused/embezzled.
Although there have been positive strides in community empowerment towards improving responsiveness of local governments, large part of CSOs accountability work is focused on local government authorities which are also required to comply with national priorities and guidelines. For compliance purposes local governments are closely and systermatically coordinated and connected to the central government.
This coordination and connections have created a web of corruption involving local government authorities and Senior officials at Prime Minister's Office regional administration and local government on the one hand, and the Ministry of Finance on the other.
Since, the current local government structures and systems provide for citizen participation in decision making process, we may need to have a more closer look at CSOs capacity to engage effectivelly in promoting local accountability. As we appreciate that civil society organisations have made positive impacts in community empowerments, we also have to aknowledge that corruption remains pervasive at LGAs.
The question is: to what extent CSOs are able to streamline their efforts towards addressing the corruption web created and maintained with the current local government system?