Election of DCEs, $1m fund and development nodes can compensate for new regions
Election of DCEs, $1m fund and development nodes can compensate for new regions
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In developing countries, decentralisation has become a buzzword, working in tandem with the ideals and principles of democracy to bridge the development gap between urban centres and rural areas. Decentralisation and specifically municipalisation have received near-universal acclamation due to the yawning gap in the supply of and availability of economic and livelihood opportunities between rural and urban centres. A comprehensive programme of decentralisation began in Ghana in 1988 with the promulgation of PNDC LAW 207-leading to the creation of 110 Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs).
Subsequent governments have since reviewed the boundaries of the MMDAs over time, bringing the current total number to 216. The overarching aim has been to bring government and development to the people as possible. However, decentralisation in Ghana has not delivered the full benefits to the countryside in the past 28 years for reasons of capacity and resource constraints.
The new government led by Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo has proposed a number of bold interventions to boost the effectiveness of MMDAs and to bring development to the most difficult to reach areas of the country. Flagship among these interventions are the push for direct election of MMDCEs, the allocation of $1 million development fund for the MMDAs per annum, one district one factory-a massive pro-industrialisation drive intended to be anchored on local resource endowment and comparative advantage, and the creation of about four additional administrative regions to add up to the existing ten.
Election of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs)
The move to directly elect MMDCEs is a welcoming one, and indeed long overdue. It is a significant milestone towards political decentralisation. It will make the assemblies that serve as the highest political authority in the districts more autonomous and empower them to take decisions independent of the central government but that respond to the immediate needs of local residents.
The move will also make the MMDCEs more responsible and accountable to their constituents. If this takes effect in 2018 as the new government has proposed, it will represent a landmark achievement in deepening local governance and give meaning to chapter 20 of the 1992 constitution. Again, it is likely to make the assemblies more competitive and meaningful to the grassroots where socioeconomic resources have been undersupplied by central government in the past years.
One Million Dollar Fund
One of the key challenges that have held back the MMDAs since 1998 from effectively carrying out their mandates in the regions is a lack of adequate financial and/or economic resources. The MMDAs depend largely on the District Assemblies Common Fund (DACF) for funding most of their supposed development projects. However, the DACF itself is faced with challenges. The 7.5% government revenue allocation to the DACF annually is woefully inadequate to cater for the financial needs of the assemblies, hence rendering them ineffective.
Again, government has over the years not been consistent with timely disbursement and this put the MMDAs is further financial distress position. It is, therefore, imperative that the move to elect MMDCEs must be accompanied with an extra financial cushion to give the MMDAs the required competitive edge. Against this backdrop, the intention to cede $1 million to the MMDAs every year is a bold step in the right direction and very laudable. However, care must be taken to apply the funds judiciously to lure intended full benefits to the local people and their communities.
On this note, the fund must target specific development needs of the districts on yearly basis, and managers must account for the usage and output of the money at the end of each year before the next money is released. It must have a built-in monitoring and accountability mechanisms in order not to repeat the failings of similar interventions in the past.
One District One Factory
Another intervention that could add impetus to the local economies and for that matter the responsiveness of the MMDAs is the proposal to create a factory in each district. This is likely to open up the local economy to investments and job opportunities. Again, the one-district-one factory policy has implications not only for the individual districts but also for the national economy as a whole, with the ultimate goal of improving livelihoods. Therefore, such a policy must be carefully diagnosed before it is implemented in order to realise the benefits therein.
This is not the first attempt Ghana will be making to embark on a mass industrialisation agenda. Kwame Nkrumah got on with a similar but a more ambitious mission after Ghana's independence, but most of the factories started facing problems few years after commissioning operations and eventually collapsed.
The short-lived mission of Nkrumah’s industrialisation agenda is attributed to reasons including economic viability and future sustainability. To this end, the government's vision to create factories in each district must precede with in-depth feasibility studies coupled with viability and sustainability analyses in order to create only lasting factories.
On this basis, it might not be economically prudent to create one factory in each district, rather two or more districts can have one active factory with subsidiaries or divisions in the adjourning districts. This will boost productivity particularly agriculture in rural areas, improve incomes and profit margins of local people and reduce poverty. Again, the idea of rolling-back the state, and encouraging foreign direct investment (FDI) and promoting public-private partnerships (PPP) is a necessary condition for success.
Create New Regions?
The above interventions aside, the government is also planning to create additional administrative regions with the argument that some of the regions like Western, Northern and Brong Ahafo are too big to reach all their corners with development. However, history has more than proven that new regions only transfer resources and duplicates central government bureaucracies in one central point-regional capital.
The benefits rarely trickle down to the hinterlands. This is because the regions and for that matter Regional Coordinating Councils play only coordinating and oversight roles in the existing local government architecture. The MMDAs do the real work of local development but not the regions. Government, therefore, must dip deep into fixing the weaknesses of our local government (decentralisation) system rather than committing resources to creating new regions.
Corridor development approach may be a lean alternative to new regions
Instead of committing scarce resources to creating new regions, which in themselves hold no direct benefit on the wellbeing of people, Ghana should consider designing a comprehensive and systematic framework for spatial development that shares resources equally across geographic space in the existing regions. This can well be situated in a corridor development approach or the creation of growth nodes in the regions outside the regional and district capital with special functions.
Corridor development refers to targeting specific geographical enclaves within the regions and channelling economic and physical infrastructure to those areas, to serve as economic and social development centres for the districts, regions and the nation as a whole. Even if the government proceed with creating new regions, the idea of targeted resource allocation must accompany the political demarcation. This will ensure that the creation of administrative regions create a value beyond the duplication of central government bureaucratic agencies in one central point or town with little to no direct socioeconomic benefit trickling to the hinterlands.
Though creating more administrative regions is not a bad idea, it is not a solution to guaranteeing equitable development. We can create more regions, but if the fundamentals of our local government system are not set right; if we do not empower the MMDAs to deliver their mandates effectively, the status quo shall stay the same. Thus, after decades, we will still come back wanting to create more regions. A well functioning MMDAs and targeted distribution, and redistribution of social and economic resources in the districts hold the key to equitable development, not the creation of new regions per se.