Government Needs to Expedite the Decentralization Process
There is no doubt that since the late 1980s, Ghana's quest to decentralize its administrative and financial structures has chalked some level of success. However, it is still bedevilled with myriads of challenges which need to be addressed by the Government and other stakeholders for the concept to achieve its noble objectives.
Some of the successes chalked by the decentralization concept almost a decade ago include the creation of 138 Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) and the capacity building of the Assemblies with manpower and financial support.
The expansion of the new districts to further bring governance to the doorstep of the people, and the creation of the District Assemblies' Common Fund (DACF) to supplement the internally generated incomes of the assemblies are some of its laudable achievement.
The increase from five per cent to seven per cent of the amount of the total revenue allocated to the DACF and the enactment of the Local Service Act 656 of 2003 are also some of the achievements, which demand commendation.
However, after almost two decades of practising and operationalising the decentralization policy, it is still confronted with lots of problems, which are hindering it from achieving its objectives.
What does the decentralization concept prescribe? According to a document entitled "The New Local Government System" published in November 1996 by the then Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, the Decentralization Policy seeks to devolve central administrative authority to the district level; fuses any given region, district, locality into one administrative unit, through the process of institutional integration, manpower absorption, composite budgeting and provision of funds for decentralized services.
The concept is also expected to promote popular grassroots participation in the administration of the various areas concerned, from the point of planning, implementation, monitoring and delivering of those services, which go to improve the living condition of the people; fair and balance development of the whole country.
It is clear from the above that decentralization policy assumes that development is an activity or action that is the responsibility of the Central Government, District Assemblies, NGOs and the people. Development therefore as emphasized above responds to people's problems and represents their goals, objectives and priorities.
Problems of the system include; non-functional structures of the local governance system - as most members of the substructures do not know their roles. The delay in the release of the DACF; deductions made from the DACF by the Central Government, Ministries and Departmental; discrimination in terms of training of the human resource base; unqualified personnel manning some of the departments and non-fusion of certain departments into the MMDAs among other things
No wonder, recent findings of a research conducted by three civil society organizations in the Upper East Region on "Speeding Up the Pace of Decentralization in Ghana as a Way of Reducing Poverty; The Case of the Upper East Region of Ghana" identified a number of challenges.
The findings indicated that though the local government system had put in place the structures, they were non-functional and that some of the Sub-Metropolitan, District, Urban, Area, Town and Zonal Councils and Unit Committees could not perform the functions assigned to them by the instrument that established the Assemblies.
The research carried out by Foundation of GrassRootsAfrica, Northern Patriots in Research and Advocacy (NORPRA) and Association for Sustainable Development of Upper East Region (ASDUE) and sponsored by Ibis Ghana also noted that the scenario about the findings of the decentralization process was not quite different from the other regions.
The findings explained that the Local Governance System is aimed at getting as many people as possible to get involved in the governance process, and to provide for subordinate bodies to exist and function as part of the local governance system, but that this is not so under the system.
The findings cited the Upper East Region where the local government structures are non-functional and pointed out that out of the eight districts where the research was conducted, only one, the Bawku West District, could boast of having all the town and area councils, working and contributing to the work of the Assembly and said it was even through the efforts of Ibis Ghana that helped to constitute the substructures in that area.
The other seven remaining districts in the Region are now working towards activating the Town and Area Councils and other sub-structures under the Community Based Rural Development Project (CBRDP).
The findings also revealed that many members of the substructures in the local governance system did not know their roles and duties, and noted that the collection of revenues for the assemblies were their main duties.
The delay in the payment of the DACF, the findings indicated, is another major challenge confronting the decentralization policy since they could not embark on their developmental programmes effectively.
It indicated that the 1992 Constitution stipulates that there shall be a fund to be paid on quarterly instalments basis to district assemblies for development, and noted that this is not abided by, as the DACF is often paid to the assemblies in arrears and very late. "This jeopardizes developmental projects of the assemblies, especially districts in the poor Regions", it stressed.
Another area of the findings is that there are some instances where the Central Government or Ministries, Departments and Agencies acting on behalf of government deducts various amounts of monies allocated to district assemblies under the disguise of providing facilities and services to the assemblies, citing the deduction for the supply of sanitation equipment as examples.
"The sad part of it is that the Assemblies are not normally informed about these deductions before hand, making the deductions an unexpected shortage for the assemblies.
It also noted that although the staffing positions of most of the District Assemblies in the Region had improved over the years in terms of attending courses to improve upon their human resource bases, personnel from the administrative categories and clerical staff including Coordinating Directors are the people benefiting from that package at the expense of other groups like the District Planners, coordinating the District Units.
It stated that while many of the assemblies in the Region have one Planning and Budget officer, there were many without qualified district engineers and other technical staffs.
The findings also observed that many of the decentralized departments have officers heading them, but that the issue of concern is the quality of officials heading these organizations.
"With the exception of some departments such as the Ghana Health Service and few others, many other decentralized agencies are manned by what could be termed as "caretaker" heads, indicating that they were not qualified to handle such positions.
The findings stated that there are some core departments in the Districts including the Department of Social Welfare; Department of Town and Country Planning; Department of Parks and Gardens; Department of Animal Health Science; Department of Forestry and Birth and Death Registry whose duties and functions are not well coordinated into the main duty of the assemblies structures and are operating in isolation. They only take their orders directly from their head offices in Accra.
"Planning and Budgeting of other departments are in many instances determined and taken entirely by their 'Mother' head offices in direct contravention of the section 38(3) of the Local Government Act. Act 462; of 1993."
The findings recommended to Government through the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Environment that there is the need to clarify the various roles and responsibilities and duties of substructures of the decentralization system such as Urban; Town, Area Councils, and to empower them with financial resources to enable them to procure basic logistics to carry out their duties.
It added that the DACF should be made available early to avoid derailing plans and programmes of the assemblies, and asked that immediate steps should be taken to stop what it termed "Statutory Deduction" from the DACF.
It recommends that the Central Government should in the interim absorb the payment of allowances to members working at the substructure levels until more sustainable payment arrangements are made.
Efforts should be made to enforce the legislative provision which demands that those substructures should be paid five per cent of revenue allocated for and on behalf of the assemblies, stressing that this would enable them to carry out some of their functions.
Decentralized departments should be worked out gradually and well coordinated into the District Assembly system to enhance efficiency, and also harmonize efforts of development at the local level.
The findings stressed the need to hasten the implementation of the recommendations since District Assemblies are physically closer to the people and the assembly would also know them better in terms of their development needs than the Central Government.
It also indicated that if the recommendations are implemented it would help to empower the people, especially the marginalized, to participate actively in the development process that affect their everyday lives.
It emphasized that decentralization, if properly implemented as prescribed in the "statutory book", could go a long way to reduce poverty in the regions and the entire nation.
It is quite refreshing that viewing the importance of the concept, the recently appointed sector Minister, Mr Joseph Yieleh Chireh stressed that Government would be more committed to strengthening the local governance system, adding that the decentralization system would help to develop local communities. Yet it has to be implemented properly to suit the situation.
Making this remarks during the visit of the World Bank Country Director, Ishack Diwan, the Sector Minister explained that decentralization could only be enhanced when the media made information readily available to the people in the communities.
Information, he noted, should be packaged properly in order to help the communities to make informed decisions in their respective areas and indicated that if people were equipped with the right information they could hold those in responsible positions accountable for their action or inaction.
He promised that the Government would build the capacity of the people in order to get the right people to do the job and called on development partners to also help to strengthen the process of decentralization in the country.
It is hoped that the present Government would live by its promise so that with the support of development partners, the Local Governance system would be strengthened to improve the livelihood of the citizenry.
A GNA Feature by Samuel Adadi Akapule