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08.02.2005 Feature Article

Local Government for Development

Local Government for Development
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Our approach to development and indeed, the whole concept of government in Ghana has always been from a top-bottom perspective. It is not very clear why this is so, for our traditional institutions such as chieftaincy are not structured that way. Chieftaincy depended on the hearts and minds of the local people and worked well to meet their aspirations. Why then do we have such a mentality of centralized government in Ghana? Perhaps, we can trace it to the colonial period when the white man had to run this country from overseas, and as such, passed on the legacy.

It is quite a pity that after many decades of self-rule, we can afford to sit atop our enormous human and natural resources and still be a poor country. This is so because we have still not made the connection between local government and development and continue to maintain the old structures, which the white man had set up for his own purpose. Today, many people continue to think that manna comes from elsewhere.

An efficient local government system is the only way we can tackle our developmental problems and also, stop the rural-urban-overseas migration. As developmental problems are problems of leadership, we need to put in place a local government system that will be a catalyst for growth in the localities. We need a system that will not only capture the hearts and minds of the people, but will attract ideas and innovations from home and elsewhere. This is the sure path to growth.

However, what do we see today? For people at in the districts, leadership and development come from Accra. Although they elect members of the District Assembly, the real people that count, the real issues that matter, come from Accra. It is the President who appoints the District Chief Executive and, it was the Minister of Roads who announced the other day that the there is going to be a road to the next town. Others take decisions about almost every important aspect of their lives. Today, we require parliamentarians to undertake developmental projects in their constituencies. However, parliamentarians are legislators who make laws and this should be out of their scope. The local government system has simply failed.

The term decentralization seems to have caught on with our politicians but unfortunately, they seem to be doing the very opposite. Is it decentralization when a government agency in Accra opens up more offices in the districts? Is that not rather creating a more centralized structure? To decentralize should be to allow and to help the districts to identify and build structures that are most meaningful to them, within a certain national framework of course.

Some of our acts have stifled growth in our districts such that nothing seems to be going on there. Thus, people are looking for opportunities to leave for bigger towns and cities and overseas. But we can make life at the district level as vibrant as it is on the national level. We can turn our sleeping resources into development machines and create jobs and prosperity in the districts. We can revitalize the districts.

The most important person then is the District Chief Executive (DCE). We must break with the colonial legacy of the DCE being the president's man in the district. He must be the people's man! He must be a dynamic individual who will live truly to his title—a chief executive. He must be able to plan, direct and control resources to achieve set objectives. He should be able to identify the strength and weaknesses of this locality and develop strategies to enhance growth. His position should be a competitive one that will be tied to his performance in relations to the targets and aspirations of his people. Just as the president must work with the legislature and others bodies, the DCE should be able to work with the district assembly and traditional authority and deliver. The successful DCE is the one who can harmonize all the various forces and resources in his district for development. He must be able to choose his executive team to achieve local objectives, just as the president chooses his team to achieve national objectives.

Our partisan democratic process seems to be doing well at the national level, yet we are still stuck to the idea of a 'non-partisan' local administration. Whatever this is in theory, in practice, it is just an attempt to give the president more power to run the districts, albeit poorly. We need a partisan direct democratic process at the districts level too. It is not only the best method of choosing the right person to run the districts, but also, it becomes the training ground for our future national executives. We need people with experience in partisan civil administration to run for president.

Some may ask what happens when a DCE comes from a party other than the president's. What is wrong with that? Are we not a diverse people with different ideas and opinions? Isn't the present legislature working well with many members coming from a party other than the president's? If the voting public is sophisticated enough to appreciate this and vote for people across parties why don't we allow them to decide who to head their locality? Quite to the contrary, such a situation will enhance our democracy for it will provide a give a basis for comparison.

This article is meant to generate discussion on the subject. I hope that Ghanaians will take up the issue and work towards a better local government system that will lead to development in the districts and in Ghana as a whole. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.