Ghana's donor partners are on warpath against the slow pace of decentralization in the country saying without it Ghana cannot reach a middle income status by 2015.
The donors say although a framework on decentralisation exists, to date there has not been much progress.
The donors were speaking at the recent 13th Consultative Group Meeting in Accra.
The head of the European Union (EU) in Ghana, Ambassador Filiberto Ceriani Sebregondi said decentralization can be a powerful tool for reaching the Ghana growth agenda.
"We have to face the reality; decentralisaiton is really not working," he said adding, "resources and power should be transferred to the District assemblies."
He said the European Union will give Ghana all the support it needs to undertake complete fiscal decentralisation.
The EU was not the only donor partner that was unhappy with the process of decentralisaiton in Ghana. The United States Ambassador to Ghana, Pamela Bridgewater said at the conference that although Ghana is one of the Sub Saharan African Countries that is performing admirably, an enormous challenge remains - "and that is the need to decentralize authority from central to regional governments."
According to her, devolving fiscal and administrative authority from the central government to local government is critical for quality service delivery and to reduce poverty in meaningful ways.
"Ghana is now at a critical turning point: I strongly encourage political leadership to take necessary steps to advance the agenda for greater fiscal decentralization," Bridgewater said.
According to her, fiscal decentralization affords local government greater autonomy to work with communities to find and implement local solutions to problems.
According to the US ambassador, local governments are currently powerless to improve service delivery because health, education and agricultural officers stationed in districts across the country report to central ministries.
"Moreover budget transfers from central government to local governments are heavily earmarked and severely limited in their possible applications," she said.
Barbara Brown, who is the Director General for West and Central Africa, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), also added her voice to the call for real decentralization. She said the plan to raise common fund allocations has been delayed while the execution of Local Governance Service Bill is behind schedule. According to her, the role of the Local Government Service Council needs to be clarified.
Brown also said the legislative Instrument enabling decentralization of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs has not been implemented
"We fully understand that district capacity deficiencies represent a major challenge for the government of Ghana but donors are prepared to help," Brown said.
According to her, Canada's experience with district level budgetary support has demonstrated that districts are able to plan and administer funds transparently.
She said the Ghana Audit Service has noted year over year improvements, adding "capacity weakness is not the reason for slowing down decentralisaiton."
Rather she said funds management is an opportunity to reinforce the application of Ghanaian regulations and build capacities for sound management of public funds at the district level.
However the Ministry for Public Sector Reform Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom, partly blamed the donors for the slow pace of the decentralization process.He explained that some of the difficulties stem from the different agendas of donor governments.
"There is the need to harmonise aid with consistency and the same agenda," he said.
With this Nduom said "We can make some improvements."
The Minister for Finance and Economic Planning Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu also explained to the donors that functional decentralisaiton is ongoing.
This is not the first time that government has battled donors on decentralization.
During the visit of the former World Bank President James D Wolfensohn in March 2004, the then Minister for Finance Yaw Osafo-Maafo and the then Minister for Local Government and Rural Development Kwadwo Adjei-Darko told him that decentralization had not taken off fully as a result of a number of problems at the grassroots.
Contributing to a forum discussion on the theme "Decentralising the GPRS: Deepening the involvement of poor people in problem definition," the two ministers complained about lack of effective planning and accountability in the district assemblies.
While Kwadwo Adjei-Darko blamed central planners for not factoring the district assemblies in the preparation of the Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy paper, Osafo- Maafo was unhappy with the inability of district Assemblies to make maximum use of resources available.
Adjei-Darko told the audience that one of the greatest problems in the implementation of the GPRS is the failure to mainstream the document into the district's medium term development plans. He said as at 2004, the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) were budgeting separately instead of all of them having a composite budget. Also, the representatives of MDAs in the various districts all work up to the national level reporting at the headquarters in stead of the assemblies.
Another problem which threatens the smooth implementation of the GPRS was the lack of requisite professional and technical personnel at the district level. Accountants, engineers, planners and architects were in short supply in the districts.
Osafo-Maafo said the district assemblies were not doing well in the area of financial management. "I have had the chance of reading 68 reports of such assemblies and I believe one should be careful in sending money there."
Ghana's current programme of decentralisation was initiated prior to the democratic transition in the early 1990s. In 1988, the PNDC government introduced a major piece of legislative reform, the Local Government Law (PNDC Law 207). This created 110 (now 138) districts within Ghana's ten regions, with non-partisan District Assembly (DA) elections held initially in 1988/89 and subsequently every four years.
The 1992 Constitution has endorsed the Local government system.
Now with 138 districts, Ghana is poised to hold local government elections next August amidst all these problems.