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29.03.2003 Feature Article

Challanges To The Local Govt System: A Comparison With Turkey

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Ghana and Turkey share a lot in common as far political developments are concerned, given that both countries have been plagued by military interventions under the pretext of 'failed experiments' in the democratization process. After succumbing to pressure both from internal and external forces for a return to constitutional rule albeit at different times, both countries sought to deepen their respective democratization processes by promoting 'grassroots participation' through the establishment of local government bodies including municipal councils, district assemblies and other quasi-sub-national actors. That these entities have contributed to the present state of political development cannot be overemphasized although one must be quick to add that certain weaknesses if not checked and addressed could negate gains made so far.

It is important to note the legal and constitutional frameworks underlying the local government system of both countries. Whereas for Ghana, Articles 240 to 256 of the 1992 constitution stipulates inter alia how the local government system is to be run through a novel combination of presidential appointees and elected officials hailing from the district, Turkey's Article 127 of its 1982 constitution defines and regulates local authorities within the framework of a pluralist democratic process albeit with a strong emphasis on control by central authorities "where the protection of public interest requires it". Of course in the Turkish case, elected peoples and organs cannot be removed from their post without a fair trial by the administrative court or by the council of state. This gives the impression that the framers of those laws were inclined towards firmly establishing democracy to be an all inclusive feature of both country's politics, given that the m! ilitary always harped on the marginalization of the majority by a few 'bourgeoisie' elements whose primary aim was to exploit the rather pliant masses of the states aforementioned. One must bear in mind that military juntas on their way out of the corridors of power promulgated both constitutions.

Given this background, the question arises as to whether the expectations of the framers of both constitutions have been realized in practical terms. This writer is inclined to state that the evidence so far suggests that many changes would have to be made both at the parliamentary and local/district levels of the state with drastic reforms to be implemented within the shortest possible time. Taking the case of Ghana as a starting point, it has indeed become an exercise in futility among stakeholders to adduce and challenge reasons for which one preference should be promoted at the expense of others. Political parties have taken entrenched positions on the way forwards for reforms, although they have been quick to acknowledge the need for changes to make the system more effective. Whereas the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) believes that it is a palpable farce for Ghanaians to continue deluding themselves that the district assemblies must remain non-parti! san, the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) believes that subjecting officials of district assemblies to the rigors of party political electioneering would mar the progress of the 110 districts that Ghana currently has. For the NDC, one must concede that the evidence in most parts of Africa suggests some mirth in their position, given that a ruling government would be naturally inclined to pander towards the expectations of a district that returned favorites of the ruling party to high office at the expense of those that sympathized with the opposition. As much as this seems logical, one must clearly state also that the masters of this particular practice is none other than the NDC itself, taking cognizance of what pertained in particular regions of Ghana during their 8year tenure of office. This does not however negate their position because it certainly shows practical experience and granted that their interests lie in promoting democracy, they must indeed be c! ommended for sharing the connotations of promoting this dreadful canke r within the body politic of Ghana.

On the other hand, the NPP is screaming itself hoarse about refraining from behaving like the proverbial ostrich on the basis of what has been happening under the present dispensation. It is a well known fact that although officials are not to be elected on partisan basis, those who accede to high positions in the districts almost always tend to be known apparatchiks, sympathizers and operatives of the major political parties in the districts so that the popularity of the party within the country goes a long way in determining how many of its functionaries would end up in the supposedly non-partisan assemblies. To circumvent this trend (or perhaps to give it legitimacy), the NPP thinks the local government system, as pertaining to district assemblies should be made a partisan affair. As it is now, we are most certainly in a gridlock about the way forward.

In contrast, Turkey has a rather interesting arrangement under Article 127 that permits the Minister of Interior to suspend elected officials or organs from their posts within the local administrative process as a provisional measure, pending the decisions of court in matters relating to their conduct in office or with the performance of their functions. The implications of this cannot be over-emphasized for clearly as has been the case, this power has sometimes been used by Ministers of Interior to penalize the mayors belonging to opposition parties without any regard for the reasons for which they were enshrined in the 1982 constitution. Besides, as soon as the court eventually reaches a decision on the mayor or organs in question, the Minister of Interior is under obligation to return such actors to their posts but as seen in the case of the Mayor of Canakkale between 1988-90, the Minister deliberately abstained from enforcing the law for 18months in su! ch gross violation of the constitutional provision regarding such cases. Now is this not a recipe for disaster needing immediate changes?

Furthermore whereas for Ghana elected administrators are accountable to the electorate (if they want to be returned to their offices), appointees of the President, by dint of their owing their positions to the Chief Executive of the land tend to tow the party line (if they want to keep their appointments) which may be to the detriment of the district. Some of the wrangling in certain parts of Ghana bears ample testimony to this unwelcome trend. Similarly, Turkey's situation when carefully analyzed reveals that at the metropolitan/municipal level, the standing committee, which is the deliberative and advisory body of any given area is composed of members who are heads of departments but not elected local politicians, leaving the only elected person as the mayor who also doubles as chairman of meetings. How well accountability can be ensured and enforced at such levels and under these conditions is anybody's guess.

Equally important but far more significant to the detriment of Ghana's decentralization process is the increasing tendency of stalemates that characterize the operations of the assemblies as a result of the quest of District Chief Executives (DCEs) to climb several notches up the political ladder into parliament. This trend has been responsible for easily avoidable animosity, populism and the sacrificing of development programmes in furtherance of the parochial ambitions of DCEs largely aimed at undermining whoever is (un) fortunate enough to be the incumbent parliamentarian. The most crass display of this somewhat infantile but sometimes politically expedient act is the refusal or delay in releasing the MPs share of the district assemblies' common fund. A case in point was the well known experience of Hon. Christine Churcher of Cape Coast constituency who retains the same parliamentary position but now doubles as Minister of State in charge of primary, se! condary and girl child education. Within the socio-political system of Ghana, ambitions of some seem to know no end.

One could go on and on to cite numerous other examples of hindrances to an otherwise important arrangement that is aimed at promoting and consolidating democracy in both countries. However, it is imperative that some viable suggestions are made to check or ameliorate some of the problems cited above. It would be of great service to both nations if the legislatures take immediate steps to revisit the appropriate articles and clauses in their respective constitutions that underpin these negative trends. In the case of Turkey, yours truly believes that Article 127 must be revisited to redress the gaping holes that make for abuse of powers by mayors and the Minister of Interior in particular. In any case, the circumstances that gave rise to the insertion of that clause have largely been done away with and within the context of globalized norms and institutions, such granting of unchecked and unbridled powers seem anathema to the very concept of democracy. Turk! ey and its peoples would be much better off if openness is increased and accountability enforced at the local level with the appropriate checks and balances put in place.

Similarly, the Republic of Ghana must of necessity reconsider the need for presidential appointees to serve in district assemblies. Ghana should seriously consider making the assemblies either a completely partisan affair or keep known political operatives out of the membership. The challenge there would however be how best to devise a formula that would not undermine the fundamental human rights of people to participate in the administration of their localities based on perceptions held by others regarding their political affiliations. Would it simply be a matter of merit and qualification or political affiliation would have to be considered? Again the provision and use of the district assemblies' common fund would have to be changed to insulate development projects from stalling as a result of the tug-of-war that DCEs and MPs almost always engage in. It should be possible for this arrangement to be reorganized for the funds to be disbursed directly by th! e Finance Ministry for example without necessarily bypassing the administrator of the fund and yet how are we to be sure that for those same political ends, 'opposition' MPs would not experience delays 'due to circumstances beyond our control' especially in the run up to major elections where development projects serve as feathers in the caps of aspiring politicians?

Taking cognizance of the similarities between the two countries and the availability of viable alternatives for redress, it is the fervent hope and expectation of this writer that the executive and legislative branches of the two republics would rise to the challenge of pressing ahead in the interest of promoting true and sustainable democracy at the lowest levels of the political ladder. It is only then that the taproot of consolidation would penetrate deep enough into the psyche of the masses and in so doing, checkmate the ambitions of those whose preferred option to power is to identify the shortcomings of the democratic experiment to shoot their way to political power. Ghana and Turkey are both endowed with the requisite human resource base that can serve, as the fulcrum around which these much needed reforms would take place. The question however remains as to whether these people would be prepared to sacrifice their present positions, offices, perks ! and benefits in the short term in order to fashion out the viable alternatives that we dream of in the interest of the long term development and progress of both nations, moreso when those whose interests are served within the present arrangement are bound to put up a strong fight to resist any changes considered to be detrimental to their parochial/ sectarian interests.

Calus Von Brazi Ghana Cyber Group Washington DC

Calus Von Brazi
Calus Von Brazi, © 2003

The author has 20 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: CalusVonBrazi

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