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Feature Article of Sunday, 22 July 2012

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Service Delivery, Traditional Institutions, And Inequality

Comment/Ghana/Africa

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

Ghana’s economic surge has come with it service delivery challenges. With socio-economic inequality widening and much of the population rural bound, the delivery of goods and services still remain a daunting task. Of recent times, service delivery has become part of the economic growth mantra in Ghana.
At the centre of the issue is efficiency, in-service training and the utilisation of modern technology. This is against the backdrop of limited resources and inadequate economic means. The idea is that services do not reach the appropriate target because of either weak or non-existent information flow or infrastructure.
One of the shining examples of improving service delivery in Ghana is the eGhana project, a World Bank project that aims to support public-private partnerships to improve efficiency and transparency through selected e-Government applications. While laudable, these efforts are more of urban enterprises, with most rural areas not enjoying these modern services because of poor infrastructure. Electricity that is to run the eGovernment programmes is erratic. Traditional institutions and values have not been integrated into the decentralization exercises that are to wheel efficient service delivery.
Broadly, the solution lies in better human contacts (especially working with local communities), infrastructural development, better information flow and the appropriation of information and communications technology. This isn’t only public sector issues but also the private sectors, too. In all measure, the sense, whether in water and sanitation, health, banking, registering businesses, local government, healthcare or food production, is improving service delivery to help reduce poverty and spur economic growth in Ghana. Since much of the Ghanaian population lives in the rural areas, the key challenge is balancing the urban and the rural areas in the attempts to improve service delivery.
Whether in water and sanitation, electricity, banking, agriculture production, and other socio-economic products, interventions that will help address the challenges of service delivery is seen more or less in the suggestions offered by Irene Agyepong, of the Ministry of Health’s Dangme West District in Greater Accra Region. Agyepong proposes that the interventions in reforming the health service delivery in the district level should include public awareness of the availability of resources. But the success of this depends on improvements in coverage, utilization and quality.
This will be enhanced by how flexible the central government allocate and use resources. This calls for more integration of service delivery at district level with the on-going decentralization programmes. This will make service delivery better for more Ghanaians, especially for rural needs. In this context, there have to be changes in basic and in-service training strategies and effective partnerships between the private and public sectors within the available limited resources.
The durability of the integration process in service delivery will be more effective if traditional institutions and values, as the key sources and structures in the rural areas, are appropriated efficiently in the service delivery programmes. The reality is, the bulk of Ghanaians operate within the informal, traditional sectors, and most are in the rural areas. We can get a better sense from a study undertaken by the Trend Group, a Kumasi-based NGO for WELL Resource Centre Network for Water, Sanitation and Environmental Health, in the provision of water, sanitation, health and educational services.
The service delivery perspective led to sector practitioners doing away with earlier emphasis on the central government being heavily involved in the delivery of water and sanitation and the approach towards the building of more efficient service delivery systems that provide uninterrupted, dependable and reasonable services. The dawn of democracy is fast improving access to basic services. To this end, the new strategy, driven by democratic tenets, has been towards a decentralized, multi-sectoral, demand-driven and private-sector oriented service delivery.
The appropriation of information and communications technology, in-service training, greater infrastructural development, greater decentralization that involves traditional institutions and values, effective partnerships between the private and public sectors are some interventions that might address the service delivery issues in Ghana.

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