In recent years, there has been an outpouring of calls from chiefs and opinion leaders across Ghana for additional regions to be created. The incessant demand has forced the government to set up a commission of inquiry to examine the pros and cons of creating additional regions.
Currently, Ghana is divided into ten regions, 275 electoral constituencies and 216 districts. The 1992 constitution stipulates that any decision to create additional regions in Ghana must ultimately be decided by the people through a referendum.
I must start by stating my position on this issue. Although I respect the arguments in favour of the creation of additional regions, I am not a supporter of such position. I believe creating additional regions will not in any way promote development. If it would, we will have no excuse to be underdeveloped especially since we have created new districts and constituencies almost every four years since 1992. Instead, I argue that regional ministerial positions be converted into electable Governorship positions.
Let us revisit the debate.
Some chiefs and opinion leaders have advocated for separate regions because of what they describe as historical neglect of portions of existing regions when it came to economic and social development. During a public consultation hearing on the creation of the new regions, a local chief from the Western Region is reported by citifmonline.com as saying “Throughout the four years stay of a government in power, the Western Regional Minister could only be seen here twice. He is far away in Sekondi, so it makes it very difficult for chiefs to see him regularly to discuss issues of mutual importance. But if the Western North Region is created, this can stop”. Other chiefs have highlighted similar sentiments. In the same report, another chief was reported as saying, “Anyone who opposes the split, I doubt is a living being”.
As ridiculous and interesting as these arguments could be, they are at the heart of the challenges we face as a country. I am just 26 years. I was just a year old when Ghana transitioned to multi-party democracy in 1992. But in my young adult life, we have barely solved any of our developmental challenges in a holistic manner. We always look for the easy way out, create some sort of ineffective commissions, dance around the problem and a few years later, we are haunted by similar problems – then we start the same process again, set up a new commission to review the previous commission. Our issues with electricity generation, transportation, access to water, access to healthcare were present before I was born, and are still here with us today. I guess I will have to return to this later.
I was born in Atortorkope, a village in the Ada East District of the Greater Accra region. For the most part of my life, I can barely recollect anything the government has done for my village or the people residing in it. Indeed, some people in my village are fast becoming disillusioned. Some have even refused to vote in the last general elections- Considering it is the ‘world bank’ of the NDC, I am sure its part of the reason they lost the last election. Now if we are to go by the logic put forward by those in favour of creating new regions, then my village should as well become a new region because that is the only way we can have our fair share of the “national cake”. And if this logic should be generally applied, then almost every underdeveloped area in Ghana could be a region in the next few years.
Here is why I think creating a region is such a bad idea.
Many have already cited the cost involved in running a new region. The new regions have not been created, but we already have a ministry in charge of that. The Ministry of Regional Re-organization and Development has a minister, who runs on the national budget. Granted that a new region is created, we will need to build new regional offices, hire new people, procure new vehicles (most likely at an inflated cost), and don’t forget we will need a new Regional Minister and Deputies. All of these come at a cost. Even before a new region is created, it must first pass through a referendum, which comes at a huge cost to the state. Is it not possible that the resources and efforts that would be put into this venture be channelled into developing the under-developed areas that have necessitated the creation of new regions in the first place?
Putting the cost argument aside, I am yet to be convinced on how creating new regions will translate into development. Will the mere existence of new regions translate into an automatic elimination of schools under trees? Will it result in tarred roads? Will it result in the provision of beds in school dormitories? Will it solve corruption? certainly not! At best, it is likely to result in duplication of the current state of inefficiency and ineptitude that has engulfed the existing regions. If we bow to the demand to create new regions today, can we resist if people from my village rise tomorrow to demand a new region?
What should we do then?
Perhaps it is time we revisit the idea of decentralization and local empowerment. We cannot empower local people or “send governance” to local areas by merely creating new regions and appointing people to man them. We need to give real power to people at the local level.
Within the current constitutional arrangement, regional ministerial positions are nothing but a mechanism to reward party members. Moreover, regional ministers work at the mercy of the president and have no real power. Therefore, instead of creating new regions, we need to start by reforming our existing Regional and local governance structures.
For me, we must first start by converting the Regional Ministerial positions into an electable Governorship position. Based on this proposition, Regional Governors will be directly elected by people in each of the regions of Ghana. Each region shall be allocated a proportion of the national resources taking cognizance of its size and population as agreed by parliament. With this arrangement, Regional Governors will be directly responsible for developing their regions, thereby reducing the enormous powers concentrated with the central government. The autonomy and powers this system will give Governors could attract experienced and visionary (wo)men to contest Regional Governorship positions.
How do we ensure check and balances on Regional Governors? I hope each district will have the chance to elect their DCE’s very soon. Each MDCE will automatically become a member of a regional assembly which will act as a direct check on the regional governors. What this means is that, at each point, regional Governors may not be of the same political persuasion as the central government. It will, therefore, strengthen accountability both on central and regional governments.
I believe by doing this, we will not only be sending governance closer to people, but we will also be empowering people to take an active role in their development. Each Regional Governor will be forced to undertake development for fear of losing the next elections. I believe this will serve us far better than just creating a new region and maintaining the status quo.
If we are truly committed to developing our country, the question we need to ask is: how to do we reform our current system to deliver the progress we want? While creating new regions may seem simple and easy, we ought to understand that they will not translate into automatic development. Ultimately, these discussions must be guided by the future of our country in mind. If we bow to the pressure to create new regions, what will we say in ten years’ time if another group demands a separate region?
The constitution has given enormous powers to the president. Perhaps it is time we started reforming our governance and development structures by cutting powers from the central government and diffusing them to local levels. In my opinion, the starting point is a re-examination of the idea of regional ministers. It is my hope that this could trigger a more serious national debate beyond just creating new regions.