Democracy is not a reality without decentralisation.
It is about integration, ownership, strong institutions, effective administrative and financial decentralisation.
There is currently a sense of local autonomy but heavily centralised and controlled in Ghana.
In 2018, President Akufo-Addo announced that there would be election of Metropolitan, Municipality and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs).
He also declared the creation of new regions.
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Both proposals required referenda.
A referendum was held on December 27, 2018 and six new regions were created.
November 26 is scheduled for the national referendum of the election of MMDCEs, concurrently with District Assembly (DA), election.
Turn-out of the DA election is traditionally low. Ghana registered not more than 41 per cent turn-out in the last DA election.
This presents some possible scenarios: (1) either interest in referendum will spike up interest in the DA election; (2) usually low turn-out might affect the referendum, or (3) political parties may take advantage of the referendum and politicise the DA election.
Think-tanks such as IDEG has called for “national compact” to secure a “Yes” vote.
Ghana Journalists Association through its media programme with support from STAR-Ghana Foundation has christened it “Agenda 60/40”, calling for a vigorous campaign to secure constitutional requirement of 60 per cent voters’ participation and 40 per cent “Yes” vote.
The election of MMDCEs requires continuous engagement for a successful outcome.
Several commissions were established to review the structures of local governance.
For example, the 1943 Ordinance empowered citizens to elect local officials and the 1949 Coussey Committee examined active citizens’ participation in local governance.
These commissions, among others, dealt with the viability of local governance.
The 1988 PNDC Law 207 sought to transfer powers and competence from the centre to the periphery.
This was endorsed by Act 462, Act 455 and amended Act 963 to enhance political, administrative and fiscal decentralisation.
The stake reality
The introduction of winner-takes-all electoral system, otherwise known as the first-past-the-post in 1992 sought to strengthen national cohesion.
On a balance sheet, the system has politicised us more.
It has minimally forged national unity.
The practice has been exacerbated by the two contending parties, the NDC and the NPP that have succeeded in practising “transformative governance” of eight-year rule since 1992, and have benefited heavily from this political establishment.
Electoral victory means taking over the entire government machinery, control of asset and power depending on which party wins the presidential election.
The result is flamboyant electoral competition, electoral violence, vigilante politics and tentative developmental dividend. Election has become a “theatre of war”.
There is a perpetual mobilisation of identity-based groupings along political, historical, ethnic, religious and regional lines.
The practice has produced politics of exclusion.
Smaller parties are disadvantaged.
It has affected quality of governance, representation and policy choices.
Corruption is an emboldened feature of this practice.
The system is fast depleting democratic gains and requires urgent policy reversal.
Multiparty local governance: the game changer?
One bold attempt to reverse the politics of exclusion is the election of MMDCEs.
Some have argued that the reform is thoughtful.
It presents a significant shift of devolving more powers to the periphery.
Parties will become development-oriented.
Margins of development will drift to the community and the political economy will become stronger.
The reform will generate competition of policies and citizens will evaluate parties’ mid-way of the electoral cycle.
Inclusion and accountability will improve rather than loyalty to the appointing authority.
Smaller parties may win election and manage districts.
It will enhance administration efficiency and reduce the winner-takes-all syndrome.
Potential drawbacks of the reforms
Others argue that the reform is politically expedient.
Capacities of parties to aggregate community interests and translate them into development is doubtful.
Decentralisation through effective leadership and strong institutions can develop rural economy without necessarily electing MMDCEs
Will the election of MMDCEs address zero-sum psycho-cultural attitudes of the political elite to competitive electoral politics of simple majority benefiting from the entire political establishment? Full decentralisation is possible and Ghana must embrace it.
Central government continues to use the ‘public purse’ to control local government. The reform should tackle this head-on to secure fiscal autonomy. The bottom line is improved livelihoods for the citizens.