Assessing the Unit Committee Model in the Decentralization Programme of Ghana: The Case of the Eastern Region.

Author:Mahama, Patrick


The effectiveness of grassroots participation and hence, Ghana's decentralization programme arguably hinges on the unit committee model, which by design is meant to ensure grassroots participation in many aspects of the decentralization programme. Article 25 of the 1992 constitution of Ghana provides for the creation of the local government system to ensure the decentralization of government functions and authority to the local level of administration. The local government Act 1993 (Act 462) provides for the unit committee model with a profound role aimed at ensuring the effectiveness of the decentralization programme.

Some of its main functions include to supervise the staff of the District assembly in performing duties in its area of authority, assist the assembly in revenue collection, organize communal labour and voluntary work, educate the people on their rights, privileges, obligations and responsibilities, provide focal points for discussion of local matters and make recommendations to the assembly, monitor the implementation of self help and development projects, assist in enumerating and keeping records of all taxable persons and properties, make proposals to the assembly regarding levying and collection of rates for projects and programmes. However, despite the elaborate role of unit committees in Ghana, it is common knowledge that since its inception in 1988, Ghana's decentralization programme has suffered several drawbacks in its developmental and participatory roles especially with the operation of the unit committees, which came into being through the local government act of 1993.

Research Questions

In a qualitative study, researchers state research questions rather than objectives or hypothesis (Creswell, 2014). In this regard, the research questions here seek to address Unit Committees under Ghana's decentralization programme created to perform the functions of: supervising the staff of the District Assembly in performing duties in its area of authority; assisting the Assembly in revenue collection; organizing communal labour and voluntary work; educating people of their rights, privileges, obligations and responsibilities; providing focal points for discussion of local matters and make recommendations to the Assembly; monitoring the implementation of self help and development projects; assist in enumerating and keeping records of all taxable persons and properties; and in making proposals to the Assembly regarding levying and collection of rates for projects and programmes (ILGS, 2010).

Hence, are the unit committees in Ghana able to perform these functions effectively to merit their continued existence? a question that leads to other sub-questions, such as: (Constitution) to what extent are unit committees able to perform their functions as prescribed in the local government Act 1993 (Act 462) effectively?; (Constitution) what are some of the underpinning circumstances that inhibit the performance of unit committees at the grassroots level?;

(3) how effectively can unit committees be deployed to ensure effective participation at the grassroots level?, and (5), what can be done at the policy and administrative fronts to ensure the effectiveness of unit committees under Ghana's decentralization programme?

Legal Framework

Ghana's current programme of decentralization was initiated prior to the national democratic transition in the early 1990s. In 1988, the PNDC government introduced a major piece of legislative reform, the Local Government Law (Dotse, 1990). This created 110 designated districts within Ghana's ten regions, with non-partisan District Assembly (DA) elections held initially in 1988-1989 and subsequently every four years (1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2015). There was a delay in the last District Assembly Elections due to some legal challenges. In addition to the two-thirds of DA members elected on an individual, non-party basis, one-third were appointed by the central government, along with a chief executive for each district (Pinkney, 1997). The stated aim of the 1988 Local Government Law was "to promote popular participation and ownership of the machinery of government... by devolving power, competence and resource/means to the district level" (Map Consult, 2002:35). Interestingly, the language of 'participation' and 'ownership' anticipated the 'donor speak' of the 1990s, though it also had some resonance with the revolutionary rhetoric of popular participation of the earlier PNDC period. Oquaye (2001) suggests that this decentralization exercise was "largely introduced to satisfy donor demands", but Ayee, (1994) imputes different, self-serving motives. In his view, the real reason for the PNDC's decentralization policy was an attempt to increase their legitimacy and simultaneously to rid themselves of political problems.

Constitutional Provisions

The 1992 Constitution, which marked the transition to multi-party democracy at the national level, endorsed the 1988 reforms. It consolidated the aim of decentralization within the overall context of a liberal democratic constitution, yet essential democratic elements remained compromised, especially through the retention of presidential appointments. Non-partisan local elections, which has been the procedure for recruitment to Ghana's local government institutions has come under severe debate in recent discourse on decentralization, particularly of devolution in Ghana. While some think that there is still universal adult suffrage, and hence democratic enough, others think that the constitution should be amended to allow political parties to present candidates for elections into the District Assemblies. The objective of decentralization, however, was laid out unambiguously in Chapter 20, entitled 'Decentralization and Local Government' which state that "Local government and administration... shall... be decentralized" (Article 240[1]), and that the "functions, powers, responsibilities and resources should be transferred from the Central Government to local government units" (Article 240[2]).

The autonomous role of local government with discretionary powers at the local level, was inferred by the provision that:

"measures should be taken [by Parliament] to enhance the capacity of local government authorities to plan, initiate, co-ordinate, manage and execute policies in respect of matters affecting local people" (Article 240[2][b]); and the principles of participation in local government and downward accountability to the populace is emphasized to ensure the accountability of local government authorities. People in particular local government areas shall, as far as practicable, be afforded the opportunity to participate effectively in their governance" Article 240[2][e].

Indeed, the democratic intent in the decentralization provisions were made explicit in the 1992 Constitution which states that,

"the state shall take appropriate measures to make democracy a reality by decentralizing the administrative and financial machinery of government to the regions and districts and by affording all possible opportunities to the people to participate in decision-making at every level of national life and in government" Article 35[6][d]).

This is somewhat contradicted, however, by the retention from the PNDC 1988 reforms of nonpartisan local elections and presidential powers of appointment. Thus, District Assemblies are composed of 70 per cent elected members, with candidates standing as individuals and political parties banned, and 30 per cent of members appointed by the President, formally "in consultation with traditional authorities and other interest groups in the district" (Article 242[d]). Additionally, the appointment of the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executive (MMDCE) by the President was retained, though with the approval needed of two-thirds of District Assembly members (Article 243[1]). The MMDCE is the political head of the local administration, centrally involved in decision-making, with a District Co-ordinating Director (DCD) as the highest ranking civil servant.

As regards the financing of local government, the Constitution makes clear that the DAs "should have sound financial bases with adequate and reliable sources of revenue" [Article 240(Constitution)], with an attempt to secure this through the establishment of the District Assembly Common Fund (DACF). This is determined annually by Parliament, but with allocations "not less than five per cent of the total revenues of Ghana" [Article 252(Constitution)]. The proceeds of the DACF are then allocated between DAs on the basis of a revenue sharing formula approved by Parliament.

Sub-National Government Structures

A three-tier structure of sub-national government was created by the 1992 Constitution (or Local Government Act of 1993) at regional, district and sub-district levels. This comprises Regional Co-ordinating Councils (10), District Assemblies originally (110), but now 216 with the creation of additional 28 districts in 2006, 32 created with some upgrades to municipal assemblies in 2008 and 46 new districts created in June 2012.

The others are urban, zonal, town and area councils (1300), plus unit committees (16,000) (Nkrumah 2000). It is important to note that Ghana's decentralization programme also has a four-tier metropolitan and a three-tier municipal/District Assembly structure. The District Assembly remains the key institution, however, and its role is discussed next after the Regional Coordinating...

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