Introduce incentives to whip up interest in local govt elections — Prof. Awortwi
Until the country introduces incentives for Assembly members, local government elections will not attact the needed attention and participation of the people,the Director of the Institute of Local Government Studies, Professor Nicholas Awortwi,has said.
He explained that as compared to the national level where Members of Parliament (MPs) got incentives such as car loans, salaries and were given development money otherwise known as Common Fund to execute projects at the local level, assembly members did not get any form of support.
He said the lack of incentives was among the reasons for the low interest in local level elections, explaining that in many places people did not vote and also contest the elections unopposed because there was not much to gain from it.
Prof. Awortwi, who was speaking in an interview with the Daily Graphic on the low participation in local government elections, said naturally, one would expect that democracy should work from below to the top but this theory was beaten by an investment theory or structure where there were more incentives at the national level structure, adding that as long as the country invested in the national level elections and people invested in that, there would always be the possibility of people to contest at the national level as against the local level.
“Assembly members finish their terms of office and get nothing.
They don’t have End of Service Benefit (ESB) yet the demand is high.
Everybody wants to blame the assembly member for not doing something.
The MP is paid fully, assembly member is not paid fully.
MPs get ESB and many benefits.
Assembly members don’t get.”
“The only time assembly members get allowance is when they go to meetings and it’s three times a year.
The allowance is even dependent on the strength of the assembly.
If the assembly is poor, you don’t get anything, you are only paid transport.
So, assembly members work is voluntary and if it is voluntary, you wouldn’t get many people to dedicate time to it,” he pointed out.
He said globally, although it was a fact that many people were not enthusiastic about local government elections compared to the national level one, Ghana’s difference of 30 per cent between local government elections and that of national level elections was considered huge and for that matter one of the highest in the world.
Citing reasons for low participation in local government elections in Ghana, Prof. Awortwi said one of them had to do with the fact that it was organised on non-political party basis, explaining that at national level elections which were conducted on partisan lines, people used the party structures, as such there was a lot of enthusiasm which was not the same with local level one that was non-partisan.
He said there was also not much publicity about it, adding that for many assembly members, apart from their posters, there was anything like campaigns to sell their vision to the electorate.
While saying that the low participation did not augur well for the country’s thriving democracy and therefore dangerous, he explained that democracy was built from below not up.
“You can only build from below when the people understand the local level politics and grow with it.
The local government elections are supposed to be the platform on which national level elections thrive or grow but if you have a situation where nobody is interested in local politics and local government elections, they are not ready to learn,” he said.
On ways to deal with the low participation, he called on the Electoral Commission and the National Commission for Civic Education to create a platform for those contesting local government elections to sell their vision to the electorate.
On whether we should scrap the local government elections, he said that would kill the country’s democracy, pointing out that the country must invest enough in local government.