Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this Statement.
I was particularly surprised to hear the erstwhile hon. Deputy Minister for Local Government and Rural Development lamenting so much about the shortcomings of decentralisation, and I guess it is because his sojourn in the Ministry was not sufficiently long enough for him to implement his concerns.
But, Mr. Speaker, the question has always been asked -- for those of us who have been practitioners in this sector for some years now -- that given the peculiar nature of the African state, we need to ask a very fundamental question on why is it that decentralisation became so important, particularly in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. This is because the basic idea of an African state is to concentrate as much power as possible at the centre. What is the motivation that leads the present African state to want to decentre power and share it with lower level units?
When you begin to address this question, Mr. Speaker, you might find that perhaps it was just a bandwagon effect that most African countries in the face of democratisation got on and were not very clear in their minds what exactly or what
aspects of decentralisation they intended to pursue.
If you look at the Ghanaian variant of decentralisation, four objectives are said to be critical -- evolution of government machinery, democratisation, transfer of means and competence to the lower level and the bottom-up approach to development planning. Two of them that are very critical and that we have not paid much attention to have to do with democratisation and the bottom-up approach to development.
Mr. Speaker, democrat isat ion, basically, is a process and so when we started decentralisation in 1989 with a mix of appointed and elected members, one expected that as the years moved on we eventually would be getting to a total election of almost all the main actors within the decentralisation process.
I have had the opportunity of seeing one of the reviews that were done on decentralisation in Ghana, and one of the key recommendations had been that we needed now to move, particularly to elect the main actor, that is the District Chief Executive, at that level. This recom- mendation, I am sure, the former Deputy Minister for Local Government and Rural Development is aware of, but we do not know what exactly is creating the inertia to deepen the democratisation process at the lower level in relation to this elective process.
Mr. Speaker, what is particularly disturbing is what is presented as the bottom-up approach to development planning. One of the studies that I undertook with other colleagues came out with very, very interesting questions in terms of who is competent to define the development priorities of almost all the District Assemblies that we have in this country.
Why you choose to decentralise is that you acknowledge that there are differential responses to national development intervention or that there are peculiarities to development concerns in one area that are not the same for another area. So in trying to actually prioritise your development concerns, what takes place in Shama Ahanta might not be the same development problems for Lawra District Assembly, for instance. But what do we see, Mr. Speaker?
Almost every medium-term develop- ment programme of the District Assembly normally commences ironically from the top, through what has come to be known as “Guidelines” for the preparation of the bottom-up development plan by the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC).
If you take a closer look at these guidelines they circumscribe the province within which everybody has to fit his development priority area. Even in communities where the development is not fitting into the guidelines of the NDPC you still find that they struggle to fit them in.
Mr. Speaker, we have evaluated 45 District Assemblies Medium-Term Plans. In fact, we are not even going to talk about the fact that by the time the plan is about to be implemented you find that the plan period has already expired. If you take the 2002-2005 plan period, most District Assemblies, as at now, have not yet had the clearance from the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development to implement the plan; and we are almost moving into 2006. One wonders what type of development processes, guided by what plan, has been taking place all along before the approval of the plan. And one community that we went to gave us a very interesting answer. Two of them are worth
noting, Mr. Speaker.
One of the community leaders told us that, of course, we claim that our bottom- up approach to development planning is to start from the grass roots but that, indeed, from what they are seeing, when you uproot the grass and turn the roots upside down, then you are actually starting from the top but at the same time starting from the grass roots.
Equally interesting, Mr. Speaker, was
another village we visited; and we met a teacher in that village. The teacher gave us a very graphic picture of how local communities ridicule this particular approach to development planning. He said that when you look at the entire village, the only building that you see that is roofed with corrugated iron sheets is the KVIP toilet.
So he says, for a stranger to visit this village and with nobody there to show him the chief's house, he might end up in the toilet as the most prestigious house within that community. And this is how we need to take local level concerns seriously. It has always been a worry for me that over the years, this particular approach, the bottom-up approach to development planning that is available to local communities, is one that we need to actually address.
If you go to the District Assemblies Common Fund Administration Act, you again find a very interesting claw-back flaw there. You find that the Ministers for Finance and Economic Planning and Local Government and Rural Develop- ment are also supposed to put their heads together and decide project priorities for the District Assemblies, and yet under our Constitution the District Assembly is supposed to be the highest political authority at the local level.
What is the constitutional basis for Ministers sitting in Accra awarding or
transferring means and competence to the local level and giving the District Assembly guidelines as to the area that they should spend that money on? How will the local communities take ownership of their own development initiative that is envisaged by the District Assembly process?
Mr. Speaker, I think this is an issue that this House intends to revisit and at the appropriate time we might indeed be inviting the Committee on Local Government to really take a second look at decentralisation, look at the bottlenecks, look at the difficulties it has travelled through over the years and let us see how we can fine-tune and reconnect decentralisation to its original idea of the four micro-objectives on which the programme is actually premised.
Lastly, Mr. Speaker, you would also realise that when you have to deal with decentralisation in terms of development planning, the unit committees are supposed, basically, to be the starting point.
Mr. Speaker, I can give you the typical example of how medium-term develop- ment plans are prepared by the districts. The first thing is that, you just have the District Assembly together with the team from NDPC and the planner from the Regional Coordinating Council descending on two or three communities and claiming that they are collecting baseline data, ignoring the rest of the communities and unit committees which they used as the basis.
The so-called consultation process that takes place is basically to ask them and to energise them just to be revenue-collecting outlets. There is no arrangement within the unit committee level in which the
Unit Committee members are supposed to collate the peculiar development problems facing their committee, which would be transported to the District Assembly to be included in the formulation process.
What became very striking of the forty- five medium-term plan that we reviewed was this: almost everyone of them had development constraints, development opportunities and development problems in the same stage. What are development constraints for one District Assembly are replicated through all the forty-five District Assemblies; and I would use two District Assemblies as a typical example.
At that time the Sissala District Assembly and Lawra District Assembly, land was neither a development potential nor a development constraint for both District Assembly areas. Yet, if you look at Sissala they have a population ratio of about ten people per square kilometre. If you go to the Lawra district, it is ninety- eight persons per square kilometre. How can land be unproblematic for these two District Assembly areas? And this convinces me, Mr. Speaker, that we have actually not dealt with the basic issues in allowing these processes to come up from the ground.
Of course, if you are struggling to fit your development concerns within the NDPC Guidelines, you are bound to come up with this type of absurd conclusion in the medium-term plan.
Mr. Speaker, what do we see at the end? You would always find an appendix with the names of all those who participated ostensibly in the preparation of the plan, of course, to satisfy the statutory requirements. Just do an analysis of the list and you would find that over 85 per cent of this list are government employees who took part in the so-called public hearing but you do not know whether they took part in relation to the fact that they are