Ghana: The (rebirth of the) decentralist

The Government of Ghana is renewing its efforts to pursue decentralization

Few would disagree that decentralization is an alternative development strategy as evidence abound the world over, especially in emerging markets on the ability of decentralization to bring governance closer to the doorsteps of the people, leading to local ownership of decisions and the decision-making process.

Empirical evidence suggests that decentralization ensures efficient public services tailored to the needs of citizens as local governments understand the preferences of their publics. It engenders greater citizens engagement in local affairs, improves performance in public education and health sectors and allows for more efficient implementation of government programs with performance and stewardship-oriented strategies which curtail corruption at the subnational level.

It is against this backdrop that the Government of Ghana is renewing its efforts to pursue decentralization and strengthen local governance, as provided for in the Constitution under the Directive Principles of State Policy.

The rebirth of Ghana’s Decentralist Newsletter is aimed at filling the gap and curing the information asymmetry which has existed between the IMCCoD and its stakeholders and the public. IMCCoD’s vision is to keep the public fully informed about developments in the sector by featuring articles and stories from various partners across the decentralization and local government sector.

The magazine is a rich resource with in-depth information on Ghana’s century-long decentralization journey, including the government’s current efforts to achieve more inclusive and efficient decentralization and local governance.

Article 35(6) (d) of the Constitution provides that the state should take appropriate measures to “make democracy a reality by decentralizing the administrative and financial machinery of government to the Regions and Districts by affording all possible opportunities to the people to participate in decision making at every level of national life and in government”.

This is reinforced by Chapter 20 of the Constitution, which says that “Ghana shall have a system of local government and administration which shall, as far as practicable, be decentralized”. Therefore, decentralization as an alternative strategy to national development in Ghana is a constitutional imperative, providing a strong basis for District Assemblies to have oversight responsibility for deepening democracy, nurturing local economies for development, and providing the needed basic services through decentralized governance.

To further practicalize this constitutional mandate, the Local Governance Act 2016, Act 936 was enacted. The Act seeks to provide for local governance under the constitution by establishing the local government service, provides for the establishment and administration of the District Assemblies Common Fund, provides for the National Development Planning System to define and regulate planning procedures of the District Assemblies; provides the parameters for financial independence of the Districts, and outlines their mandate to coordinate the development, as well as facilitate, monitor and supervise internal audit activities to ensure financial stewardship.

To keep the momentum of decentralization reform, a comprehensive National Decentralization Policy and Strategy (2020-2024) was developed to give meaning to both the Constitutional imperative and the Local Governance Act, Act 936. The policy among other things lays a solid foundation for increased devolution of powers and functional responsibilities to MMDAs which requires greater inter-sectoral and inter-service cooperation and collaboration.

However, it cannot be overemphasized that decentralization is not an event but a process which achieves results over time. We have been on this journey of decentralization for over thirty years and it’s time to drive the decentralization reforms towards the direction that will ensure that we build resilient and empowered local economies because they are the bedrock of a strong national economy. The need for local public service managers to fully exploit the economic potential of their localities using all available opportunities and approaches to achieve sustainable development, decent jobs and improve service delivery must be vigorously pursued.

President Nana Akufo-Addo’s key aspiration is to ensure that the country achieves democratic developmental decentralization within the shortest possible time by reinvigorating the national discourse on the election of District Chief Executives and delivering the aspirations of the people to elect their local leaders. A well-engaged electorate is an empowered electorate that will make an informed decision to elect or not to elect their local leaders on a partisan or nonpartisan basis. This conversation and stakeholder engagement will be pursued actively by Ghana’s Inter-Ministerial Coordination Committee on Decentralization (IMCCoD).

Referencing empirical data which highlights the fact that in Ghana, “the current institutional framework for administrative decentralization is at best unclear” as various national level actors in the hierarchical power structure are influenced by their own vested interest to continually undertake actions that are not in the spirit and letter of decentralization, we are at a point where we need to pursue legal reforms that will facilitate effective ministerial realignment and a well capacitated local government staff with all the tools and logistics, with the right organizational arrangements to be productive for the benefit of citizens.

Further, to achieve the aspirations of decentralization as enshrined in the Constitution, the IMCCoD is committed to coordinating and supporting reforms in public financial management to empower MMDAs to be fiscally sustainable to reduce their over-reliance on the central government. Therefore, the passage of the local government finances bill into law as well as the implementation of the inter-governmental fiscal framework 2020 -2024, the inter-governmental fiscal strategy and the rollout of the uniformed platform for property rates remain major and urgent deliverables.

Last but not the least, the IMCCoD is focused on the implementation of the National Framework for Popular Participation with special emphasis on improving women’s participation in Local Governance and the need to enhance participation models through the adoption of digital platforms. In this regard, we intend to develop a Municipal App to enhance participation and service delivery within our local Assemblies. We also intend to embark on an aggressive Public Sensitization Drive through MMDCEs Community Engagement activities and media engagement.

Note: This blog was written by Dennis Aboagye, the Executive secretary of Ghana’s Inter-Ministerial Coordinating Committee on Decentralization. The original blog appeared on the website of the Inter-Ministerial Coordinating Committee on Decentralization.