Election of MMDCEs will reinforce public accountability
It is remarkable that no other person, than the number one Chief Executive of Ghana, President Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo is the one leading the campaign for the election of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs).
In 2016 the election of MMDCEs was a key election campaign promise by the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), and its Presidential candidate, now President Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. MMDCEs are currently nominated by the president pursuant to Article 243(1) of the 1992 Constitution and Section 20(1) of the Local Government Act 1993, Act 462. MMDCEs are also mandated per the law to be approved by majority of members of the local assembly, half of which is nominated by the President. The approval of MMDCEs by majority on paper is the only rod of accountability at the assemblies. Which is why for many analysts (including President Akufo-Addo), the election of MMDCEs will increase popular participation and strengthen public accountability.
On July 5, 2017, President Akufo-Addo repeated his commitment to actualize the election of MMDCEs during an orientation for newly appointed MMDCEs at the Institute of Local Government Studies. “It is a well-known fact that I belong in the group that has always advocated for the direct popular election of chief executives; it is now a manifesto commitment of the ruling NPP party, so you must be aware that it is going to be fulfilled”, he told the new MMDCEs. It takes a lot courage for a President to put both feet forward in support of a very controversial piece of Constitutional requirement, which past governments have distanced themselves from.
Having strongly stated his position in favour of direct elections at the MMDAs, the onus is on the President and his cabinet to speed up the process of amending the Constitution to pave the way for direct election of assembly members in 2018. If that happens the current MMDCEs will be the last batch to be appointed under the current Constitutional arrangement. And that may well be the fulfillment of a major election promise, as well as a major institutional reforms in Ghana’s decentralization process.
However, one school of thought argues that electing MMDCEs will deepen disunity at the grassroots. One of the authorities who hold such views is local government expert, Professor Kwamena Ahwoi. He has maintained that elected MMDCEs could work against an incumbent government for their party to come to power. When that happens, it would be difficult for any partisan government to implement its programs through hostile DCEs, according to him. Mr. Ahwoi’s views on the election of MMDCEs perhaps, sums up the policy of the PNDC and NDC on the issue. To them, the appointment of MMDCEs by the president is indicative of a strong central control of even the most basic policy decisions at the grassroots. On the contrary centralised decision making only kills local innovation, and makes MMDCEs les accountable.
In spite of the fear expressed by opponents of the election of MMDCEs, President Akufo-Addo insists, “I do not think there is anything to fear in the direct election of chief executives. “It should lead to a deepening of our democracy and better accountability; it is time to make it work.”
Decentralisation and governance
Decentralization is one of the most important reforms of the past generation, both in terms of the number of countries positively affected and the potentially deep implications for the nature and quality of governance.
Reformers around the world agree that decentralization programs across rich and poor countries are centrally motivated by a quest to improve governance. The preamble of the Bolivian Law of Popular Participation states that its main goal is to improve citizens’ quality of life by perfecting representative democracy and facilitating participation (Government of Bolivia, 1994, in Fauguet, 2014).
Similarly, devolution in Britain was aimed at “re-balancing power between citizens and government”, in order to “move us away from a centralised Britain to a more democratic, decentralised, plural state” (Blair, 2000).
Likewise, in Egypt, the Mubarak regime turned to decentralization in 2004 (more than two decades after Ghana started hers), as a way of deepening democracy
“and enhancing community partnerships.”
On its part, the Peruvian government views its decentralization as a means to improve citizen participation in government, and “a singular opportunity to confront the inequalities that have historically characterized our country, and promote equal access to opportunities . . . for all” (Government of Peru, 2011, in Fauguet, 2014).
According to the Cambodian government, decentralization is being pursued there above all to strengthen and expand democracy by driving it down to the local level. Reform, it is hoped, will strengthen democratic representation, increase popular participation, strengthen public accountability, and improve government effectiveness (Government of Cambodia, 2005, in Fauguet, 2014). These sentiments are closely shared by the Ugandan government (Mulumba, 2004). The Ugandan government actually borrowed the decentralization framework from Ghana, and has since leaped ahead with reforms, including election of local officials.
Also Mexico, undertook decentralization in order to “improve the political involvement of the people in public decision-making,” and so “strengthen democracy and spur the country’s development efforts” (Mun˜oz, Acosta, &Moreno,
2006, in Fauguet, 2014).
Other countries are motivated by more specific governance challenges. Colombia’s decentralization was designed as an explicit response to violence. Elected local governments, it was hoped, would give citizens more voice in public affairs, and so drain the reservoir of discontent that fed its left- and right-wing insurgencies (USAID, 2009). Perhaps, the Colombian successes should defuse the fear in Ghana that electing MMDCEs will cause disunity and political instability.
Equally, in Ethiopia, where social diversity is striking, decentralization was aimed at giving political representation to different ethnic groups in order to help the state meet the needs and aspirations of a heterogeneous population (IFAD, 2004). Lastly, both India and Tanzania chose decentralization primarily as a means to improve the low level and quality of their public goods (USAID, 2009).
From the above case studies, Ghana cannot continue to hide under the guise of political instability to delay the election of MMDCEs. Of course, it should take a bold President and his government to break the phobia around population elections at the grassroots.
Democratic governance at the local or national level can succeed only if public servants are held accountable to elected representatives, and representatives must be accountable to the public. This means not only talking about governance, but practicing good governance (Blair, 2000).
The question of public accountability is perhaps best represented by the widely cited Wallis and Oates (1988), who argue that decentralization can make government more responsive to local needs by “tailoring levels of consumption to the preferences of smaller, more homogeneous groups.
The logic behind this argument relies on a powerful comparative static that goes as follows; by devolving power and authority from higher to lower levels of government elected by local constituencies, decentralization fundamentally changes the incentives that local authorities face, and thus their behavior (Fauguet, 2014).
Understanding what difference citizen participation and engagement make to development and to more accountable and responsive governance has become a key preoccupation in the development field (ibid). It has been over a decade since participation moved toward the mainstream in development debates
(World Bank, 1994), and as a strategy for achieving good governance and human rights (UN, 2008). The World Bank played an important role in popularising the term governance. The 1992 World Bank Report, Governance and Development, brought the term into common usage amongst development NGOs, bilateral donors and multilateral institutions. The Bank’s description of good governance was particularly interesting in that it was a reaction to bad government, typified in the personalisation of power, the denial of human rights, government corruption and unaccountable government, as is currently the case at Ghana’s assemblies.
Similarly, the UN Report “People Matter: Civic Engagement in Public Governance argues that “engagement is regarded as an important governance norm that can strengthen the decision-making arrangements of the state and produce outcomes that favor the poor and the disadvantaged. In this light, engagement emerges as conducive, if not critical, to attaining the new Sustainable Development Goals (UN, 2008).
Most theories of citizenship and democracy discuss the importance of an informed and aware citizenry who can participate in democratic life, hold the state to account, and exercise their rights and responsibilities effectively. For many democratic theorists one important function of citizen participation is that it helps to create “better citizens”, increasing their political knowledge, confidence, and their sense of citizenship. Yet in many societies, citizens may be unaware of their rights, lack the knowledge to engage, or not see themselves as citizens with the agency, and power to act (Fauguet, 2014).
Fauguet’s views resonates with President Akufo-Addo’s recent call on Ghanaians to get off the fence and be active citizens. No doubt, the success of President Akufo Addo’s participatory approach in governance will, to a large extent depend on an effective decentralization and local government system. This is because, the one district-one factory, one village-one dam and one constituency-one million dollars are expected to drive jobs and opportunities back to the rural areas, where decentralized or devolved agencies and departments are the frontrunners in planning and implementing government policies.
The major promise of democratic decentralization is that by building popular participation and accountability into local governance, government will become more responsive to citizens’ aspirations and more effective in service delivery.
As stated earlier, the central idea of participation is to give citizens a meaningful role in local government decisions that affect them.
The hope is that as government comes closer to the people, more people will participate in politics. All sorts of constituencies; women, minorities, small businessmen, artisans, parents of schoolchildren, marginalized farmers, urban poor will have greater access to elected public servants, who will be responsive to those who elected them. That will give them representation-- a key element in empowerment, which can be deemed as a significant voice in public policy decisions that affect their futures (Kardos, 2012).
It is my hope that the Akufo- Addo Administration will make a clean break from its predecessor by bringing government closer to the very people who gave it the overwhelming mandate. And the surest means of promoting accountability, inclusion and engagement is through electing MMDCEs. We can run away from electing MMDCEs forever.
Blair, H. (2000) Participation and Accountability at the Periphery: Democratic Local Governance in Six Countries. Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, USA
Fauguet , J. P. (2014) Decentralization and Governance. London School of Economics and Political Science, UK.
IFAD (2004). IFAD’s performance and impact in decentralizing environments: Experiences from Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda. Rome: IFAD
Kardos,. M. (2012) The reflection of good governance in sustainable development strategies. Petru Maior University, Tirgu Mures.
Mulumba, D. (2004). Uganda: Country review of the framework of
Niskanen, W. (1971) Bureaucracy and Representative Government, Aldine, Chicago.
UN (2008). People matter: Civic engagement in public governance. New
York, NY: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
USAID (2009). Democratic decentralization programming handbook.
Washington, DC: USAID.
Wallis, J. J., & Oates, W. E. (1988). Decentralization in the public sector:
In H. Rosen (Ed.), Fiscal federalism quantitative studies. Chicago: University of
World Bank (1994). The World Bank and participation. Washington, DC:
(***The writer is a Communications and Development Management Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate. All views expressed in this article are my personal views and do not represent those of any organization. (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mobile: 0202642504/0243327586/0264327586)