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Opinions of Sunday, 23 July 2006

Columnist: Adu-Asare, Yaw

DCEs Behaving as Overlords:

1992 Constitution to Blame

This article makes the point that certain provisions in the 1992 Constitution of Ghana are to blame for the rising negative behaviour and performance of some district chief executives (DCEs) in the country who have taken on the status of overlords and tin gods.

Recent news stories indicate that Ghanaians are becoming overwhelmed increasingly with anti-social attitudes of some DCEs, blamed on the fact that the president of Ghana appoints them to the position as opposed to election by local constituents. "DCE Slaps Taxi Driver," is just one news headline that captured the degree of extra-judicial and anti-social behaviour of some DCEs. Another news headline read, "DCEs Are Too Powerful." The inefficient performance of some DCEs can be illustrated with this long but descriptive news headline: "Cry of an MP: DCES are Killing Ghana . Assemblies Get Billions But no Commensurate Development, Assembly Members Should be Empowered to Monitor Them."

Failure or refusal by the Kufuor administration to initiate amendment to the 1992 Constitution of Ghana to allow for election of DCEs violated the promise in NPP's 2000 Manifesto to do just that. The Manifesto stated, "the NPP disagrees with the present arrangement for the appointment and removal of District Chief Executives; ultimately, they will have to be freely elected." It is important to point out that the first Kufuor administration ignored completely the idea of election of district chief executives and retained the status quo, for obvious political control over the affairs of the District Assemblies.

In addition to corruption, review of news stories indicated that the conduct and behaviour of district chief executives (DCE) in general, before and during the first Kufuor administration, had not been conducive to accelerating the process for decentralization as promised by the New Patriotic Party (NPP). For the most part, DCEs had tended to disregard the rules of conduct with respect to budget expenditure and contract awards, since inception of the decentralization phenomenon in Ghana.

Not long after assuming office for the first term, Pres. Kufuor told his appointed DCEs to see themselves as representing him in the districts. Even though the president told the DCEs also that they were accountable to the people of the district through the District Assemblies, their subsequent reported conduct and behaviour left the impression that they considered themselves as clones of the presidency in their Districts. The question that needed asking was whether Pres. Kufuor was correct in his position that the DCEs represented the president in the districts.

Article 243 (2) (c) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana provides that the district chief executive shall be the chief representative of the Central Government in the district. Does the presidency equate the Central Government in Ghana? If the presidency equated the Central Government, wherein laid the Legislature and the Judiciary in it? In effect, President Kufuor's assertion that the DCE's represented the President in the districts sent fatally incorrect message to all Ghanaians, with obvious contribution to the anti-social behaviour and conduct of the DCEs.

According to the tenets of true democracy, the DCEs must be representatives of the people. Should DCEs not be chief representatives of the local people, instead of the Central Government? It is the view of this article that local governance would have been more effective in Ghana if voters in the districts elected the DCEs and thereby making them accountable directly to all the people in the jurisdiction.

Article 250 of the 1992 Constitution is another flaw that gave DCEs a sense of superiority over officials and ordinary members of District Assemblies, most of who served as elected representatives of local citizens. Clause (1) of the article provides that "the emoluments of a District Chief Executive of a District Assembly shall be determined by Parliament and shall be charged on the Consolidated Fund." Since the District Assemblies are not responsible for payment of emoluments of DCEs, it was clear that they (DCEs) did not feel obligated to adhere to regulations, rules or other controlling mechanism of the Assemblies and their members.

Since the DCEs have their salaries paid directly from the Consolidated Fund, it was fair for one to assume that they (the DCEs) did not come under any pressure to work towards enhancing mobilization of revenue for the district government. Article 176 of Ghana's 1992 Constitution mandates the establishment of The Consolidated Fund into which is paid "(a) all revenues or other moneys raised or received for the purposes of, or on behalf of, the Government; and "(b) any other moneys raised or received in trust for, or on behalf of, the Government." In essence, DCEs, under existing constitutional provisions of Ghana, are officials hired by the president, and paid by the state, to supervise, direct or manage expenditure of revenue accruing to the districts.

It has become the mantra of newly appointed DCEs to urge the District Assemblies to mobilize more revenue without their active participation towards that end.

It is possible also to discern another ambiguity in the 1992 Constitution with respect to the role of DCEs in the concrete administration of District Assemblies. Article 243 (2) (b) provides that DCEs shall "be responsible for the day-to-day performance of the executive and administrative functions of the District Assembly." Article 251 (1) mandates establishment of an Executive Committee of a District Assembly that shall also, "be responsible for the performance of the executive and administrative functions of the District Assembly." Given the wording of these two provisions, it becomes ambiguous as to who has the final authority in the Executive Committee of the District Assembly over which the DCE was Chairman.

In actuality, the wording in the two provisions of the 1992 the Constitution cited above makes DCEs supra-executives in the domain of local governance, even though they are unelected by the constituents. That sense of superiority as supra-executives more likely contributed to the extra-judicial and anti-social behaviour of DCEs.

In the light of the discussions above, it was fair to conclude that the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, in and of itself, embodied the confluence of contradictions that produced the pattern of misadministration tendencies of local government chief executives in the country. By implication, misadministration by DCEs contributed to the dysfunction of the decentralization process in the country.

To the detriment of local citizens, especially in rural areas of Ghana, the Local Government Act 2003 (Act 656), intended as a means of strengthening the decentralization phenomenon, did not seem to have had positive contribution on the process. Act 656 mandates establishment of a Local Government Service Council, making it another string that tied local authorities to the central government.

The 1992 Constitution of Ghana is silent on the role of traditional rulers in the decentralization structure and operation. However, Article 240 (2) (e) required that "to ensure the accountability of local government authorities, people in particular local government areas shall, as far as practicable, be afforded the opportunity to participate effectively in their governance." In the traditional cultures of Ghana, the concept of people cannot be meaningful without the systems of ethnic-based monarchical rule headed by hereditary chiefs.

In recognition of the importance of chiefs in the traditional system of Ghana, NPP 2000 Manifesto (4.6.9) stated appropriately, "organizational structures for carrying out development projects in towns and villages shall be improved to strengthen involvement and active participation of Chiefs." In that sense, it seemed only logical that the Kufuor administration should have initiated measures mandating the active involvement of chiefs in the decision-making process of local administrations.

Because the 1992 Constitution of Ghana sidelined the role of traditional rulers in the decision-making process of local administrations, DCEs have tended to treat them with disdain and contempt, thereby undermining their hereditary authority.

In 2003, "the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Mr. Kwadwo Agyei-Darko, said there was the need to review the current Acts and Laws involving decentralization to meet the state of affairs and aspirations. He mentioned in particular the need for greater involvement of traditional rulers in governance at local levels." Yet, six years into the Kufuor administration, there has been no concrete move to formalize active and direct participation of traditional rulers in local administrations.

In the light of the discussions above, it is defensible for one to state emphatically that the process for decentralization of administration in Ghana cannot be successful without serious amendments to the country's 1991 Constitution.

This article is adapted from a forthcoming book, "Ghana, In Search of Illusive Positive Change: A Performance Review of the First Kufuor Administration," by Yaw Adu-Asare.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.