The underdevelopment of Non State Actors (NSA) particularly civil society and the lack of capacity of existing organizations are seen as major barriers to sustainable development and strengthening democracy in Ghana. An analysis of civil society organizations in Ghana indicates the weakness of popular participation in state-society interaction. The participation of different social groups in national development is limited and fragmental. The overwhelming majority of people have no role in governance and are unfamiliar with their rights and obligations as citizens. There are only a few independent functioning civil society organizations with the necessary skills and means to interact and interface with government and state authorities but they hardly do so in an effective way. Civil Society in Ghana needs to be active in order to be a key driver for poli tical governance reforms.
The Ghana Association of Private Voluntary Organizations in Development (GAPVOD), the umbrella organization of NGO's in Ghana lists close to 300 NGO's with a predominance of service oriented NGO's mostly in rural water supply, basic education, environmental protection, primary healthcare, family reproductive healthcare and HIV/AIDS support programmes. Others include Community based organizations, Foundations, Farmers movements, Trades Unions, Religious organizations, and Professional associations. Advocacy groups focus primarily on gender, child rights, disability rights, trade, the environment and poverty reduction. Again here, their impact is very limited and marginal indeed. A growing number of them are young and weakly organized, and lots of them are over centralized in Accra which mak e their efforts very duplicating.
How can Civil Society have greater impact on policy and the lives of Ghanaians to ensure good governance and social accountability in the governmental process? The 2007 CIVICUS study on Civil Society in a changing Ghana found that 'civil society has weak structures and operates within a somewhat disabling environment but, has rather strong impact on policy and especially on the lives of Ghanaians'. While I agree with the first part of findings I disagree with the second part because the impact on policy and on lives of Ghanaians is very limited. However, the recommendations of the study with respect to improving financial management, networking and information exchange among CSO's were very apt. Networking and exchange of information among CSO's are almost non existent in Ghana plus many of CSO's and NGO$ B!Gs are virtually unaccountable to anyone not even to themselves. If these organizations are not accountable in their operations, how can they exercise voice in the arena of public debate and to build demand for transparency and accountability in government's relations with its citizens?
Lack of effective Monitoring and Evaluation (M & E) of the activities of NGO's and CSO's in Ghana has led to a situation where there are many ghost organizations that exist only on paper and in name only but manage to get funding from both local and foreign sources which are never used for the purposes intended. They are diverted for private use. Many NGO's have been in existence for years but have nothing to show for their continous funding. It goes without saying that all NGO's and CSO's that receive funding for their activities must ensure proper day-to-day administration of their finances in line with modern accounting principles, must ensure acceptable management and accounting standards, prepare and submit technical and financial quarterly, bi-annual, and annual reports to the grant authority. The grant author ity must monitor and evaluate outputs/results and report on the performance of grant recipients. The beneficiaries must demonstrate that they aim to address the needs of the population, have specific competencies, and be transparent and accountable in its operations.
There are number of donor funded CS support programmes in Ghana but how effective have they been? Perhaps owing to lack of proper M & E their effectiveness and real impact have not been measured. Among these are RAVI (The Rights and Voice Initiative) which targets enhancing citizens engagement with the state in relation to respect, protection and fulfillment of civil, cultural, economic, and political and social rights. Another one is GAIT (Government Accountability Improves Trust) programme with its overall goal to improve the social and economic welfare of the population in selected districts. It is scheduled to complete in July 2009 but how effective have these two been. The G-Rap (Ghana Research and Advocacy Program) provides grants to Ghana based institutions engaged in pro-poor public policy research with it's target group of institution s that can contribute to the national policy dialogue with government, donors and NSA's. In the field of NGO's and decentralization, an informal national network of NGO's in local governance, LOGNet, has been set up to improve accountability of District Assemblies towards citizens at the local level but we all know that accountability at the District Assemblies remains an elusive concept.
The NSA's in Ghana needs to be provided with capacity building support in critical areas in order to reinforce the capabilities of these actors particularly as regards organization and representation, and establishment of consultation mechanisms to promote dialogue. In this regard, I expect the Center of Democratic Governance (CDG), the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) among others to really step up dialogue with the Electoral commission and the Inter Party Advisory Group, and the government for working out a smooth way of organizing a credible elections in 2008. I have called on both CDG and IEA to work together to facilitate the process of having an issues based elections this year. Let us have for the first time a political debate about the issues among the politicians who seek to get our mandate to rule us. In the previous elections these t wo bodies have just paid lip service to the idea of organizing presidential debates but never brought it into being. The CDG and IEA owed it a duty to Ghanaians to bring this into reality this year. I have a blue print for this which I have published here before. Dr. Gyimah Boadi (CDG Director General) and Dr. Kwesi Jonah (IEA, Director General) both of whom happen to be my former colleagues can contact me directly at the e-mail address provided for further discussions on this issue.
The author is a senior political and social analyst based in Tokyo, Japan. He is also a public policy expert and policy strategist who has written extensively on democracy and governance issues in Africa and the Third World. He welcomes your views.