In 1998, Ghanaians witnessed dramatic development in the country's local government process. The period saw local government elections held through Universal Adult Suffrage under the PNDC government. Decentralization was given a further boost when it was incorporated into the 1992 Constitution with the whole of Chapter 20 dedicated to it. To consolidate the gains made in the decentralization process, an Inter-Ministerial Coordinating Committee has been set up under the auspices of President John Dramani Mahama. The Committee's Executive Director is Dr, Callistus Mahama, who is Head of Local Government Service. Dr. Mahama has the mandate to ensure synergy among the partners in the Administrative, Political and Fiscal decentralization process. There is no doubt that elsewhere, decentralization has accelerated the development of communities. Ghana therefore, need not re-invent the wheel when it comes to Decentralization. Decentralization began in the UK in 1888. Clearly, with decades of experience apart, Ghana has a lot to learn from the UK's local administration, which thrives on key principles including, transparency, participation, professionalism and accountability. The most contentious issue in Ghana now as far as decentralization is concerned is not only the election of MMDCEs, but also making local level elections partisan.
Currently, the law prevents the involvement of political parties in the District Level Elections. Many people have attributed this to the low level of enthusiasm shown in the local level elections and the low voter turn outs. But, is that truly the case? Will people's participation increase, if the District Level Elections are made partisan? How can one guarantee that people will be voted for based on merit and not political leanings? This issue is debatable. In the UK, election into the local legislative body is partisan, however this does not necessarily increase participation in local governance. There, the central government does not control or decide on the administrators at the local level. This is not the situation in Ghana, where there is rivalry between, the Member of Parliament, and at times the Regional Minister on one hand and the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives, the MMDCE's who control the purse at the local level. In the UK, each County, Borough or Parish is autonomous, and has the responsibility to generate revenue to pay staff, run their Councils and then balance the budget at all times.
The lesson here for Ghana is that, assemblies must regenerate themselves to stay viable. Transparency and Accountability are values that have successfully contributed to UK's local government development. The Councils are required by law to constitute an Oversight and Scrutiny Committee which serve as an independent body with the mandate to scrutinize all executive decisions to ensure transparency. It is in the light of this that one needs to take the advice by the Director of Human Resources at the Bromley Borough in the UK, Charles Obazuaye, that Africa needs to step up Transparency and Accountability, so that corruption will make way for development. Ghana's District Assembles Public Complaints Committee can pick some lessons from the Oversight and Scrutiny Committees within the UK local governance system. Arguably, one of the greatest challenges to both Ghana and UK in the quest to continue providing quality and continuous services to the people is finance. For Britain, it is clear that the local authorities have resorted to new ways of generating income, in the wake of the global economic meltdown which has compelled central government to cut budget. Whether it is finance, recruitment and retention of key staff or collection of waste, there are peculiar challenges to both Ghana and the UK. If Ghana is to encourage citizens’ participation in local governance for an enhanced decentralization process, then political neutrality should remain a key watch word. Politicians must stay away from the management space of local governance, so that people with the requisite skills and technical expertise can be attracted to the MMDA's to sustain Ghana's decentralization process.
BY: REBECCA EKPE, A JOURNALIST.