06.09.2022 Feature Article

The Desecration Of The Local Government Service

The Desecration Of The Local Government Service
06.09.2022 LISTEN

The Local Government Service (LGS) was created in 2003. With this new Service came a national headquarters then called the Local Government Service Secretariat (LGSS). Today, this “Secretariat” is called the Office of the Head of the Local Government Service (OHLGS) as a result of the passage of a new Act of Parliament in 2016 – Local Governance Act, Act 936 of 2016 – an obvious name “borrowing” from its sister Service, the Civil Service. The main purpose for creating this service is to “secure the effective administration and management (emphasis supplied) of the decentralised local government system in the country”. To achieve the “object of the Service”, the Service spent scares resources to develop several “policy guidelines to handle matters related to recruitment, training, promotion, discipline, arbitration and petition within the service”. Some of these policy guidelines developed include Conditions of Service, Code of Conduct, Human Resource Operational Manual, Staffing Norms and Scheme of Service amongst others. Also, as one of the Public Services of Ghana, the Service is required to also be guided by and uphold the tenets of the Human Resource Management Policy Framework and Manual for the Ghana Public Services developed by the Public Service Commission (PSC) in 2015. Today, the service is being “administered” and “managed” as if there are no rules or guidelines or regulations or protocols to guide its activities especially when it comes to recruitments and some appointments.

Policies, we know, do not implement themselves. Humans develop and implement them in the hope of bettering their lot. So, to “provide leadership and guidance(emphasis mine) in the performance of the functions of the service” to “secure [the] effective administration and management” of the service, a “Head of Local Government Service” and his/her “Chief Advisor” - the Chief Director - are appointed to be at the pinnacle of the service by the President. The current occupants of these two positions are Ing. Dr. Stephen Nana Ato Arthur (Head of Service) and Mr. James Oppong-Mensah (Chief Director). This article is about them and their stewardship thus far. Both currently, are retirees but are still hanging on as a result of the “indiscriminate grant of contract appointments of officers who have mandatorily retired” (This is the title of circular no. C/PSC/1 dated 12th July, 2001 by the Public Services Commission). Developments within the service under the current leadership have left much to be desired. Observers within and outside the service are justly worried about the future of the service. It is very common to hear staff of the service say things like “the service is dead” or “the service is finished”. As a member of the Service with a little over sixteen (16) years’ experience and having seen the early stages of the establishment of the Service with the promise it held for local governance in Ghana, my heart is broken and so are many in the service.

Coming events, they say cast their shadows. The first act of the current Head of Service upon assumption of duty should have indicated to any critical observer that there were different motivations for lobbying and taking up that post. His PhD dissertation titled “The unfinished Business of Decentralisation: Political Accountability of Local Government in Ghana” which he completed in 2012 and which was freely available on the World Wide Web and accessed by some of us in 2014 was quickly bundled into a book in 2017 and sold to the Regional Coordinating Councils (RCCs) and Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs). The thesis is still freely available online to date. Eight (8) copies were “forcefully” given to each District Assembly who had no choice but to receive and pay One Hundred cedis (GH₵100.00) each for a copy. RCCs, Municipal and Metropolitan Assemblies got higher numbers each. Having gained some position of authority or influence over people, this was a cool way of raking in some cash. It was not demand-driven. That is to say, it was not based on the needs of RCCs/MMDAs where they decided to ask for copies. It was a calculated supply-driven process where he (the Head of Service) decided the RCCs/MMDAs needed it and went to print it to sell to them even though he know it was freely available online. Calculated because he knew with his current position, no District Co-ordinating Director (Spending Officers) could possible think of not paying for them or rejecting them. Timid, as we have all become, payments were made amidst grumbling.

It is therefore not surprising that these days, when monetization of recruitments into the Public Services of Ghana comes up on social media, the Local Government Service gets mentioned frequently. For example, Africa Development Watch posted quite recently on twitter that “…Unemployed graduates are required to pay amounts ranging from 6,000 to 15,000 cedis to be employed in Ghana’s local govt {government] service…” Again, when one influential journalist posted on Facebook that “Employment is for sale in some public sector agencies”, the Local Government Service got cited many times in the comments. One particular comment said “Just say Local Government Service.” In other words, the journalist should have just said “Employment is for sale in Local Government Service.” Nevertheless, any opportunity the Head of Service gets, he denies this truth rather than stopping the shameful practice. On 12th September, 2019, when Ing. Dr. Stephen Nana Ato Arthur appeared on Citi TV’s Point of View, several messages from viewers indicated that jobs in the service were for sale and the host, Bernard Koku Avle brought them to his attention. As expect, the Head of Service flatly denied it. Since 2017, there have been several recruitments into the service. Only God knows how those recruitments were done. Recruitment processes as required by the service protocols have been thrown to the dogs. Even for insiders like me, we only get to know when postings are effected. Despite these actions, which are now matters of public knowledge “bringing the service into disrepute”, the only time this omnibus phrase will find meaning and given life is when one, especially a staff openly criticize these actions.

The Public Service Organisation that “birthed” the Local Government Service is the Civil Service. Indeed, until 2003 the two services were one, technically speaking. The Civil Service has largely maintained an “open and competitive” recruitment process and can be said to be “guided by the principles of merit and transparency” as mandated by the Public Service Commission (see sections 4.1.3 and of the Human Resource Management Policy Framework and Manual for the Ghana Public Services). They have an online portal for accepting applications; their recruitments are widely and openly advertised; applicants write competitive graduate entry examinations and examination results are published on their website; and qualified applicants are invited for interviews. All one needs to do to know this is to visit their website once in a while.

The last time I heard of examinations and interviews being conducted by the service for new recruits was somewhere in 2012/2013 thereabout. Yet almost every year since 2017, new graduate recruits are being posted to the various RCCs and MMDAs. The last time I saw an open advert in some online news portals about some recruitment into the Local Government Service, a press release was issued by the Service to deny it. However, some few weeks after the denial, MMDAs started receiving new recruits. One of such denial letters said the Service was “just about to conclude a process it began in February 2019 to engage two thousand two hundred and ninety (2,290) additional staff…” (See Press Release of August 14, 2019 posted on their website on August 15, 2019). What that “process” was, no one knows except the Head of Service and his lieutenants. But as far as I can tell, in that “process” there was no open advertisement, no Entry Examination and no interviews. In fact, the service under the current leadership is on record to have once said it used “random sampling” to recruit some “backlog” of applicants when recruitment anomalies were raised by the public some time ago. Pathetic!

A check of the website of the Local Government Service would reveal various recruitments of graduates into the service and yet no advertisement of vacancies or examination announcements except for one vacancy announcement for Assistant Agricultural Officers (AAO) posted on July 26, 2018 and many “Internal Vacancy Announcement[s]” which are meant for already serving staff of the service with the appropriate grades. Paradoxically, while they recruit without open advertisements, the website of the Service is awash with various open advertisements of vacancies in some international organisations like the Commonwealth Secretariat, the International Communications Union (ITU) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Isn’t that funny?! Now we have a whole bunch of staff who knows not what job interviews look like in the service neither to talk of graduate entry examinations as done by its sister service.

It is not only recruitments into the Service that laid down rules have been jettisoned. Due to poor or even no succession planning in the Service despite copious provisions for it, it has almost become a norm that many MMDAs go without substantive District Co-ordinating Directors (DCDs). Thus, Acting Assignments (differentiated from formal Acting Appointments because what is done in the Local Government Service falls short of the requirements for “Acting Appointments” even though staff can be in this “Acting” position for many years) have traditionally been used to fill in the vacuum. This simple process that used to be the job of Regional Co-ordinating Directors (RCDs) has been hijacked by the Head of Service since assuming office for obvious reasons – it has become a lucrative business for him and his “Chief Advisor”. No other motive explains this recentralization of administrative processes and the absurdity with which it is done under a leader who preaches that there are “Unfinished Business of Decentralisation” (emphasis supplied) in Ghana.

It used to be that when such a vacancy occurred in a district with no immediate senior officer (usually Deputy Director/analogous grades) in that particular MMDA qualified to take over, the Regional Co-ordinating Director will look within the Region to post a qualified senior most officer to go act as the District Co-ordinating Director. If no suitable candidates were found in the Region, then the search expands to other regions where the Head of Service would then do the posting since inter-regional posting is solely the mandate of head office per the protocols. This process ensured some level of sanity and seniority, which is so much cherished by staff of the service, was adhered to. Merit was also a key factor.

Today, there is no formula in these “Acting Assignments”. Postings for acting assignment are done at whim. Juniors are posted to head districts over staff who are senior to them. Haphazard postings of staff from one region to another to take up Acting Assignments where there are equally qualified staff in that region are very common. There is even a case where a staff was posted from one district in a region to take up Acting Assignment in a district in another region where his colleague (senior, strictly speaking – even though same grade and same year of appointment into the service, this one has a promotion date which is earlier than that of the posted officer) was stationed. See Section{m} of the Human Resource Operational Manual for the Service for how seniority is determined for people with the same grade. By now some people may be wondering why it matters for someone to be posted for an Acting Assignment. Is it not just a “stop gap” measure? Yes, it actually matters so much because in this service “Acting Assignments” are almost always for “life”. The probability that one would be in this position till you attain the “grade/position” of a substantive DCD or retire is almost certain. There are also many written and unwritten advantages – so much so that many are willing to pay huge sums for it. So it matters that the right things are done in order not for the process to be seen to be unfair and de-motivating to staff.

In the Facebook post of the journalist referred above, one other comment read “…as [for] those officers already in the service but wanted to become Coordinating Directors were alleged to have paid in the neighborhood of GHc10000 to 12,000.00…” This person definitely has some information but the figures are way below what people pay to get posted to act as Co-ordinating Directors. In 2020, people paid as much as GH₵25,000.00. Today, the figure is between GH₵30,000.00 and GH₵50,000.00 depending on your connection, even though some (very few) do get posted through political connections. Even with these huge figures, demand outstrips supply with the “henchman” – the Chief Director – taken cash in advance and actively in search of vacancies to fix a queue of people. Having gotten to know that this is the practice, many officers who immediately attain the grade of Deputy Director/analogous grades are in haste, falling over themselves, doing whatever it will take to get posted over many seniors of theirs. It is now a free-for-all affair – all brought about by the disdain for laid down procedure by the Head of Service and his “Chief Advisor”.

The Association of Co-ordinating Directors (ASCOD) and the Regional Co-ordinating Directors (RCDs) have complained and continue to lament privately about the turn of events in the Service but no one is bothered – not the Head of Service nor the Chief Director (Don’t be surprised to see a charade organized by way of denial). And yet, when given the opportunity to address staff, they pontificate to the high heavens about staff attitudes to work and the rest of it. When fish is going to rot, it starts from the head, it is said! Time to call out people who set off to ruin institutions to the point of no return for their cupidity is now. Posterity will not judge us fairly, if we remain silent. The Council of the Local Government Service, the Minister for Local Government, Decentralisation and Rural Development, Hon. Daniel Kwaku Botwe (a Man of high integrity – I know because I dealt with him at some level) and all that matter must act to reverse the trend of events else they will be on the same side of history with the main actors when the death of the service is finally announced!

To end, I leave you with Mark 8:36 (CEV – “What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself?”) and also congratulate some of our junior colleagues who merit and deserve to be “Acting Co-ordinating Directors” but continue to be ignored for whatever reason. END

Leonardo E. Korkor-Laryea

[email protected]

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