Feature Article of Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Columnist: Yeboah, Stephen

Ghana’s local-level development: In search of radical rethinking

That Ghana’s decentralization programme is fraught with inefficiencies is never a far cry from reality. The decentralization programme which began in 1988 had an objective of promoting effective and accountable local government in the country with the ultimate goal of clamping down on poverty. Rather the significance of decentralization has been stultifying. Livelihoods in rural areas and even urban communities have increasingly been subjected to a quagmire of crushing poverty while the few so-called elites – stuck in their intellectual conservatism – amass fleeting wealth to themselves.

Of all the obstacles that seemingly hinder the country’s development efforts, “dirty” decentralization is perhaps the most daunting. Though they are known to be society elites they are as well “functional illiterates” – who do not understand the meaning of development. The reasons for increased rural poverty, primitive agriculture practices, inaccessible potable water and health facilities are not far-fetched. The local governance systems meant to cater for grassroots concerns are all broken and have simply been rendered dysfunctional. A case example of the seemingly shambolic decentralization practices is the Sekyere South District which happens to be one of the thirty (30) districts in the Ashanti Region. The district, upon personal experience, has sadly been the epitome of a broken and dysfunctional decentralization. A district with all the available good conditions to support viable economic activities and varieties of crops including cocoa and coffee simply lives outside its vision and mission. With its inspirationally engraved vision of “creating the necessary conditions for private sector development through job creation and access to basic services by actively involving the masses in the decision making process”, one is easily pricked to assume if even there is poverty in the region. This vision, however, smacks of a complete paradox.

Poverty continues to exact its ravaging effects on the majority. The fate of smallholder farmers is as unpredictable as the rains they depend on to farm. Delving into the issue of local governance in the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies, one is tempted to believe if Ghana is really committed in the fight against poverty, hunger and backwardness. Setting priorities to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 mean nothing to national and local political leaders and civil and public servants. It is disheartening to witness how the concept of decentralization is being outrightly disregarded. How structures of decentralization have being manipulated by the few to satisfy their illegitimate selfish interests.

In most metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs), laws governing local government structures are simply taken for granted. Hypocritically infused with the ethos of participatory governance, the few stand for themselves and how to fill their ‘stomach’ is their agenda all day. They are rather representative of themselves thinking of nothing good but how to line their pockets to the detriment of the ordinary poor. In their frenzy attempt to amass cheap wealth, viable projects are at best delayed. Again, a project that would seemingly not bring money to the pocket of one person or a “clandestine group” would not be undertaken simply because signatories may not be ready to validate the withdrawal of funds for projects that benefit the poor. Even worrying is that amidst the display of these shameful attitudes, several kilometers of roads in the district are poor and dusty, affecting the ease with which people move and agriculture produce are transported to the market. Children still sit under trees or dilapidated structures to access basic education. People travel kilometers to access potable water and health.

Indeed, we should not expect as a nation to see development [not interventions from the World Bank or the IMF] if these shameful and outrageous attitudes persist. For reasons unknown, the government, development experts, aid agencies and multilateral institutions assume that such lawlessness and banditry at the local government level have no effect whatsoever on local economic development. The destruction being caused by the country’s local governance system is first eroding public confidence and trust and also denying the people the right to development. This is a break in social compact that has the propensity to engender social unrest and public discontent.

The reason for the struggle of Ghana to extend the benefits of development to the poor could be attributed to the pageantry of selfish, insensitive and unpatriotic behaviour of people at full display in most MMDAs. What’s happening in Sekyere South District is a sign of a national canker.

This article is not meant to disclose the blatant anomalies in Sekyere South District Assembly and all MMDAs but basically to shed light on activities holding back the progress of the nation. Definitely, intrinsic and regular monitoring is needed at the local government level if development can be realized. These attitudes being exhibited are rather worsening and 'glorifying' rural poverty and underdevelopment. It's obviously unacceptable. It is about time poverty was eradicated in rural areas. The district structure of governance in its deep state of vulnerability demands urgent rethinking and restructure. It is increasingly clear that such antics and obsession with individualism to the neglect of the people’s welfare not only contradict contemporary development agenda but also infringe upon the inalienable rights of the people to development.

It is the truth that decentralization needs a deliberate didactic re-structuring geared toward changing attitudes of civil and public servants and instilling a possible sense of responsibility. The voices of the local people are powerful to demand better governance and accountability. Massive education and empowerment at the local level will offer a potential counter-effect to this mess being witnessed. The nation needs to battle against increasing illiteracy. This as such calls for an increased investment in both formal and informal education. Education and empowerment that is needed to generate awareness of the people to hold officials in check. Again, the local should be made to have a say in the day-to-day implementation of projects and programmes.

By: Stephen Yeboah [profstephenyeboah@gmail.com]. The author studies at Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), Geneva. He blogs at: stephenyeboah.blogspot.com