Critique of the Status Quo: Advantages and Problems with Appointing MMDCEs
It is important to mention that both the challenges and rewards from the current structural organization of the local government system apply to all tiers of local government bodies. However, I will limit myself here only to the appointment of the MMDCEs, the most influential political figures at the local level.
Justifications or Advantages of Appointing MMDCEs
A number of reasons have been proffered for having and keeping the current system of appointing MMCEs in place. First, it has been argued that since MMDCEs are the heads of the MMDAs, which constitute the highest political authority at the local level, it is crucial to appoint people who can fully implement the development agenda of the central government.
Secondly, the case is often made that since the president consults with relevant stakeholders on the ground before choosing suitable persons to occupy the office of MMDCEs, he will appoint the right persons who are natives of the respective MMDAs and are already (or expected to be) familiar with the unique problems and opportunities prevailing in their districts.
Thirdly, the case is often made that since the MMDAs are only geographical units within the country, it is only logical to ensure conformity and evenness in national development. And appointing MMDCEs is the only viable way to achieve these critical development goals. This leads us to the fourth and fifth justifications given for the current system in place, which are more political.
It has been suggested, fourthly, that politically, it is not only wise but also strategic to have MMDCEs appointed by the president or the executive from within their party as it will be politically suicidal to have their opponents elected as MMDCCEs. This is because opposition figures can thwart the efforts of the government in power, which will end up creating tensions and frictions not just between political parties at (and between) the local and national levels, but also tensions and divisions between certain communities or regions and the state, it is argued.
Undoubtedly, this must be the principal reason behind the late president’s refusal to endorse the recent Constitutional Review Commission’s finding and recommendation regarding the competitive election of MMDCEs. As a matter of fact, some have gone as far as predicting that allowing MMDCEs to be elected, rather than appointed, will serve as a recipe for Ghana’s breakdown or fracture into pockets of communities and towns along ethnic lines, as evil-minded politicians will open up and exploit deep-seated wounds and sentiments among Ghana’s 30-plus ethnic groups, which dates back to pre-colonial days. The situation in Somalia is often cited as the likely end result of treading on such a path.
The fifth, and rather theoretical, reason offered for appointing MMDCEs is that it is simply uncharacteristic of unitary states to elect MMDCEs. Such as a system, they say, is fit for federations, such as the United States and Switzerland, not unitary states like Ghana.
Problems or Weaknesses Associated with the Status Quo
The first — and major — problem associated with the current system of appointing MMDCEs is the huge accountability problem we have at the local level. MMDCEs, knowing they have been appointed from the top, naturally do not feel accountable to the people they serve, but rather and sorely to their political master, the president. And rather than satisfy the needs of the people under them, the onus on them becomes to please their appointers. Consequently, many MMDCEs in Ghana take decisions arbitrary and often abuse their office, feeling they are untouchable by people at the grassroots.
The number two problem with appointing MMDCEs is the proliferation or perpetuation of patronage politics — also known as neopatrimonialism — at the local level. In other words, the office of the MMDCEs have become avenues for recruiting and rewarding political allegiance. This inevitably gives birth to neopatrimonialism’s twin sister: corruption. This situation often manifests in the award of contracts to party faithfuls and regime friends, who in turn pay kickbacks and give other forms of support in return.
It may also result in the selection of projects that boost the ruling party’s image at the local level — sometimes in locations that can buy them enough political capital or support necessary to secure their re-election — rather than long-term projects that benefit all electorates and for their long-term good.
In effect, the MMDCEs become manipulable tools in the hands of the ruling elites or their party to achieve their selfish political interests, instead of the collective welfare of Ghanaians.
The recent denunciation of the president’s MMCE nominees by so-called party foot-soldiers on the basis of them failing to ‘achieve results for the party’ is the clearest indication of the misread role of MMDCEs as official party representatives at the local level, and not as servants of all Ghanaians resident in their respective jurisdictions.
The third weakness associated with appointing MMDCEs is the issue of competency of nominees, which is linked to the point above. In a society where political coloration has gained currency over ability to deliver, and ‘who you know’ more critical than ‘what you know’ in the selection of people for public office, there is certainly bound to be instances of having ‘square pegs in round holes’.
Increasingly, this is becoming a source of worry to many Ghanaians. It has been alleged that some of the current nominees for MMDCEs are resorting to bribing assembly members in order to secure their approval for the job, in an attempt to cover up for their ineptitude, whilst those who are unwilling or unable to grease the palms of their assembly members are the ones being rejected, regardless of competence, which is sad, to say the least.
Lastly, the appointment of MMDCEs is a mockery of the ‘ka bi mane ka bi’ system of government we claim to have created, in the sense that Ghanaians have no say in the choice of who becomes their MMDCEs.
So how will the election of MMDCEs solve these problems? My answer: let us examine the advantages of electing MMDCEs.
The Case for Electing MMDCEs in Ghana
First, allowing MMDCEs to be elected will make them directly accountable to their electorates, even in the absence of any legislation requiring them to do so. Why? Because of the fear of ‘kokomoti’ power — that is, the voting power of the electorates. In other words, if MMDCEs know that the power to elect or remove them from office rests with the people and not the president or their party hierarchy, they will be careful to conduct their affairs in a clean, fair and transparent manner.
Secondly, if MMDCEs are elected, they will focus on serving their electorates from whom they derive their mandate, rather than pleasing their political masters. And instead of spending time to lobby the president or their party hierarchy to get re-appointed, they would rather work hard to serve their electorates, in order to win their trust and justify their re-election.
Third, the autonomy or independence in decision-making that comes with electing MMDCEs will enable them to formulate and design policies and projects that are relevant to their local context, rather than implement top-down initiated and politically-driven policies and projects.
Fourthly, neo-patrimonialistic politics will be on the decline, if MMDCEs are elected. This is because, given the fact that they derive their mandate from the entire electorate and not a section of it, their priority will be to serve all their constituents and not the interests of a select few, be they those of their political masters above or party cadres below. This will also translate in a more open, competitive process of awarding contracts, which will in turn reduce local level corruption.
Fifthly, competent people — those having a track record of service, leadership and accomplishments — are more likely to be elected, than appointed, as MMDCEs, if elected competitively. And, if they fail to live up to their expectations, or if there are differences in opinion between those at the top (i.e., the president and his circle of leaders) who appointed the MMDCEs and believe that they have performed well to deserve a second term, and those on the ground (i.e., party foot soldiers) who judge most of these term-one MMDCEs as failures and are calling for change, the ‘kokomoti’ power is the best judge in such circumstances.
And last but not least, Ghanaians are bound to feel more empowered, if they elect their own MMDCEs, rather than have them imposed on them.