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The President shouldn’t frustrate local governance!!

Tue, 10 Jul 2012 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Monday, July 9, 2012

The announcement that the government is optimistic about the benefits of having Chief Executive Officers of Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies elected is remarkable. But other aspects of that announcement reduce that optimism to absurdity. By and large, the new approach will frustrate local governance, which is why I regard the announcement as irritating.

That announcement has many aspects but I will discuss only one, which confirms to me that those we have put in charge of our national affairs are a major part of the problems militating against our development efforts. Instead of solving problems, they either compound them or create new ones to torment us when they leave office.

A Deputy Minister of Local Government, Elvis Afriyie-Ankrah, is reported at saying at Anfoega that the election of the CEOs would replace the current method by which they are appointed by the President.

Taken on its face value, the intention toward electing the CEOs may be applauded; but the rationale, motive, and implications are obnoxious. That is why the government’s announcement must not be celebrated. It is not worth anybody’s bother at this point because of its obvious evil political nature.

Under the proposed method, according to the Deputy Minister, “the president would nominate five people to be interviewed by the Public Services Commission. Out of the five, he said, three candidates would be shortlisted for election by registered voters in the districts” (Ghanaweb, July 9, 2012).

Nothing is ever more nauseating than this proposition. The government is acting with impunity and insulting the intelligence of the citizens. What is it that should deny the citizens the opportunity to choose their own CEOs right from scratch without any interference from the President? And who says that the President best knows who will serve the needs of the citizens to prescribe nominees?

In this sense, then, any perceived benefits of the method—as the Deputy Minister glibly stated—won’t be appreciated. Who cares whether the tenure of the CEOs is secured? Or whether the method will lessen the weight of lobbying at the Presidency for such positions?

Invariably, the new method entails the very ills that it might seek to eradicate. On the whole, therefore, it is only designed to strengthen the appointing arm of the President at a higher level, refined as a constitutional provision, and to thicken the bureaucracy. It is loaded with treachery and subterfuge.

Where did that recommendation come from, in the first place? The Constitution Review Commission or the government itself? If it’s from the CRC, it’s worth considering as the dumbest recommendation ever made because it defeats the exact purpose of local governance.

Even if the Local Government Law, Act 462, doesn’t have any room for the election of the CEOs for the Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies—which might deceive us into seeing this recommendation as an innovation—we needn’t go any further from the immediate negative implications of the recommendation to see it as a major flaw in local governance efforts.

What business does the President have to do with the desire of the citizens at the local level to choose their own administrators who are expected to be conversant with the development needs at that third tier of the local government system?

If local government means placing local governance in the hands of the people, what business should the President have in determining who should be the CEO at the local level? Don’t the local people know who among them can steer affairs properly to solve their problems of underdevelopment?

By arrogating to the President this power to nominate five potential CEOs, this recommendation really waters down the force of local government. Why is it necessary for the President to nominate anybody at all? And why five? Or why pare the number down to three? How will the President even know who the eligible local citizens are to nominate them, in the first place? Certainly, some partisan political interests will poison the process. Doesn’t the President already have his plate too full already to be bothered with this additional assignment?

There are too many questions. Can’t the Electoral Commission be made the overseer of this process and mechanisms put in place for interested candidates to file their nomination and be vetted as such before contesting the elections?

What we need for this purpose are structures to facilitate the process, not the involvement of a President whose political bias will definitely poison the entire process and impose needless bureaucratic bottlenecks on it. In sum, we don’t need the President’s fiat to determine who qualifies at the local government level. If the political will is available, it should be used to enhance this process, not forestall any genuine effort to streamline local governance.

The fact is that those in authority are wary of their powers being whittled away by a truly elective process that won’t defer to their parochial interests. The Ghanaian politician in authority is reluctant to cede power and will use subterfuge to hang on to compound problems. That’s exactly what this recommendation portends. But we shouldn’t sit down unconcerned for anything of this sort to derail the process toward demystifying governance and empowering the people at the local level to take their destiny into their own hands.

The days when everybody had to look up to the President for pittance should be over. The real producers of the national wealth are at the local level and they must be given what they need to call the shorts as far as determining how to ensure local level development is concerned. After all, that’s the rationale behind the decentralization programme. That is why I am concerned that civil society organizations and public figures haven’t yet reacted vigorously to the government’s piecemeal approach to this issue.

One expects that they will wade in to ensure that the government doesn’t make itself the final judge in determining which aspects of the CRC’s provisions to accept or reject and place before the citizens at a referendum. Indeed, if the amendment of obnoxious aspects of the Constitution should be done smoothly to serve useful purposes, the government shouldn’t be the sole authority to make decisions as is being done per its White Paper. Choosing and picking which recommendation of the CRC to accept or reject isn’t the government’s purview.

It is wrong for the government to arrogate to itself any power to do so. Having spent so much on the collection and collation of suggestions, the government should have been sensitive enough to the will of the people and placed the CRC’s report before Parliament for debate and decisions on what should be included in the final body of recommendations for the citizens to vote on. We have already seen the weaknesses in this Constitution and agreed that steps be taken toward an amendment.

Those entrenched aspects of the Constitution that can be amended only through a referendum should particularly have been left for open debate in Parliament and the public domain before any final decision is made. Parliament is constituted by the elected representatives of the people; it has the mandate to debate issues and enact laws as such to control behaviour in the country. The government is made up of all kinds of people whose interests don’t necessarily correspond to those of the citizens. We know who they are and how they function for parochial partisan political purposes and will be worried that they have now usurped Parliament’s role in this matter.

As the situation is now, the government has hijacked that role and is acting arbitrarily to its own advantage while compounding the problem. That’s not how to strengthen our democracy.

If the local government system is to function properly, it must be supported with good political thinking and logistics. There is nothing wrong if procurement of logistics, infrastructural development, enactment and enforcement of bye-laws, and many other acts of governance are left to the local government machinery to initiate. But those in affairs at the central government won’t yield grounds because doing so will deprive them of the opportunity to grab kickbacks from contracts and procurement of logistics for the Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies.

Contrary to what happens elsewhere, this new method of electing local administrators will be fraught with problems. The electoral process must help candidates contest elections and be voted on by the electorate without recourse to any interference from the President. The Electoral Commission has regional and district offices all over the country and must be retooled for that purpose. The government’s role is to provide logistics and the congenial atmosphere for the elections, not to impose its will on the people.

Taking this election of local administrators a step further, it should be possible for Regional Ministers and their Deputies too to be elected. The current arrangement by which the President appoints a third of members of the Assemblies must also be abolished. If the President wants to secure his tenure and win a re-election bid, it must not depend on mere political patronage but remarkable accomplishments.

Those wary that political rivalry will compound problems if the election of local government officials is left unrestrained have no case. If the central government does its work properly, it shouldn’t be scared that its political rivals will be elected at the second and third tiers to frustrate or subvert its administration.

This suggestion concerning the election of CEOs was first mooted by the NPP but was ridiculed by some sections of the society because it was initially considered as a pipe dream. Now that the NDC administration has seen sense in it and is optimistic of its benefits, it should do what will make it feasible. Anything short of that will worsen the problem. Can anybody in authority ever wear his thinking cap at the proper angle to separate the trees from the forest?

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.