NEWS COMMENTARY ON THE NEED TO STRENGTHEN THE ASSEMBLIES STRUCTURES FOR PARTICIPATORY DEVELOPMENT
The decentralization policy of Ghana involves the transfer of power, functions, competence and resources from the centre to the district level. Ghana’s local governance system is based on grassroot participation. Participation is the means by which a person or group of persons in a particular geographical area are involved in determining their needs and priorities and the strategies to meet them to improve their living conditions. Accountability is the obligation of local authorities and bureaucrats to explain or justify what they have done or failed to do regarding the resources entrusted to them and the efficiency of resource use. Participation and accountability are constitutional requirements. Article 240(2) (d) of the 1992 Constitution states that, “to ensure accountability of local government authorities, people in particular local government areas shall, as far as practicable, be afforded the opportunity to participate effectively in their governance”.
Over the decentralization period, participation and accountability have been manifested through the holding of the District Assembly and Unit Committees elections. Decentralized funding from District Assembly Common Fund and the District Development Facility has been institutionalized. The move towards operating a decentralized governance system with an elected Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCE) on partisan basis in 2021 will help strengthen participation and accountability at the local levels. It will erode the idea that MMDCEs positions are reserved to reward supporters of the party in power. It will reduce exclusion and winner-takes-all canker and bring vulnerable and excluded groups into chief executive positions at the local level. Assembly members are required by the Local Governance Act, 2016 (Act 936) to maintain close contact with their electoral areas, consult their electorate, report to the electorate the general decisions of the Assembly, draw attention to national policies, maintain frequent liaison with organized productive economic groupings and take part in communal and development activities in the district.
The big question is whether Assembly members are able to carry out all these mandated duties effectively without operational duty support aside from the normal sitting and transport allowances. If Assembly members are deficient in the performance of their duties, we are indirectly denying active local government participation. The Local Government Act makes a strong case for these sub-structures to be well-equipped in terms of manpower, finance and logistics to facilitate their operations towards the achievement of their goals. A number of challenges have made the sub-structures weaker links between the MMDAs and the communities. These are inadequate infrastructure, lack of political will, motivation, training and supervision, poor turnout at meetings and the failure of the MMDAs to transfer financial resources to the sub-structures. The Ministry of Local Government and the MMDAs must give adequate training to members of the sub-structures and address issues impeding their work to enable them to function effectively. As a country, we may have to make the effective functioning of District Assemblies Sub-structures as one of the factors for disbursing the District Assembly Common Fund. This will compel the MMDAs to make their sub-structures functional. MMDAs must expedite efforts towards participatory development through increased access to relevant, reliable and timely information, regular budget meetings to discuss revenues collected and how they are used. There must also be radio and TV shows on what the Assemblies are doing or have done with the people’s resources. District Chief Executives, Members of Parliament, Assembly Members, Urban, Town and Area Councils, Chiefs and Unit Committee members must regard each other as partners in development and not competitors. Mobilizing communities through improved participation and accountability will engage the citizens and facilitate local economic development.
BY: ERIC AKOBENG, AN ECONOMIST.