Political will needed to make local government work — Opong-Fosu

BY: Kwame Asare Boadu
Mr Opong-Fosu (right) speaking to Kwame Asare Boadu, Daily Graphic’s Deputy News Editor
Mr Opong-Fosu (right) speaking to Kwame Asare Boadu, Daily Graphic’s Deputy News Editor

The country needs the political will that will transfer administrative power, authority and resources to the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs), a former Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Mr Akwasi Opong-Fosu, has said.

He observed that 33 years into the implementation of the current decentralisation programme, the system had failed to click because of the desire of the government to control resources from the centre.

In an interview with the Daily Graphic in Accra last Friday on decentralisation and national development, Mr Opong-Fosu, who was a pioneer district secretary (now district chief executive) in Rawlings’s PNDC regime which birthed the decentralisation policy in 1988, said “there is the need  for a rethink of the decentralisation programme, so that the local government system will bring meaningful change to the country”.

“We have made positives with the policy,  especially with the constitutional and legal framework which seeks to define the relationship among the assemblies, the regional coordinating councils (RCCs) and the central government.

“All this is intended to make local government the appropriate authority to deliver effective  development in the communities,” he said.

Mr Opong-Fosu, who also served as a Minister of Environment, Science and Technology, said in totality, the results had not been impressive.

“We've centralised power and the distribution of resources, and that is why anything that happens in the MMDAs is mostly an imposition. It puts the whole arrangement we've made into reverse gear,” he posited.

Mr Opong-Fosu, a former Member of Parliament for Amenfi East, served as Local Government Minister in the erstwhile John Mahama NDC administration.

Going into some specifics, the former MP said it was a source of concern that serious attention had not been paid to the appointment of metropolitan, municipal and district chief executives (MMDCEs).

 He said as lead persons in the activities of the assemblies, MMDCEs’ roles should not be downplayed in the scheme of things.

 “If we are committed to decentralisation, the first appointments to make by a new government should be those of MMDCEs, but because central government is still holding on to the functions of the assemblies, there is the thinking that the country's development agenda can go on without the assemblies,” he said.

Laws

Mr Opong-Fosu said the laws and regulations were adequate to empower the local governments to deliver; what was lacking was the political will to make the local government work.

He emphasised that if the central government was committed to various engagements, the desire to centralise power and control resources at the centre would be non-existent or minimised drastically.

“If the central government is committed to various engagements as set out by the spirt and letter behind the decentralisation programme, we will have departments of the assemblies and not departments of central government, and the administrative budget will become part of the assemblies’ composite budget,” he said.

He said the assemblies needed to be empowered to deliver services effectively and efficiently and also create jobs through the composite budget.

Africa connection

Mr Opong-Fosu recalled the early stages of the implementation of the decentralisation and local government programme when a number of African countries sent representations to Ghana to understudy the initiative that was put in place.