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Letter from the President: Needless new districts

Mon, 19 Nov 2007 Source: Daily Dispatch

Countrymen and women, loyalists and opponents I am distressed by a few things I read in the newspapers recently: school heads and teachers organising big anniversary celebrations for their institutions travelled all the way to the national capital to launch the commemorations.

Both of them addressed press conferences which last just about an hour, announcing to the nation the successes of their schools and urging past students as well as parents and guardians of current ones to actively participate in the impending celebrations. When they were asked why they couldn’t do this simple thing from their schools, one of them remarked: “everything is in Accra, you know. If you think you can sit in your small corner somewhere and do these things successfully, you will be deceiving yourself.”

In other words there is very little one can do outside of Accra to achieve success for whatever project one is involved in. So this headteacher and his staff took the risk of travelling on our bad roads all the way to Accra just to make a simple announcement – something he could (and should have) done from his school compound. And for what reason? Well, he felt – like most of you do –that the best way to get the nation’s attention is to be in the capital.

Let me give you another example. Some chiefs from the Anlo/Keta area who wanted to tell their side of the recent chieftaincy story also took the risk of travelling all the way to Accra just to have their voices heard. They accused me and my government of being part of the problem in the area and not part of the solution. And they got the publicity they wanted. Good for them. But I wonder if they would have made as much impact if they had addressed a press conference in Anloga.

The two examples I have cited above are a clear indication that there is something fundamentally wrong with our so-called decentralisation programme. They illustrate the painful fact that many of our citizens cannot access government and (in the cases I’ve cited above) private services without having to come to Accra. You want to register a company? Come to Accra. You want to find out why your father’s pension has not been forthcoming for the past three months? Come to Accra. You want to sue your business partner? Come to Accra.

You need a passport? Come to Accra. You want to stage a massive demonstration against those responsible for garbage collection in your little hamlet? Come to Accra. You want the pain in your neck to be diagnosed properly? Come to Accra. You need a prepaid electricity metre for your house? Come to Accra. You want to meet your MP? Come to Accra!

The list could go on and on. What happened to decentralisation? Nothing! It just hasn’t happened yet. We talk about it. We pretend we are doing our best to make it work. But how can you make something which doesn’t exist work? We have district assemblies alright. Most of them think their job as merely to collect tolls and garbage. It’s not their fault. Central government itself is not so keen on making sure that governance is as decentralised as possible. How else will we get our kickbacks?

But decentralisation is something that our people yearn for. Most of them know that when they can get access to government services without having to travel to Accra, they will do well for themselves. But often, they do not know how to ask and so they end up asking for the creation of more districts. Often the chorus is like this: “our village has grown too big, it’s no longer a village… make it a district.”

A clear case in point is the recent clamour by so-called opinion leaders in Adenta and Ashaiman for a new district to be carved out for them. They made so much noise about it that out of frustration, I consented to a proposal for the creation of a new Adenta-Ashaiman district. Since the people of Ashaiman and Adenta weren’t the only ones clamouring for a district of their own, we also created 26 other new districts – bringing the total number of districts in Sikaman to 165.

Trust me, both the old and new districts are going to be doing the same things: collecting garbage and tolls. Is that what you want, people? I don’t think our people need new bureaucracies in the form of new district assemblies. What they need is for governance to be decentralised. The problem is that their so-called opinion leaders are so dim they cannot even properly articulate the aspirations of their people. So they clamour for “new districts”.

The case of Ashaiman and Adenta is particularly interesting. According to the Minister for Local Government, the new Ashaiman-Adenta district had to be carved out of Tema because Tema has grown too big as a metropolis. Really? Is Tema bigger than Accra? I don’t think so. So if Tema has grown so big that we need to carve a new district out of it, I suppose it would be logical to say that we need to carve about four more districts out of Accra. But wait a minute. Carving a new district out of Accra will be so politically unpopular – those who run the Accra Metropolitan Assembly enjoy huge revenues and they will resist any attempt to share with a ‘younger’ district.

So, countrymen and women, my point is a simple one. I hope to God that this is the last time I’m (or any future president for that matter is) going to be asked to create a new district. 165 districts are more than enough for a population of just about 20 million. What we need is for the districts to work to ensure proper decentralisation. Government has to heed the admonition from the Okyehene about what he describes as the “centrality of governance”.

Instead of wasting time to create new districts (with extra time spent on resolving disputes over where the new district capitals should be situated) government has to work to ensure that people in even the most far off places in the country can get access to whatever government services they require without having to travel to Accra. That’s decentralisation. And it’s certainly not achieved by merely creating more districts.

Countrymen and women, loyalists and opponents I am distressed by a few things I read in the newspapers recently: school heads and teachers organising big anniversary celebrations for their institutions travelled all the way to the national capital to launch the commemorations.

Both of them addressed press conferences which last just about an hour, announcing to the nation the successes of their schools and urging past students as well as parents and guardians of current ones to actively participate in the impending celebrations. When they were asked why they couldn’t do this simple thing from their schools, one of them remarked: “everything is in Accra, you know. If you think you can sit in your small corner somewhere and do these things successfully, you will be deceiving yourself.”

In other words there is very little one can do outside of Accra to achieve success for whatever project one is involved in. So this headteacher and his staff took the risk of travelling on our bad roads all the way to Accra just to make a simple announcement – something he could (and should have) done from his school compound. And for what reason? Well, he felt – like most of you do –that the best way to get the nation’s attention is to be in the capital.

Let me give you another example. Some chiefs from the Anlo/Keta area who wanted to tell their side of the recent chieftaincy story also took the risk of travelling all the way to Accra just to have their voices heard. They accused me and my government of being part of the problem in the area and not part of the solution. And they got the publicity they wanted. Good for them. But I wonder if they would have made as much impact if they had addressed a press conference in Anloga.

The two examples I have cited above are a clear indication that there is something fundamentally wrong with our so-called decentralisation programme. They illustrate the painful fact that many of our citizens cannot access government and (in the cases I’ve cited above) private services without having to come to Accra. You want to register a company? Come to Accra. You want to find out why your father’s pension has not been forthcoming for the past three months? Come to Accra. You want to sue your business partner? Come to Accra.

You need a passport? Come to Accra. You want to stage a massive demonstration against those responsible for garbage collection in your little hamlet? Come to Accra. You want the pain in your neck to be diagnosed properly? Come to Accra. You need a prepaid electricity metre for your house? Come to Accra. You want to meet your MP? Come to Accra!

The list could go on and on. What happened to decentralisation? Nothing! It just hasn’t happened yet. We talk about it. We pretend we are doing our best to make it work. But how can you make something which doesn’t exist work? We have district assemblies alright. Most of them think their job as merely to collect tolls and garbage. It’s not their fault. Central government itself is not so keen on making sure that governance is as decentralised as possible. How else will we get our kickbacks?

But decentralisation is something that our people yearn for. Most of them know that when they can get access to government services without having to travel to Accra, they will do well for themselves. But often, they do not know how to ask and so they end up asking for the creation of more districts. Often the chorus is like this: “our village has grown too big, it’s no longer a village… make it a district.”

A clear case in point is the recent clamour by so-called opinion leaders in Adenta and Ashaiman for a new district to be carved out for them. They made so much noise about it that out of frustration, I consented to a proposal for the creation of a new Adenta-Ashaiman district. Since the people of Ashaiman and Adenta weren’t the only ones clamouring for a district of their own, we also created 26 other new districts – bringing the total number of districts in Sikaman to 165.

Trust me, both the old and new districts are going to be doing the same things: collecting garbage and tolls. Is that what you want, people? I don’t think our people need new bureaucracies in the form of new district assemblies. What they need is for governance to be decentralised. The problem is that their so-called opinion leaders are so dim they cannot even properly articulate the aspirations of their people. So they clamour for “new districts”.

The case of Ashaiman and Adenta is particularly interesting. According to the Minister for Local Government, the new Ashaiman-Adenta district had to be carved out of Tema because Tema has grown too big as a metropolis. Really? Is Tema bigger than Accra? I don’t think so. So if Tema has grown so big that we need to carve a new district out of it, I suppose it would be logical to say that we need to carve about four more districts out of Accra. But wait a minute. Carving a new district out of Accra will be so politically unpopular – those who run the Accra Metropolitan Assembly enjoy huge revenues and they will resist any attempt to share with a ‘younger’ district.

So, countrymen and women, my point is a simple one. I hope to God that this is the last time I’m (or any future president for that matter is) going to be asked to create a new district. 165 districts are more than enough for a population of just about 20 million. What we need is for the districts to work to ensure proper decentralisation. Government has to heed the admonition from the Okyehene about what he describes as the “centrality of governance”.

Instead of wasting time to create new districts (with extra time spent on resolving disputes over where the new district capitals should be situated) government has to work to ensure that people in even the most far off places in the country can get access to whatever government services they require without having to travel to Accra. That’s decentralisation. And it’s certainly not achieved by merely creating more districts.

Excellently yours,
J. A. Fukuor
(fukuor@gmail.com)

Columnist: Daily Dispatch