Assembly Members must be paid monthly salaries; before elections of MMDCEs begin

Dce Voter File photo

Mon, 6 Nov 2017 Source: Nathaniel Papa Akyeampong

In recent time, the public elections of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCE’s) has earned priceless space in our media landscape; but conspicuously missing in the conversation, is the welfare of Assembly members who constitute the fulcrum of a District Assembly, considering the powers granted and responsibilities bestowed on them by the constitution, and legislative framework governing local governance and decentralization in Ghana.

I gather deserving natural energy to author this script as an Assembly member, with a genuine intent to throw light on the relevance of Assembly members in the decentralization process. And perhaps, to cure the lingering perception, that, the expansion of the electoral college to accommodate the general public in the elections of MMDCE’s through amendment of the national constitution; is the immediate panacea and revolutionary measure to transform the activities at all two hundred and sixteen Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDA’s) in Ghana to enhance accountability, transparency and good governance at the local level.

To be honest as a mirror, it is unpatriotic to do partisanship about the neglect of the welfare of Assembly members, since nothing substantial has been done by present and successive governments, although we are yet to receive our motor bikes, which was a positive initiative introduced by the erstwhile administration to facilitate the operations and functionality of Assembly members.

I wish to address this subject as a state and national oversight, other than a particular government’s neglect. Indeed, the flippant disregard about our welfare, and unexplained discrimination by the state is extremely worrying, especially when 'equitable distribution of the nation's resources', which is a canon of good governance has lately rung loud melodious bells in our ears.

Referencing article 241(3) of the constitution of Ghana, and section 12(2) of the local governance act 936 of 2016, which enjoins district Assemblies with deliberative, legislative and executive powers and functions, I respectfully but rhetorically wish to ask state actors how a district Assembly can effectively exercise and execute the aforementioned powers and functions without the Assembly members within their respective jurisdictions?

If one conducts a thorough study and evaluative analysis on the job description of key actors of decentralization, one will concur with me that, nothing substantial can take effect at a district Assembly without its members, since the fundamental concept of the local governance process, is the transfer of political, administrative and financial power from central government to local citizens, with Assembly and unit committee members representing and serving the interest of the local citizens at the Assembly.

To fortify and advance my argument, let me travel you through few of the many critical routine duty of a district Assembly which can never ever be carried on without our office. Cherished reader, you see, every district Assembly is a creature of law, and an Assembly is as relevant as its bye-laws and resolutions, including the annual fee fixing resolution; which is a gazette document that authorizes an Assembly to charge fees, rate, licenses, fines etcetera in an ensuing fiscal year.

The latter charges, which cumulatively constitutes the integral component of the internally generated fund (IGF), is crucial for the financial survival and growth of an Assembly, more so when all “successive governments” consistently implore district Assemblies to adopt creative and innovative means to improve their IGF collection, since the District Assembly Common Fund (DACF) is an unreliable source of financing the activities of district Assemblies due to the untimely delays in its disbursements.

The irony is that, the legal, procedural and functional structure of every District Assembly requires it, to exclusively rely on Assembly members to approve its budget and fee fixing resolution, as well as all other laws/resolutions at a given general Assembly meeting presided over by the presiding member, before the above important financial mobilization exercise or enforcements of its laws can fruition or materialize.

Secondly, all district Assemblies are fragmented into sub-committees, which is the basic internal process available to an Assembly, to be adopted in formulating policies and strategies to effectively address pressing challenges that confront it. Here again, these sub-committees are all chaired or convened by Assembly members, which even a meeting of any of the sub-committees can only start with a quorum of half of its members(Assembly members of that committee), per standing order 45(3) of MMDA’s.

In actual fact, the only statutory committee chaired by an MMDCE, i.e. the Executive committee, which its meetings conventionally precede a general Assembly meeting, is also fully reliant on meeting reports of all sub- committees, which as I have already indicated above, are all chaired by Assembly members. I trust you can now attest to the glaring required competence and interdependency, or working relationship which exists between a District chief executive and the Assembly members within the same district.

Further, if not lastly, in the process of designing and framing national long term developmental planning policies and programs, a planning unit under the authority of a respective District Assembly and the National development planning commission, is mandated to engage Assembly members and their unit committees, to solicit their views on what specifically needs to be done as far as developments is concerned within their boundaries of operations and the district at large. It is the integration of the solicited views of Assembly and unit committee members across the ten regions of the country, that comes together to form the medium term development plan(2018-2021) out of the National long term development policy framework(NLTPF) by the National development planning commission.

The basic import of trumpeting few of the many critical duties of Assembly members above; is to establish and demonstrate how immaterial the mode of elections of an MMDCE is to an Assembly, since a district Assembly is not solely governed by its Chief executive, but the presence and competence of Assembly members “equally” matter in the affairs of an MMDA. Concentrating on the procedure or method for electing MMDCE’s alone, without recourse to the welfare and performance of Assembly members at the local level, is akin to concentrating on the mode of elections of a President/Head of state, but discarding or despising the effectiveness of Parliament and cabinet at the Central government level, since Assembly members are the local parliamentarians and cabinet ministers.

From a religious perspective, the Apostle Paul wrote at 1 Timothy 5:18, whilst Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W) also emphasized at Quran 94:6, where both scriptures lay credence to payment of wages to anyone who labour. These Christian and Islamic quotations of the bible and Quran, explicitly demonstrate God or Allah’s position on how an employer should treat its employees.

From corporate, institutional or entrepreneurial perspective; labour is a critical paid factor of production. It’s not for nothing that, in contemporary times, corporate organizations formulate and implement strategic reward and compensation policies to attract and retain competent personnel to manage its affairs. Same benefits await the state, in its quest to improve the local governance concept, if it begins to add value to Assembly members by paying monthly salaries to them, which will invariably make the Assembly member position more appealing and attractive to professionals, academicians and the well-to-do in society, hence, rendering future District Assembly elections more competitive and robust.

Just as past and present Heads of State and their Vices, Speakers and Members of Parliament, MMDCE’s and all elected and appointed political officers of the nation do not work for free in spite of their love for the nation’s developments, but are well remunerated with attractive end of service benefits for their services to the state, Assembly members equally deserves same befitting benefits and courtesies.

At this juncture, since the present government has the political power to effect any meaningful change in the governance process of the country as far as the issue under discussion is concerned, may I respectfully draw government attention to *Chapter 13 page 142 of its 2016 manifesto*, which explicitly states under political decentralization, that, *"The party, i.e the NPP, will improve allowances paid to Assembly members”* when elected to office.

Thanks to the present government led by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo for creating a space for Assembly members in its manifesto, but unfortunately, I say without mincing words that, Assembly members are paid only sitting allowances after meetings, which even varies across the country depending on an Assembly’s financial capacity. It is therefore not a novelty, if the intention of the above manifesto promise is related to an increment in sitting allowances, but not monthly stipend such as salaries, to dignify the office of Assembly members, since every district Assembly already exercises a discretion to “self-increase” its sitting allowances on annual bases, depending on its financial strength or capacity to pay.

As I journey to draw curtain, I wish to reiterate my earlier elaborated view, that, in as much as I share same sentiments about the public elections of MMDCE’s by proponent of same, payments of monthly salaries to Assembly members in my humble opinion, is a superior urgent initiative which supersedes the elections of district chief executives, if the state or nation genuinely want to improve good governance at the various Assemblies. This is not a big ask, but a legitimate and meritorious demand.

To my colleague Honorable Assembly members across the two hundred and sixteen MMDA’s in the ten regions of the country, I ask for absolute unity from you in spite of our political differences; to fight for this worthy course, just as what pertains at parliament when MP’s are demanding for better condition of service from the state.

To the Ministry of local Government and rural development, NALAG, Institute of local government studies, Political parties, Civil society organizations etcetera, I ask for your additional supportive voices and input.

To the State or nation through the present government and Parliament, I humbly ask for equity and policy review on decentralization to address the welfare of Assembly members and their unit committee members, since the latter have been neglected by the state for far too long.

Thank you and May God bless Ghana’s democracy!

Columnist: Nathaniel Papa Akyeampong