Election of DCEs could be dangerous

By Emmanuel Akli

Sam Okudzeto(left), Osagyefo Amotia Ofori Panin(right)

One of the ingredients that has made Ghana’s democracy attractive to the international community is the decentralisation policy, where power of governance is vested in the local community to govern its own affairs. Many countries, especially those from Africa, have come to Ghana to study the decentralisation policy to help grow their democracies.

Unfortunately, an aspect of this laudable policy has come under public criticism. This has to do with the appointment of metropolitan, municipal and district chief executives (MMDCEs) by the President, with the approval by the local assemblies, instead of allowing the people to elect their preferred chief executives.  Those in favour of election base their arguments on the fact that it would make the elected chief executives accountable to their people, and that as it stands now, they owe more allegiance to the President who appointed them, rather than the people they are serving.

Professor Kwamena Ahwoi, a Lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) and a former Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, who played crucial role in the formulation and implementation of the decentralisation policy,  has however, cautioned against any hasty decision to make the chief executive position an elective one, citing many instances to back his position.

But, the Okyenhene, Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin II, does not agree with him. Addressing a durbar of chiefs at Kyebi, the traditional capital of the Akyem State, recently, the revered chief suggested that all the MMDCEs be elected through universal adult suffrage, to make them responsive to the needs of the people who elected them. To him, the fear that the election could frustrate the central government’s development agenda could be defused if the President nominates three people for the people to elect one of them.

Much as I agree with the argument of the Okyenhene, I do not think it would be the panacea to resolving the problem associated with the decentralisation policy. In fact, the suggestion that the President nominates three people for the electorate to vote for one of them could be disastrous, based on a number of factors.  If the DCE, who is elected through competitive election, has sympathy towards the opposition, he or she would do everything possible to ensure that the party he supports becomes popular, and brightens its chances of winning power in the next general elections.

For instance, if this policy is implemented, the likelihood that the majority of elected DCEs in the Volta and Ashanti regions would belong to the camp of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) respectively, cannot be ruled out. This would obviously make this country ungovernable, because each of these two leading political parties would try to undo each other, in order to gain political advantage. Issues concerning the welfare of the people would no more play a central role.

Again, if the government in power feels that it is being frustrated by a DCE who sysmpathises, with the opposition, it would try to starve that area off the needed development, which could, in turn, spark protests about the unfair distribution of the national cake. Someone may argue that if the necessary structures are in place to regulate how the central government apportions resources to each district, municipal and metropolitan assembly, it would be very difficult for the government of the day to starve the district of a ‘stubborn’ DCE off the needed resources.

I agree with this line of argument, but we should not forget the fact that the ruling government can use every foul means, even if it infringes upon the law, to achieve its political objective. Followers of the once-vibrant Convention People’s Party (CPP) once stated, during the heydays of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, that the party had the means to do everything, except changing a woman into a man. In recent memory ex-President Rawlings was quoted as saying that ‘wo su koraa, na meye more,’ meaning the more you complain about my actions, the more I would repeat them.

The point I want to make is that the government in power would do everything possible to sabotage a particular district through fair or foul means, irrespective of the laws that prevent it from doing so. The argument, therefore, that the government of the day cannot flout the law does not hold water. When the late Kow Nkensen Arkaah, popularly known as the ‘Stubborn Cat,’ fell out with his boss, Jerry John Rawlings, over the infamous cabinet fracas, the latter ignored him in the day to day running of the country, even though he was the constitutionally-elected Vice President. The gospel truth is that the ruling government can do everything, even if, as I have already noted, it infringes upon the law.

What we need is proper education. But, wait a minute, did I hear the renowned legal practitioner, Mr. Sam Okudzeto, say that the government should review the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETfund) law to make the funds accessible by all the private universities? I really love this man, especially, the way he pronounces the word, security. Dear reader have you heard the man pronouncing the word before. He pronounces it this way, ‘sekuriti,’ which is a typical Ewe accent that my Paramount Chief, Togbe Afede, would envy.

I do not, however, love the view he was espousing at the congregation of the Presbyterian University College that private universities train people who come out to work and contribute to the GETfund, and for that matter, must be allowed to also access the funds. If Okudzeto’s prescription is to be swallowed in its raw form, then I submit that all the private non-tertiary institutions in the country must also be allowed to access the funds.

To me, it is about time we divorced purely private business from that of the government, even though they are all contributing to the development of the country. No private university would ever pay part of the profit it makes every year into government chest, so, on what basis should my tax be used to fund their business? If the GETfund tax is increased to rake in more funds to expand the state funded universities, I will not have any problem with that.  But, to use my money to fund a purely private entity, ‘Walahi’ I will not agree. So, my dear father, I love your word, ‘sekuriti,’ but, certainly not the views you are espousing.

Sorry, I nearly forgot that I was even talking about the decentralisation policy, so dear reader, pardon me for the digression. Another point the Okyenhene suggested, which I completely disagree with, is the nomination of three people for the electorate to vote and elect one of them. My basis for the rejection of the suggestion is that if the President is allowed to nominate three people, the one who would eventually be elected by the people, through a competitive election, would still owe allegiance to the executive, and therefore, be doing its bidding.

If the DCE in question has the intention to seek re-election, he would always kowtow to the whims and caprices of the President, in order to attract his attention to re-nominate him or her for the second term. This, obviously, defeats the intended purpose for which the DCE was elected. If my memory is right, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) promised in its 1996 manifesto that it would make the DCE position an elective one, which was not implemented when the party assumed the reins of the country.

I believe the party carefully studied the situation, and realised that it would be suicidal for it to implement such a policy, because our democracy has not reached that stage. I submit that the hybrid system we have adopted, where the President appoints and the assembly people vote on the nominee, should be maintained.

A hung Parliament has worked perfectly well in most advanced countries, but it would be very difficult for such a system to operate in Ghana, due to the negative of our partisan politics. That is why we must not rush in doing certain things, because the developed economies are doing so. When Mrs. Gladys Asmah was the Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs, she stood against the inclusion of marital rape in the then Domestic Violence Bill, after realising that the country had not reached the stage to implement such a law.

If we allow modernity to override what is considered as the reality on the ground, we would plunge this into chaos, and that is why we must be very careful with some of the policies we suggest or implement. Allowing DCEs to be elected by the local people, can easily work in the US, because they have practised democracy for well over two hundred years, but we are yet to even hit 20 years. When a child is born, he/she first sits down un-aided, crawls, and stands un-aided before it begins to walk. Our democracy has not reached the stage where we can just get up and walk. I rest my case for now.

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