Local Government | Definition, Functions & Features

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Local Government | Definition, Functions & Features

The local government is another area of study in public administration. In this article, the emphasis will be on the meaning, types, purposes, functions, sources of revenue, control of local government, the problems and reforms of local government.

Meaning Of Local Government

Local government has been defined in several ways and the meaning adopted in a country often reflects the particular local environment. The Guidelines For Local Government Reforms in Nigeria (1976), for example, define the local government as “government at local level exercised through representative councils established by law to exercise specific functions within defined areas…” In the same vein, Jaeobsen and Lipman conceptualise the local government as a subordinate territorial unit that owes its creation and existence to a state and that derives its powers from general laws or from charters or other specific grants made by a state. Local governments are, therefore, semi-autonomous bodies created by the central government to undertake certain local functions within their respective areas of jurisdiction.

Local Government
Local Government

Characteristics Of Local Government

The following are some of the characteristics of local government, which can be inferred from the above definitions.

  • Local governments are created by the central (state) government.
  • They are created under a law made by the legislature.
  • A local government is neither sovereign nor independent.
  • Local governments depend on the central government for some of their revenue.
  • It is the government that derives its powers from the local people.

Purposes Of Local Gevernment

Local governments are created for the following reasons.

  • The need to satisfy the demand of the local people for self-government in local matters may lead to the creation of a local government.
  • It is easier for local administrative bodies to handle local problems than the central government, and as such, administrative convenience may be a primary motive for the creation of local governments.
  • Local governments may free the central government from local issues, which may slow down the pace of national development.
  • The local government system encourages local democracy.
  • The local government is a training ground for future national leaders.
  • The will of the people is enhanced and advanced when there is local government.

Powers Of The Local Government

With the creation of local government through an Act of Parliament, the following powers can be exercised.

  • Making of bye-laws: The legislative arm of local government is involved in making of bye-laws. The essence and effect of these laws are only felt within the local government concern.
  • Power to punish offenders: They can punish those who violate the laws made. They are tried in customary courts within the set up.
  • Imposition of levy: They can impose levy on the people for some specific purposes.

Reasons For The Creation Of Local Government

  • Bringing government nearer to the people: This is done, so that, those at the grassroots will be part of the government. This system is good for a large country like United States and Nigeria.
  • Local participation: This is to provide opportunities for the local people to participate in the politics of their country.
  • Even development: Creation of local governments provided the avenue for even development of all parts of the country.
  • Diverse interests: The interests of the local people differ, and to cater for these interests, was the creation of local governments.
  • Agents of central and state governments: Local government acts as agents of central and state governments in the implementation of policies e.g. maintenance of law and order.
  • Provision of essential service: The creation is also to complement the efforts of central and state governments in the provision of essential services to the local populace.
  • Employment: They can also provide employment at the local level.
  • Community development: They can equally provide opportunity for local participation in community development projects.
  • Training and development of future political leaders: These are made possible at the grassroots by the creation of local governments.
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Functions Of Local Government

  • Provision of health centres: This is done for the people at the grassroots. For example, they provide and possibly maintain maternity centres and dispensaries.
  • Provision of water: They at times construct bore holes, wells, etc, for the people.
  • Naming of streets: They are involved in naming of streets and roads. They also number houses.
  • Maintenance of institutions: They can establish, maintain and regulates laughter houses, markets, motor parks and public convenience.
  • Maintenance of roads: They can construct new feeder roads and the maintenance of roads under their jurisdiction.
  • Collection of rates, radio and television licences: This is part of their functions.
  • Registration: Local government are involved in the registration of births, deaths and marriages in their areas of authority.
  • Establishment and maintenance of cemeteries and homes of destitutes: Local government are equally involved in these two functions.
  • Formulation of policies: They are involved in the formulation of economic planning and development schemes for the local government areas.
  • Management of primary education: Originally, local government are responsible for the funding and management of primary education.
  • Maintenance of law and order: The making of bye-laws is to enhance the maintenance of law and order in local govennnent.
  • Provision of transport services: Most local government provide transport services as a means of generating more revenue for the local government.
  • Provision of recreational centres: Local government provide and maintain most of these centres like, amusement parks, stadia, .etc, for relaxation purposes.

SOURCES OF REVENUE FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT

  • Allocation: Local government receive the bulk of their money from the allocation of the federation accounts.
  • Grants: Another source of revenue is the special grants they receive from both the central and state governments. However, in most cases, these grants are for specific projects.
  • Imposition of levy: They also generate funds through imposition of levy on the people. The levy may be for a special project, meant to improve the welfare of the people.
  • Collection of rates: Revenues are equally generated through collection of rates on radio and television, market shops, motor parks, etc.
  • Commercial ventures: In recent times, some local governments are involved in commercial ventures like, transportation, recreational centres, etc.
  • Defaulters of bye-laws: Fines are paid by those that have offended the rules and regulations and this forms part of the local government revenue.
  • States allocation: In Nigeria, at least 10% of internally generated revenue is from state government.
  • Court fines: They form part of the sharing of court fines in Nigeria.
  • Donations and gifts: From Non-governmental Organizations (NGO’s), citizens, etc., form part of revenue for local government.
  • Royalties: Royalties from companies e.g. in Ghana, Sierra-Leone and the Gambia.
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Relationship Between Federal, State and Local Government

  • Allocation: The local governments receive their money from the federation account, involving the central and state governments as well.
  • Act of parliament: The local government are created with specific powers which can be withdrawn by the central government, if not performed within the confines of the law of the land.
  • Grants: They receive grants from both the central and state governments. They can equally suspend releasing the grants to them for some reasons e.g mis-appropriation of funds.
  • Enactment of bye laws: Most of the bye laws made, may be rejected by the parliament. Not only that, the judiciary can declare such laws unconstitutional.
  • Dissolution: The state government has the power to dissolve any local government. This means that the chairman and councillors should vacate their ofiices.
  • Approval of loans: Approval of loans for local government, in any financial institutions, may have to come from the state government.
  • Auditing: The state or central government may send auditors to audit the finances of the local government, to enhance sound financial management.
  • Amendment of laws: The National Assembly, through the central government, may at any time decide to amend the laws establishing local governments.

Control Of Local Government

  • Dissolution: The state government has the power to dissolve any local govemment. When this happens the chairman and councillors should then vacate their offices on dissolution of the council.
  • Approval of loans: Any loan to be taken by the local government from any financial institution, must get the approval of the state govemment.
  • Auditing: Auditors should be appointed by either the state or central government to audit the finances of the local government.
  • Specific functions: The state House of Assembly can ask a local government to perform certain specific functions.
  • Amendment of laws: The National Assembly through the central government can at any time decide to amend the laws establishing local governments.
  • Withholding of grants: The central government may withhold local government grants if implicated in financial mismanagement.
  • Monitoring the activities of local government: The state government can do this by ensuring that they adhere to guidelines and rules set for them.
  • Judicial control: The courts can declare any bye-law made null and void or unconstitutional, if such laws, are not in line with the provisions of the country’s constitution.
  • Public control: People are free to criticise some of the activities of local government and can come up with useful suggestions that would help in sanitizing some of these activities.

Importance Of Local Government In A State

  • Political education: Local Governments help in educating people at the grassroots about the policies and actions of the federal and state governments.
  • Preserving the traditional institutions: They help in preserving the traditional institutions of the people in the local areas.
  • Government at the grassroots: They bring government nearer to the people at the grassroots.
  • Feelings of insecurity: Local government allays feelings of inseeurity and fears of ethnic domination especially if created along ethniclines.
  • Human and material resources: They mobilize both human and material resources for community development.
  • Serve as a link: They serve as a link between the people at the grassroots and the central / state governments.
  • Provision of social services: Local government provide social services to the people at the grassroots.
  • Leadership training: They encourage leadership training of the people at the grassroots.
  • Development: They bring rapid development to the local areas.
  • Governance: Local government allows indigenes of different local areas to govern themselves according to their traditions and cultures.
  • Law and order: They help in the maintenance of law and order.
  • Quick decision: Local government facilitate quick decision making in matters within their jurisdiction.
  • Making of bye-Iaws: Local government make bye-laws for order and good governance of their areas.
  • Job opportunities: They help to create job opportunities in local areas.
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Problems Of Local Government

  • Shortage of trained personnel: Acute shortage of trained and experienced personnel affect the efficiency of local govemments.
  • Shortage of fund: Most local government do not have enough funds with which to operate. They have enormous responsibilities before them but they lack fund.
  • Political interference: Both the military and civilian government have at different times interfered with the activities of the local government.
  • Bribery and corruption: Some officials demand and even take bribe before performing their offlcial functions.
  • Embezzlement of public fund: Some of the officials involved in revenue collection embezzle part of this fund for their own selfish ends.
  • Granting of undue favour: Some local government officials use their positiohs to give undue favour to their friends, for example in the award of contracts.
  • Political victimization: Most local government are victimised politically, and frustrated, especially if, they are not in the good books, of the ruling political party.
  • Tribalism, nepotism and favouritism: These are the order of the day in terms of appointment, transfer, discipline and promotion of staff.
  • Low incentive: The incentive to work is low, leading to poor attitude to work of local government staff.

Suggested Solutions To The Problems Of Local Government

  • Improvement on method of revenue generation: The method of revenue generation has to be overhauled. Honest and capable hands should be used in the collection of rates and other levies.
  • In-service training: Most of the workers should be given the opportunity to further their training in local government administration.
  • Provision of enough fund: Enough fund should be provided to the Local government. This would help to tackle most of the responsibilities facing them. For example in the provision of infrastructural facilities like; roads, library services and electricity.
  • Allocation: The government should increase the allocation from federal revenue accounts to local governments. This will help to boost their financial base.
  • Tribalism, nepotism and favouritism: should be discouraged and recruitment of workers into local governments, to be based on merits.
  • Provision of grants: Grants (from state and central governments) to local government should be enough and regular too.
  • Auditing: Auditing should be done regularly in order to enhance efficient and sound financial managements.
  • Access to loan: Loan should not be made difficult for the local government.
  • Activities: The activities of local government should not be politically motivated.
  • More avenues for revenue generation: They should go into more commercial ventures in order to improve on their financial base.

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