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26.06.2005 Feature Article

Effective Local Govt in Ghana: Time to Amend the Constitution

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"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” - Lord Acton.

The recent changes in the appointments of District Chief Executives by the president have once again brought up the issue of central government's involvement in local administration for discussion. It is well over a decade in our democratic experiment and the time has come for Ghanaians to make a critical analysis of the present local government system and find ways to make it more democratic and development oriented.

Article 241(3) of the constitution makes the District Assembly the highest political authority in the district and gives it deliberative, legislative, and executive powers. In other words, we have created a single political entity and given it both legislative and executive powers.

However, the trend in modern political administration is to separate executive and legislative powers. As we can see at the national level, the legislature is separated from the executive and each performs certain functions to ensure effective national administration. So, why do we ignore this basic rule at the local level? By fusing the executive and legislature in our local political administration, we have made both parts mundane, with the executive being just a representative of some faraway entity. Yet, the districts are so much in need of ideas and programs for development, which can only be tackled by a strong executive entity with a big developmental agenda and of course, the direct mandate of the people.

Secondly, Article 240(1) states that, "Ghana shall have a system of local government and administration which shall, as far as practicable, be decentralized." Yet, in Article 242(d), the president is allowed to appoint to the assembly an additional thirty percent of the elected members of the District Assembly. What is the rationale for giving the president this power? If there is the need to add up to the members of the District Assembly, the elected members should be the best people to decide whom to appoint. That is decentralization.

In addition, Article 243(1) creates a District Chief Executive who is appointed by the president and in 243(2)(b), is to be responsible for the day-to-day performance of the executive and administrative functions of the District Assembly. If we are striving to decentralize local government, should the president continue to appoint the chief executive officer of a district? However, worst of all is Article 243(2)(c), which makes the District Chief Executive, the chief representative of Central Government in the district. This contradicts Article 240(1). Decentralization does not mean creating representatives of central government in the districts, but rather, allowing the districts to run their own government within a certain national framework.

We should have an independent, well-defined executive entity in the district political structure in addition to the District Assembly, which should function as the legislative entity. The District Chief Executive should head this entity and should be directly chosen by the people in the district and accountable to them. As we have on the national level, the people in the districts must have the right to choose among competitive developmental programs presented by political parties. This is the only sure way we can make decentralization meaningful and above all, develop the districts.

It is wrong, ineffective, and even dangerous to add to the enormous powers of the president, the kind of control of local government as specified by our constitution. We need rapid development in our districts and it is about time we made the necessary changes to our constitution. The president simply has no business running local government. The District Chief Executive should be the people's representative in the district, rather than being the president's shadow. Chris Van Lare www.geocities.com/cavanlare Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Chris Van Lare
Chris Van Lare, © 2005

The author has 3 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: ChrisVanLare

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