Election of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs), is an idea that has arrived. When it happens in Ghana, it will remove the democratic deficit in the operation of the 1992 Constitution, give power back to the people, allow local government authorities to focus on local issues, guarantee accountability at the local government levels and trigger the race to growth and development among the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs).
Ultimately, the race would see the districts that represent the basic units of development, competing effectively and efficiently to progress simultaneously. And before we know it, development would have engulfed the entire nation faster than our wildest imaginations. Many developed nations that did not benefit from the industrial revolution did so within 40 years or one generation. Ghana was born in 1957. It is 61 years old and still under-developed. The difference is in leadership.
The leadership of developed nations is unique, in the sense that it envisions what is good for the country and its people and does it even if it does not sit well with the leader’s own idiosyncrasy. The New Patriotic Party (NPP) in its 2016 manifesto promised to “oversee the direct election of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs) within 24 months of election into office, to coincide with the next District Assembly elections in 2019.”
This policy, when implemented, would take away the President’s powers of appointment of the MMDCEs. The executive’s control and influence in the districts would decrease as the local government officials, especially the MMDCEs, would no longer be answerable directly to the President but to the people. If the people are satisfied with their work, they will be re-elected. If not, they would be ousted through the ballot box.
Admittedly, this policy vision had become the baby of the Progressive People’s Party (PPP) since the party was formed in 2012. When it found its way into the NPP’s 2016 manifesto, it created “credibility and believability” issues for obvious reasons, as the same NPP had promised to implement the policy but reneged on the promise when they won elections and governed the country between 2001 and 2008.
In July this year, the President assured the nation at the orientation for newly appointed MMDCEs that the elections would take place as promised, insisting that they would be the last batch of MMDCEs to be appointed. But in a spectacular “U” turn, a Deputy Local Government Minister, O.B. Amoah, has given reasons why Ghanaians must not expect election of MMDCEs until 2021, contrary to what the President reassured.
The deputy minister’s revelation was anchored on a challenge posed by Article 55 (3) of the 1992 Constitution – “Subject to the provisions of this article, a political party is free to participate in shaping the political will of the people, to disseminate information on political ideas, social and economic programmes of a national character, and sponsor candidates for elections to any public office other than to District Assemblies or lower local government units.” This is an entrenched provision that requires a referendum to amend to pave way for political parties to sponsor candidates for local government elections.
If the NPP leadership were really interested in implementing this policy, the challenge would be a “no brainer.” Work on the referendum would have started by now, just as work on the referendum for the creation of new regions had started. I am convinced that it is the imminent loss of control by the executive over local government appointments and resources that have resulted in government failing to take early action to keep to the manifesto promise to have MMDCEs elected.
With the current arrangements, MMDAs rely on national fiscal transfers from the central government for the development of their territories and jurisdictions. This fiscal role by central government has been over abused. Recent examples of abuse include the supervising ministry’s favourite bulk procurement of goods and services through the obnoxious sole sourcing window and the evil of deducting the costs at source. The MMDAs do not have control over their resources. The government has. And that may just be the reason why the government is not in a hurry to implement the policy.
If the President is really in a hurry to develop the country as he insists, then election of MMDCEs should be one of his top 20% priority items. Article 55 (3) must not be used to as an instrument of delay. Election of MMDCEs is a great policy. Our leaders must make it happen even if it will take away some of their powers.