This past week, something important happened. But most Ghanaians do not know it. It was reported on a select few media platforms but not much attention was given to it. That is a shame on all of us. But our President must not follow suit. He must address it during his 2014 State of the Nation Address to Parliament and the People of the Republic of Ghana.
Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan announced to Parliament’s Audit Committee that District Assembly elections cannot be held as scheduled and will not be conducted this year as expected. He went further to blame government for not providing funds in a timely manner for the Electoral Commission to do its work according to schedule and efficiently.
If the EC Chairman had announced the postponement of national elections for President and Members of Parliament, the country and its airwaves would have been boiling overtime. But this is about Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assembly and Unit Committee membership – the ones that many walk upon as if they are not worth anything and not important except as political tools to help parties in power carry partisan favour to win national elections.
As we discuss how to restructure the economy, direct it in a positive direction and accelerate development, we cannot leave our local governments out of the list of areas that need urgent reforms. The fact of the matter is that our Assemblies are today used as political agencies rather than tools for development. It is this plain truth that has prevented NDC-Rawlings, NPP-Kufuor, NDC-Atta-Mills and now NDC-Mahama from allowing amendment to the 1992 Constitution for unfettered election of our Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs) and all Assembly Members.
This political approach to local government has led to very slow development in our villages, towns and cities. President Mahama should put partisan politics aside and choose a strong path to development. This he can do by announcing a decision to recommend an amendment to the Constitution to allow the people to elect their MMDCEs without any interference from the President.
This is all against the backdrop that participation in local government elections has dropped consistently over the years due to apathy borne out by the people’s experience that Assembly and Unit Committee elections do not do much to improve the living conditions of the local people. The people know that the Assemblies are controlled by the members the party in power appoints and so who they elect as Assembly or Unit Committee members cannot affect their standard of living – so why bother?
The MMDCEs are not elected directly by the people and have no reasons to listen to them. So, they do what the President and their party desires whether the people benefit or not. This is one of the problems that affect our economy – lack of active promotion of development in our towns and villages by our local governments. Our local areas remain underdeveloped mainly because the leaders, the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives are selected by one person – the President based on political patronage.
It is the view of the Mahama Administration that in “decentralizing in a unitary state, a delicate balance ought to be struck between central control and local autonomy”. The government has therefore decided that “Article 243(1) of the constitution should be amended for the President to nominate a minimum of five (5) persons who would be vetted by the Public Services Commission (PSC) for competence after which three (3) nominees would contest in a public election”.
This proposal will apply to all categories of assemblies –
Metropolitan, Municipal and District. The Government’s White Paper on the Report of the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) differs significantly from the will of the people as told to the Commission. The Commission watered down the people’s choices but specifically recommended “… that Parliament should be empowered to determine specific mechanisms for choosing MMDCEs, which should vary according as Metropolis, a Municipality or a District.”
A retired Justice of the Supreme Court and other citizens have called for the election of all assembly members to help strengthen the nation’s decentralization programme. They believe that the present power of the president to appoint people to the assemblies is undemocratic, and distorts the concept of decentralization. “When the members of the assemblies are all directly elected, we would have local government in the true sense with the assembly members answerable to the people… Chief Executives of the assemblies must also be elected which would make them accountable ….”
I have served as an elected member of Komenda-Edina-Eguafo-Abrem Municipal Assembly representing the Akotobinsin Electoral Area. Therefore, I have experienced at first hand the dictatorship of government-appointed assembly members and MMDCEs. Appointed MMDCEs and Assembly Members have very little or no motivation to work hard to develop the local economy and rather wait on central government. Consequently, they increase the burden of national government and make solving our entrenched economic problems very difficult.
The first Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS 1 2003-2005) promised to remove all constitutional impediments by the end of 2004. Under section 9.2.2 on decentralization, it was targeted that Ghana will initiate processes of changing the Constitution to get all District Chief Executives and Assembly Members elected by 2004. That did not happen. Our current President can choose to be a reformer in favour of the people. A declaration by President Mahama will enable a shift in our attitude towards local government, push competent people to compete to become MMDCEs and give the people the power to demand top performance from those they elect directly.
Papa Kwesi Nduom