The Mirage of Local Governance and Decentralization in Ghana Today

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Decentralization, a process of deploying decision making to the local levels to ensure participation, has been an integral part of Ghana’s contemporary political development. This subject, having seen several methods of implementation under previous governments, had received numerous inputs, resulting in the promulgation and passage of laws to give it legal backing and to make the policy of Decentralization binding on governments of the Republic.

The Local Government Law, 1998 (PNDCL 207) was passed to give legal backing to Decentralization. Having realized its importance and significance in the development of Ghana, the 1992 Constitution under Article 240(1), made Decentralization (Local Government) mandatory. In 1993, the Parliament of Ghana enacted a new law, the Local Government Act, 1993 (Act 462) to replace the PNDCL 207 to perform basically the same functions.

Pursuant to this, the 1992 Constitution, made provisions for the establishment of District Assemblies Common Fund under Article, 252(1) “There shall be a fund to be known as the District Assemblies Common Fund.” (2) “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, Parliament shall annually make provision for the allocation of not less than five percent of the total revenues of Ghana to the District Assemblies for development; and the amount shall be paid into the District Assemblies Common Fund in quarterly instalments.”

Parliament is charged with the responsibility to determine the disbursement formula for the District Assemblies Common Fund (DACF) on annual basis which shall be binding on government to make funds available for the various Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) to embark on their various developmental programmes.

Part of the Fund is disbursed directly to District Assemblies in accordance with the approved Formula. This is referred to as ‘direct transfers.’’ The MMDAs use the funds for projects and programmes determined by their respective Assemblies. In 2013 and 2014, about 50 percent of the total amount for the Common Fund was allocated for ‘direct transfer’’ to the Assemblies, (http://www.commonfund.gov.gh)

The Assembly has the authority to prepare and implement development plans and to draw up budgets for implementing the development plans. The Assemblies are expected to mobilize resources, develop local infrastructure and promote the development of local productive activities with the help of some central government institutions, also decentralize and operate as part of the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies.

The Formula states the various factors that should be taken into consideration in determining what should be paid to each Assembly. The factors include the availability of health service, education service, water coverage and tarred road coverage in the respective Districts. Other factors considered include the performance of the District in generating its own revenue. This is captured under the ‘responsive factor’ which rewards MMDAs for improvements in their Internally Generated Fund (IGF) using a base year as the basis.

All monies accruing to the Fund are distributed to the Districts in accordance with the approved Formula.  The actual amount that goes to the Assemblies, however, depends on the actual national tax revenues collected in the year, (http://www.commonfund.gov.gh).

From the foregoing, the government, at all times, is required to make available a minimum of 5% of the consolidated fund for Decentralization through the District Assemblies Common Fund.

Ghana is saddled with several developmental challenges. Over the years, we witnessed citizens demonstrate over government’s inability to provide them one need or the other. In some instances, they threatened not partaking in any election process for the fact that they feel neglected by their government. In some instances, roads were blocked with citizens demonstrating, while mounting unapproved speed ramps over government’s failures to address their deplorable roads. In others instances, issues of electricity and lack of potable drinking water, had been causes for demonstrations and registration of displeasure at governments.

In dealing with issues like these, government must be seen to be committed towards dealing with the various challenges in the various MMDAs. No Central Government can know the exact problems of its people than its local representation. At the various MMDAs Assembly Members have the opportunity to bring their various challenges to the attention of their local heads. It is expected that through deliberations, all these challenges would be addressed over time.

In order to fast track development in these areas that have remained underdeveloped over the years, any government, committed towards solving these challenges, would seek to increase the District Assemblies Common Fund over time.

This saw the recent past government, by His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, increasing the District Assemblies Common Fund from the compulsory 5% to 7.5% up to the end of 2016. This, has helped in making additional funds available to all districts to aid their various developmental programmes. This is in addition to their various IGFs which are already meager and inadequate in catering for administrative expenses.

As a result, we have seen a record of Community Health Posts popularly known as CHPs Compounds, dotted across the country. Several community water projects were recorded among others. This was the result of additional funds released from the consolidated fund, resulting from the increase in DACF from 5% to 7.5% an addition of 2.5%.

While we must be seen to be sustaining and improving upon what is working, and being mindful of the deplorable state of development in our rural areas that benefit mainly from these disbursements, the current government, since 2017, had reversed the 7.5% to 5%, sustaining the minimum as stipulated under the Constitution.

This has virtually stalled all develop activities that were not completed under the previous administration. On top of that there have been other directives from government, directing the various MMDAs to channel the monies into funding its campaign promises.

While completing this piece, I chanced upon a news item published on peacefmonline under the title “Akufo-Addo Might Tap Statutory Payment to Fund Campaign Promises”, a story attributed to Honourable Ato Forson, former Deputy Minister for Finance (http://m.peacefmonline.com/pages/politics/politics/201703/307526.php ), in which story, he suggested that looking at the expenditure proposals and pattern, juxtaposing that to the ambitions of the government, the 7.5% District Assemblies Common Fund might be touched. Indeed, as of today, May, 2018, the formula approved by Parliament, amidst caution from the Minority, reversed the allocation to 5%.

The sad aspect of all these is that today, out of the 5% to be distributed to all Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies, there is an instruction from Central Government to its MMDCEs to follow a strict directive towards disbursing the money into specific campaign projects. This time round, unlike channeling these resources into projects proposed by the various assemblies, the Central Government appears to have hijacked the process, with strict directive to its appointees (MMDCEs) on how the resources must be used.

Included in that are directives to use 20% of the funds available to fund central government project of Planting for Food and Jobs. In addition, 20% of the said funds is to be channeled into the recently launched Nation Builders Corps (NaBCo). On top of that 40% of the funds is to go into School Feeding, while the 20% left, is to be used for administrative purposes.

From this, we can now understand, as a people, that the issue of Decentralization and governance at the local levels, is being given lips service. The reality is that, the District Assemblies have become rubber-stamps to government proposed programmes. They have no input in the determination of what their allocated resources are used for.

It simply means that if you go to my district, the Biakoye District of the Volta Region, and if my village, Bowiri Amanfrom requires a water project, we cannot rely on government to do so. The people’s representative, the Assemblyman, goes to sit at the Assembly without any hopes of government listening to the plights of my people.

Today, if your district requires a CHPs Compound, that cannot be completed. If there is one that was under construction under the previous administration, that may remain so until there is a change in direction of government. Until government releases some extra funds to cater for those halted projects, they may remain so and wasted on the taxpayer.

The new trend is that any District that requires any projects that could not be funded by their obviously inadequate resources, must apply to the Central Government for approval and possible execution. All these request must be deposited in a pool, with someone sitting here in Accra, to determine the urgency of the needed projects, before they can be executed.

This explains a strong position taken by government when it proposed a mode of disbursing the 1 Constituency, $1 million promised during the 2016 electioneering campaign. In his response, the Vice President, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, indicated that all procurement activities would be undertaken in Accra, the capital city of Ghana. They would determine which district requires an ambulance, and then they procure the ambulance for the district, among other things. It again explain why the government is unable to fulfill its promise of electing MMDCEs during the electioneering campaign of 2016. Elected officials may not be under the control of the Central Government, making directives of the nature, impossible.

The unfortunate reality is that the government, having retained 95% of funds available, after dropping allocations for MMDAs from 7.5% to 5%, is still chasing the 5% meant for the various Assemblies, which are to use same for the development of projects and programmes emanating from the grassroots and ensuring that this percentage is channeled again into projects that ought to have been on the budget of Central Government, making the Assemblies virtually ineffective in their administration.

The Districts have been disarmed from practicing pure Decentralization. They are to wait for decisions from the Central Government, a reason for which the various laws were passed to ensure the sustainability of the policy on Local Governance and Decentralization. The conduct of the current government defeats any purpose aimed at placing governance at the doorsteps of the people at the local level.

It is important therefore, for experts on Decentralization and Local Governance, to rise up and examine the various claims in this very article. They must examine the direct/indirect interference by government into the local governance structure, and ensure that we return to a path that would give meaning and improve on the Decentralization regime they have long advocated for.

If this is not done, we are simply going back to an era of unending bureaucracies that would delay our development. We are driving at an era where development is not from the people, an era where Central Government determines what the people need, thereby, establishing disconnect between the government and the governed. We can do better and improve upon what was left in 2016, or at least, maintain.

Source: ASK

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