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Opinions of Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Columnist: Augustine Yaw Asuah

Planning Discourse Arena: Who has the power to compel obedience

It is disheartening reading on spatial imbalances and inequalities, and its associated problems of poverty, unemployment and degrading urban and rural environments in Ghana. For instance, Davis 2006 (cited in Grant 2006) observed a multiplication of slums and squatter settlements developed along the Accra corridor extending all the way to Benin City.

The label he gives this footprint is what is rather worrying- “the biggest single footprint of poverty on earth”. Though the above assertion is contestable, there is an iota of truth that informal settlement development and the incidence of urban poverty are on the ascendancy in Ghana (Anokye, 2014).

The Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), together with the local office of UN Habitat in 2011 identified 82 such informal communities within the city (Amoako, 2014).

These communities are home to some 1,652,374 people representing 38.4% of the city’s Population (Amoako, 2014). On poverty, the last Afrobarometer Survey conducted by the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (in Adarkwa, 2012) showed that the perception of the prevalence of poverty in the country has worsened despite UNDP and NDPC, (2010) indication that the poverty rate in the country declined from 41.6 percent between 1988/1989 to 28.5 percent in 2006.

Additionally, official research reports such as the 2003 Core Welfare Indicator Questionnaire and Ghana Statistical Service (GSS 2007) also confirm this. But hey, what happened to the recommendations and explicit analyses by planners???? Maybe Wildavsky (1987:21) was right, when he said ‘If planning were judged by results, that is by whether life followed the dictates of plan, then planning has failed everywhere it has been tried because no one, has the knowledge to predict sequences of action and reaction across the realm of public policy, and has the power to compel obedience’.

Thus, the challenge that confronts all planning actors and related technocrats is getting people to conform to established order, which include formal and informal institutions that defines the rules of the game or a way of doing things.

Invariably, there is a limitation to what planning can do but institutional and market failures have make things worse. For instance, at the development planning arena, the planner is faced with three contrasting position, dealing with the market, upholding the public good and dealing with the politician.

The planner who proposes has no power to compel obedience and the politician who marshals is also thinking of winning election and not the painful planning decisions. This had been evident with the politics played around the significant flood disasters recorded in 1955, 1960, 1963, 1973, 1986, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2010 and 2011 (Twumasi and Asomani Boateng 2002; Karley 2009; Rain et al. 2011 in Amoako and Frimpong Boamah, 2014), and the recent June, 3 National Disaster.

The recent waste management issues with Ghana being ranked 10th and 7th dirtiest country in 2014 and 2015 respectively (WHO & UNICEF, 2015), and most studies blaming urbanisation, weak institutional capacity of the city authorities (e.g., Boadi and Kuitunen 2003; Weinaah 2007; Amoah 2010) and inefficiencies in the operation of waste management contractors (e.g., Post and Obirih-Opareh 2003; Osumanu 2008 in Obeng-Odoom, 2013) is another angle where political inclination, biases and favouritism have contributed immensely.

But interestingly, politicians and people in authority over the years have seen differently when disaster strikes. According to the Mayor of Accra, ‘culture’ – or a set of attitudes – is at the root of the waste management problem (Daily Graphic 2013 in Obeng-Odoom, 2013), the chief director of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development is reported to have said, ‘solving the problem of poor sanitary conditions begins with us. It is highly an attitudinal issue’ (The Ghanaian Times 2013, online in Obeng-Odoom, 2013).

A recognised expert, the director of the Institute of Environment and Sanitation, has noted that ‘until Ghanaians change their attitude towards the indiscriminate disposal of waste, the fight against the canker will remain a mirage’ (Akpalu and Kyei 2013, 3 cited by Obeng-Odoom, 2013) and finally, the first gentleman of Ghana in July 2015 (Joy online) bemoaned the attitudes of actors in creating plastic waste menace in the country and warned complete banishment.

Now the big question, who has the power to compel obedience? Since the same “poor attitudes” towards waste and waste management was blamed for being responsible for a cholera outbreak in 2014 which claimed 150 lives with about 30,000 infections ( Joy online 7/2015). And it is also believed that choked gutters are partly responsible for flooding in the cities of which the June 3 national disaster is no exception. As the Holy Book says human beings by nature will disobey simple rules and regulations with the least opportunity (if you are in doubt ask Adam and Eve, Genesis 3: 16) that is why we have laws to punish offenders.

What is the National Environmental Sanitation Policy saying?, what of the Civil Service Law of 1993, Act 327, the Local Government Act of 1993, Act 462, the National Development Planning Commission Act of 1994, Act 479, and the National Development Planning (Systems) Act of 1994, Act 480 and various pieces of legislations thereof??.

What about the multi-agencies of which overall responsibility for planning revolves around, such as the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC), the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD), the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, the Ministry of Works and Housing (MWH) and the Ministry of Environment Science and Technology doing to compel obedience? What are they doing to crump down on the abuse of re-zoning provisions by some corrupt public officials, quack planners and surveyors as well as the general disregard for planning and orderly development by some chiefs and land owners? Maybe an in-depth study is required, because as cited by Amoako and Frimpong Boamah (2014), poor physical planning and flaws in the drainage network (Karley 2009; Rain et al. 2011); massive growth of the city, preventing infiltration by impervious surfaces (Arnold et al. 1996; Yeboah 2000, 2003; Afeku 2005); informal housing development practices (Aryeetey-Attoh 2001 ); and poor physical development control and waste management practices in the city (Karley 2009) which are indicators of rapid and unplanned urbanisation have been responsible for the flooding and waste management challenges in Accra. Maybe Oteng-Ababio’s Governance Crisis or Attitudinal Challenges needs to be revisited, for it is obvious that the one who has “political will to carry through bitter and unpleasant measures” can compel obedience and fix the attitudinal challenges permanently.
As submitted by Adarkwa (2012) all human settlements in Ghana are experiencing changes in their populations, layout and physical outlook, implying that, the displacement of poor urban households mostly through market induced eviction in the engulfed core and peripheral areas from their lands due to the dynamics of the urban land market would not stop. Housing, already is a problem both qualitative and quantitatively, as put forth by the Ghana Housing Profile (2011), a total of 570,000 rooms must be provided every year, 1840 per working day, and about 4 in every minute in order to meet the housing demand in Ghana. It is thus obvious that the informal housing and land market emerging out this phenomenon, mostly would not conform to established order. And if uphill task of decongesting our cities is the way to go, then we need more bulldozers.

Augustine Yaw Asuah
Department of Planning, KNUST