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Opinions of Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Columnist: Kabu Nartey

Kabu Nartey writes: Beyond the December 17 elections

Kabu Nartey Kabu Nartey

Recent Afrobarometer by one of Ghana’s long-standing governance research and advocacy group, the Centre for Democratic Development, CDD, suggests none of the two major parties can record straight win in the 2020 elections. The election has been predicted to go into a re-run. This is indeed good news for the opposition whilst it means an early warning sign for incumbency to get to work on its popularity which according to the polls have plummeted by 15 percent. Competitive!

Going forward, I wish our district level elections beyond December 17 becomes this competitive; possibly taking dramatic twists in order to make the local level more accountable now that it has become an elective system. This will ensure our leaders at the grassroots perform effectively in coordinating developmental projects in the districts and the assemblies.

Ghana has been practising decentralized governance system since 1992 with constitutional enjoinment under the Local Government Act 1993 ( Act 462), now Act 2016 (Act 936). The practice has been aimed at building an indigenous development system and a popular participation culture in a rather central power governance system. Power to the people, it is nicknamed.

The public has appreciated this concept over the decades. In an Afrobarometer report after a Round 7 survey conducted in Ghana between 2016 and 2017, it was discovered that the trust in local government officials increased by 12 percent. More than 69 percent of Ghanaians strongly believed MMDCEs should be elected by the local voters. In addition, the findings revealed a corresponding increase in acceptance of responsibility to ensure that these local state officials accounted to the grassroots. The number increased by 14 percent since 2005. We have decentralised sufficient power to the locals!

But what is of concern is, practically, few Ghanaians and some local leaders do not make good use of the decentralised nature of the power used to get things done at the local levels of our society. While there seems to be an increasing desire pride associated in choosing who becomes your assemblyman, his accountability to the people and the people’s engagement on development ends after the election.

Many average locals do not see the importance of local authorities as the first and next quarters in resolving their socio-economic challenges. This is buttressed by the survey I chanced on: it reports that 59 percent to 87 percent of Ghanaians never contacted their formal and informal leaders about some important problems. Moreso, about 65 percent of these local government councillors never or only sometimes listen to the issues of their constituents in decision-making.

In many developing areas like where I hail from, I grew up seeing the assemblyman mostly moving from one home to another to pay random visits with an aim of eating rather than bringing solutions to the people. A household is only lucky if the assemblyman or woman is a shy person or one who was self-sufficient before the elections. The typical “local champions” whose elections are seen as the best thing to ever happen to the community is handicapped when elected with little resources at her disposal.

Access to information has been identified as a major issue at the municipal, metropolitan and district levels. Those who are readily available moving from house to house to benefit from domestic ventures and sometimes to merely interact with families, tend to have less to offer because many of them have little capacity and education to carry on the message to the people and the developmental agenda by the central government. Those in fashionable shirts and ties and suits, on the other hand, are simply cut off from the realities of their constituents. On information access, it is estimated that six in every 10 Ghanaians unlikely or somehow unlikely to get information on the plans ( education, health, agric, etc) and budgets of their MMDAs.

But if we can achieve an effective governance structure at the national level, it begins at the MMDCE levels. It has been established by surveys that Ghanaians trust the president, the courts of law, Parliament, religious and traditional leaders more than they do their MMDCEs. This doctrine of development can only mean a top-down approach which defeats the whole purpose of a decentralized government - the power to the average citizen.

Many, myself inclusive, have had little interactions or called on our assemblymen or district officers. We can only be citizens and not spectators if we begin the accountability and call for responsive grassroots political leadership.

May be from here, I shall contact my newly-elected assemblyman or woman and state councillors and work together for the progress of our community