The Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Hajia Alima Mahama has responded to some 22 questions posed by the Chamber for Local Governance (ChLoG), on the December 17 referendum.
On 17th December 2019, Ghanaians will go to the polls to vote on a referendum that seeks from citizens whether or not a multi-partisan election system should be introduced at the local government level in Ghana.
So far Ghanaians are divided over the issue.
Since the processes for the referendum begun, a number of views have been expressed by well-meaning Ghanaians, institutions and civil society organisations.
One of the groups that had raised concerns is the Chamber for Local Governance (ChLoG).
ChLoG had among other things questioned why government was prioritizing the referendum over Article 243 (1) which when amended will enable Ghanaians to vote for their own Metropolitan Municipal and District Chief Executives.
The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) in a statement answered all the 22 questions asked by ChLoG.
FIND THE DETAILED RESPONSES TO ALL TWENTY-TWO (22) QUESTIONS BELOW
Why is the government not prioritizing the amendment of Article 243 (1) by Parliament first before pushing very hard for Article 55 (3) to be amended through a Referendum?
That is exactly what is happening. Amendment to Article 243(1) has been prioritized, the amendment bill was the first to be processed. It is presently in Parliament and has gone through all the required processes. It is at the last stage which requires a vote by Members of Parliament (MPs) to approve the Bill. If we work hard it may be approved before 17th December 2019.
Why is government rather waiting for a YES Vote in the Referendum before it can deal with the consequential amendments in the election ofMMDCEs? Is the upcoming Referendum about the election of MMDCEs?
The outcome of the referendum will clearly determine the direction the country should go and the required additional laws to be amended. At the moment what ‘if’ scenario analysis has been provided for in the roadmap for consequential amendments depending on whether or not the referendum returns a YES or NO vote. Without knowing the outcome of the referendum, identifying the exact consequential amendments to make to move the process forward will be difficult. The upcoming referendum is not about the election of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives(MMDCEs) but if it goes through, the first area of application shall be to elect MMDCEs in 2021 since the tenure of the current MMDCEs ends in that year.
Why is it that, the government did not set a specific date for Parliament to sit and amend Article 243(1) just as it did for the amendment of Article 55(3) through the Referendum?
The Government does not influence the sitting days of Parliament. They are masters of their own rules as an independent arm of government. The best Government can do, is to lobby and engage the leadership of Parliament to prioritize discussions on the amendment bill to Article 243(1) presently before it.
Will elected MMDCEs be allowed the free hand to employ and dismiss their own staff in the various MMDAs?
The functions of MMDCEs exclude the recruitment of staff. Currently, it is the responsibility of the Office of the Local Government Service to recruit staff for all District Assemblies. The law has made provision for the recruitment of staff function to be gradually transferred to the Assemblies after their HR departments have been fully set up and are functioning. So in the interim MMDCEs will not have the free hand to appoint their own staff. Just as the President at the national level has to work with civil servants appointed by the Office of the Head of the Civil Service (except for a few political appointees), the same arrangements exist at the local government level as well.
Which Party Manifesto would opposition MMDCEs be required to implement?
We have a national development plan based on which guidelines are normally issued to the Assemblies to develop their own development plans as a minimum requirement. Elected opposition MMDCEs can in addition to meeting the nationally required minimum standards, add some of the promises he made to the people when campaigning or add some of his party’s manifesto promises to it. In the end, citizens get the minimum national development without lagging behind all other Assemblies in Ghana and also get development based on the promises of the elected MMDCEs. Citizens are the winners in all cases.
Will elected MMDCEs be allowed the free hand to initiate their own development projects using the District Assembly Common Fund at the expense of Government flagship projects?
The Common Fund will be available to be spent on areas and activities earmarked in the national development planning framework. The Common fund is not used to fund flagship projects. The Assemblies are, however, given the opportunity to mobilize additional revenue in the form of Internally Generated Funds, they can also borrow for commercially viable projects. Furthermore, they can attract development funding from development partners. Additionally, they can benefit from the District Performance Assessment Tool (DPAT), if they qualify. The Assembly is at liberty to use these additional funds subject to stipulated guidelines to undertake other development projects according to their specific needs. From the above, it is quite obvious that there are other funding sources that can be used to redeem manifesto pledges of the elected opposition MMDCEs. All the MMDCE has to do, is to work hard to step up the mobilization of IGFs and other resources.
What is the winner takes all advantage for a Political Party if Assembly and Unit Committee Members are elected on their party ticket?
Opposition and smaller political parties can also have a stake in local governance if they win some seats and the MMDCE’s position. It will no more be the preserve of the ruling party to appoint 1/3 members of the Assembly and all the MMDCEs to the disadvantage of all other political parties after winning national elections. By this, the opposition party members at the local government level will put a better check on the ruling government.
Will Assembly and Unit Committee Members be paid now because they are going to be elected on partisan basis?
Assembly and Unit Committee Members are not full-time workers At the moment, they are part-timers and are to attend meetings four times a year. They are paid sitting allowances like all other board members anytime they attend meetings. If we elect them on partisan basis and we want to pay them salaries as we do for the MPs, then we have to make them full-timers. However all over the world, local government representatives are part-timers, they operate as a board and are paid sitting allowances anytime they attend meetings.
Will Assembly Members be allocated any Electoral Area Development Fund because they are now going to be elected on partisan basis?
This has come up several times and is under discussions as a new National decentralization policy is being formulated to run from 2020-2024. This is a policy matter that can be determined with modifications to the Common Fund disbursement formula and utilization guidelines with the approval of Parliament.
Will the Regional Coordinating Councils continue to exist after the MMDCEs are elected on partisan basis?
Yes, the Regional Coordinating Councils (RCCs) will continue to exist because as a unitary state, the regions are considered as deconcentrated units of the center and serve as agencies of central government. They have no law-making functions, nor are they elected bodies. They cannot impose any taxes. All they are required by law to do is to coordinate, monitor and evaluate the use of resources in compliance with national development plans by MMDAs in the region for coordinated development. The role of the RCC is to ensure that MMDAs meet required national development standards. They ensure the maintenance of law and order.
Will the Office of the Head of Local Government Service continue to exist after the MMDCEs have been elected on partisan basis?
Yes, the Office of the Head of Local Government Service will, for the reasons already explained above just as the Office of the Head of Civil Service continues to exist when the President and Parliament are elected to support the national systems with the Human Resource requirements of civil servants.
Will the MMDAs become semi-autonomous or autonomous institutions because the MMDCEs are going to be elected on partisan basis?
The MMDAs are already semi-autonomous bodies under Article 254 of the Constitution and shall remain so.
Will the government of the day guarantee the prompt payment of District Assemblies Common Fund to opposition MMDCEs?
Under Article 252 of the Constitution, all MMDAs are entitled to a share of the Common Fund and no government can deny any Assembly its share. So long as there is enough revenue inflow into the Fund, it will be disbursed to all MMDAs based on the agreed formula approved by Parliament. An opposition MMDCE can put a check on the deductions from MMDAs allocation at source for specific expenditures not approved by the Assembly.
What will happen if a Political Party issues a three-line whip for its MMDCEs not to get involved in the implementation of a particular government program or project?
There will not be anything like government projects. What we will have is a national development agenda, which is the minimum development requirements of every Assembly. If the MMDCE complies with the whip he/she may deny their people development and that means he is on his way out in the next elections. So we may have instances where some MMDCEs may have to defy the orders of their political party to enable them to retain power at the local level.
What then becomes of the role of Chiefs if the local government system is made partisan, as the 1992 Constitution debars Chiefs from engaging in partisan politics?
Just as we have at the national level, they are the custodians of the land, key partners in development and providers of wise counsel for improved local development. Guidelines to regulate the relationship between MMDAs and chiefs have been developed and under review to properly create the appropriate space for traditional authorities in local governance without undermining their non-partisan status. For instance, the various traditional councils in the old guidelines are to be consulted before finalizing the development plans for the area for their inputs and they are also part of the implementation process.
Is it only the case that, the Local Government elections are made partisan before the local people can be afforded the opportunity to choose their own leaders?
No. Local people can still choose their leaders even if a multi-partisan system is not introduced. However since these same local people are allowed to choose their national leaders on multi-partisan basis and since the local governments are a microcosm of the national-level government, for consistency in democracy, local leaders must also be elected by the same people on the same multiparty lines applied to national leaders. Consistency between local and national level governance is what is being preached. This is principal because local governance is seen as the training ground for those who aspire to be national leaders.
Is it only the case that, MMDCEs would have to be elected on partisan basis before they can be accountable to the people?
Yes, in most cases the accountability structures we have at the Subnational level can better hold them in check if they are partisan because we will have some opposition people in there to prevent them from having their way. At the moment it is virtually a one-party Assembly dominated by the ruling party so, it makes checks and balances as well as accountability a bit difficult. Any attempt to hold the MMDCE to strict accountability will be blocked by his members who are already 1/3 of the assembly. That is why it has become difficult to impeach anyone under-performing and non-accountable MMDCE even though the law allows it. If elected on a multi-partisan basis accountability will improve.
Is it only the case that, MMDCEs would have to be elected on a partisan basis before it can give full meaning to popular participation by allowing MMDCEs to truly represent the Central Government as required by Law?
No. MMDCEs can be elected on a non-partisan basis and secure some level of citizens’ participation in local governance. Except that, participation under that arrangement would not produce the required results, as we have never gone past 45% turnout in any non-partisan local government election. Whereas turnout for national-level partisan election has hit close to 80% in recent times.
Is it only the case that, MMDCEs would have to be elected on a partisan basis before they can have a security of tenure?
No. Though MMDCEs may have some security of tenure if elected on a non-partisan basis, their security of tenure becomes more permanent if elected on a partisan basis because the recall provision cannot be easily applied if political parties are involved. If elected on a partisan basis, since the same political parties shall be involved in selecting their MPs, they can exempt the MMDCEs from contesting as MPs whilst in office so this will also guarantee tenure and also reduce the usual friction between MMDCEs and sitting MPs.
Is it only the case that, without partisan politics, competent people can never ever be elected as MMDCEs?
No. Competent persons can be elected even if elections are done on a non-partisan basis. The competency level will, however, improve if political parties are involved. Political parties if involved in the process will act as a vehicle to quality assure the process by ensuring that the system produces the best (most competent and popular) persons to be elected as MMDCE. However, if the system is left open, we may end up having all kinds of people putting themselves up and without any quality assurance system, we can imagine the kinds of MMDCEs we will get. The position of MMDCEs is an important one which requires critical expertise to manage huge financial and human resources
QUESTION TWENTY ONE
Is it only the case that, a person can only become popular to be elected as MMDCE if and only if he or she contests on party ticket?
No. A person can also stand for election either as an independent candidate or to represent a local group of CBO with interest to serve and bring development to the people.
Will Central Government continue to award contracts and make payments for and on behalf of MMDAs if MMDCEs are elected on a partisan basis?
No. This will change drastically, as no opposition MMDCE will sit down to allow this to happen. This is one of the areas the checks and balances will be seen at play if it works.
The Government is committed to bringing good local governance to the people in an atmosphere of development in freedom. We have a unique opportunity to make history by voting YES in the upcoming referendum to deepen local democracy and improve accountability and citizen’s participation in local governance”.
HAJIA ALIMA MAHAMA, MP.