Long before decentralization became a buzzword and fashionable in some countries in the 1980s, Ghana’s search for, and attempts to take government closer to the people had been well noted and documented. In the late 1980s however, the Government of Ghana, initiated several legal and policy reforms that sought to bring climax to the long- standing dream of realizing a truly decentralized system. The new reforms establishes the Local Assemblies as the highest legislative, political and administrative authorities. After about three decades of implementing the new system, questions remain as to whether Ghana’s decentralization is an exercise of rhetorics or reality. The questions that the researcher explored included: What administrative capacity do the Assemblies possess to plan, make and implement decisions to fulfil their core mandate, and do they have the discretion to manage their staff in a way that could best serve the interests of the people? Other questions were: Do the Assemblies possess the financial capacity as well as the autonomy to effectively carry out their decentralized functions as specified and envisaged by policy? Were Departments of the Assemblies, including the sub- structures fully decentralized and performing their roles, responsibilities and functions as specified by law? Are the decisions in the Medium Term Development Plans, Budgets and other programmes of the Assemblies and decentralized departments those of the local people and their representatives? The final questions are: Are the Assemblies accountable to the people? What concerns do key actors, other than the government, have about the nation’s administrative decentralization and local accountability programme? Focusing the studies on three Assemblies, the researcher applied the interpretive paradigm with the constructivist view of social reality and the case study approach of seeking knowledge from the natural settings of the Assemblies. Participants in the studies, who also constituted the key actors in the decentralized
system included Presiding Members and elected Assembly members, Directors of sub metropolitan District Councils, and executives of Town, Area, Zonal and Urban Councils. The rest were executives of Unit Committees, Coordinating Directors, Development Planning Officers, Finance Officers, MMDCEs, Internal Auditors, Local Government Inspectors and Heads of Decentralized Departments. Using interview guides, focused group discussions and detached observation methods, the researcher collected qualitative data from respondents in their natural setting at their communities, Assembly meetings, and Unit Committee levels. The researcher found, among others that, after three decades of implementing the most current decentralization system of the country, some of the key departments of the Assemblies including education, youth and sports, health and agriculture were still operating as deconcentrated bodies with only little supervision by the Assembly over them. Also, with the exception of two of the three sub-metropolitan District Councils of the TMA, all the Town, Area, Zonal, Urban Councils and Unit Committees within the three case study districts were inactive. In addition, the study established that some of the projects and programmes contained in the development plans and budgets of the Assemblies could either not be implemented at all or lagged far behind schedule due to three main factors. These are the inability of the Assemblies to mobilize sufficient internal revenue, failure of the DACF Secretariat to release funds on time to the former and central government engaging in unsolicited procurement of goods and services for the Assemblies, which led to huge deductions from the DACF allocations meant for the Assemblies. In addition, the Assemblies were found to be unaccountable to even the local legislature, much less to the people as required by law. The researcher also found that although almost all the structures within the Assemblies such as the General Assembly, Sub- committees and the Executive Committees were in existence , most of the important
decisions of the Assemblies were taken by the local executive under the direction of central government bodies and the ruling political party. The researcher has described the prevailing situation at the Assemblies, among others, as local centralization, a phenomenon that was possible largely with the active assistance by central government and the ruling political party for the purpose of protecting the subjective interests of government officials, party leaders and members as well as, of course, the local executives. The researcher concludes, inter alia, that Ghana’s decentralization in its current form is an exercise more of rhetorics than real since there is considerable gap between the existing policies and actual practice. To address the current challenges and also close the gap between policy and practice, the researcher recommends, among others, that the constitutional provisions which mandate the President of the Republic to appoint Chief Executives for MMDA’s should be amended to make room for popular election of MMDAs. Similarly, the researcher recommends that the appointment of 30% government appointees to the Assemblies must also be stopped.