Lamentations Of Assembly Members
A strong political sub-structure undoubtedly goes a along way to enhance the operations of its counterpart super-structure in any democratic culture.
For that matter, the forward march of the country's democratic process to a considerable extent depends on the strengthening and consolidation of sub-structures like the district assemblies, town, urban and area councils and unit committees.
In all these arrangements, assembly members play a very vital and crucial role but due to multiple constraints in the system, such roles have seriously been undermined.
It would not be an exaggeration that while much attention has been given to the development and well being of the country's political superstructure such as the Executive and Parliament, very little has been done by way of motivation in the district assemblies .
At times it nags the conscience of the writer whether emerging African democracies and for that matter, Ghana, was practising elitist democracy or democracy of the masses.
In other words, the enthusiasm of assembly members and those of unit committees across the country are waning due to the fact that assembly members are not constantly interacting with the masses either to disseminate policies of their respective assemblies or learning at first hand the problems of the people and passing them on to their assemblies.
Since December 1988 when the decentralisation policy came into full force, various governments expressed their avowed commitment to bring governance to the doorsteps of the people through the political sub-structures but whether they were able to fulfil their intentions is another matter.
The policy , in other words, was to deepen democracy and decentralisation in addition to de-emphasising centralisation.
The concept was intended at creating a platform at the local level where representatives , the assembly members, could brainstorm and decide on the development policies of their respective electoral areas.
Even though the process was well-intentioned and laudable, the system could have enhanced the activities of the assembly members who serve as liaison between their communities and the assembly.
On the other hand, the assemblies and their communities had developed multiple problems which over the years seem to defy every conceivable solution.
At least, every assembly member serves on one or more sub-committees such as the Finance and Administration, Environmental, Justice and Security, Economic Development and Executive committees in the assembly.
Committees such as Finance and Administration meet once a month while the others meet once every quarter of the year to deliberate on matters that affect the well being of the economy of the assemblies and the social conditions of the people.
Even when certain issues become intractable and threaten the peace and security of assemblies, committees form smaller standing committees to go into such matters for further deliberations by the Executive Committee.
All these developments demand long man-hours, energy and knowledge from assembly members, who at times sacrifice their jobs to attend to important matters affecting various communities in the district.
The assembly members in most cases are not even paid the expenses incurred in the discharge of their duties and have at times engaged in stand- offs with the authorities to demand such monies.
Among other factors that militate against the effective functioning of assembly members when rendering duties on behalf of the assembly is the inability of some assemblies to retain quality staff to provide relevant data that could assist such members in the formulation of policies .
Lack of data had also affected revenue assessment, resulting in assemblies generating more income in order to pay good allowances to assembly members to motivate them to give of their best .
The allowances of assembly members are woefully inadequate and this phenomenon is discouraging to the extent that majority of the people in the various assemblies have sworn never to contest the next assembly elections scheduled for August, this year.
A careful examination of the sitting allowances of assembly members in some selected districts would enable the public to understand and appreciate their plight.
These are Juaboso District Assembly, ¢50,000 per sitting; Dangbe West District Assembly, ¢40,000; Ketu District Assembly, ¢70,000 per sitting and Hohoe District Assembly, ¢50,000 per sitting.
The rest are, Nadowli District Assembly, ¢20,000 per sitting; Sene district assembly, ¢20,000; Wassa Amenfi West District Assembly, ¢70,000; Nzema East District Assembly, ¢30,000; and Kwabre District Assembly, ¢50,000.
District Assemblies are supposed to sit thrice in a year and for that matter the allowance that each assembly member in Sene and Nadowli district assemblies receive annually are ¢60,000. What an irony!
The writer would not be romantic in his thoughts if he predicts that in the near future , some electoral areas in the country would not have people to represent them due to the poor and unattractive remuneration and recognition accorded them.
The Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Mr Charles Bintim, should prepare a proposal for the amendment of the Act 462 to ensure better remuneration for assembly members to facilitate their activities, especially, the dissemination of assembly programmes to people in their respective electoral areas.
As the nation prepares for another district assembly elections in July, the minister should liaise with the concerned authorities to offer better honorarium to assembly members who indisputably have worked hard to sustain the country's fledging democracy.
Article by Kweku Tsen