Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Politics of Decentralization in Ghana's Fourth Republic

Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Politics of Decentralization in Ghana's Fourth Republic

Article excerpt


This article assesses how the District Assemblies in Ghana's Fourth Republic have exercised political, administrative, and fiscal powers transferred to them by the central government. It notes that the creation of the assemblies has promoted popular participation and boosted the autonomy of front-line officials in terms of decision-making and the allocation of financial resources at the local level. However, the central government retains the authority to appoint the District Chief Executive and 30 percent of the assembly members. Local governments experience delays in the transfer of funds, an inability to absorb civil servants of decentralized departments into the local culture, and a lack of capacity to raise revenue for development. The article argues that local election of the District Chief Executive and increased allocation of funds to the rural districts would attract entrepreneurs and skilled civil servants who would be able to implement effective decentralization.

Résumé: Cet article examine comment les assemblées de district dans la Quatrième République du Ghana ont exercé des pouvoirs politiques, administratifs et fiscaux qui leur ont été transférés par le gouvernement central. Il note que la création des assemblées a favorisé la participation populaire et stimulé l'autonomie des fonctionnaires de première ligne en termes de prise de décision et d'allocation des ressources financières au niveau local. Cependant, le gouvernement central conserve le pouvoir de nommer le chef de district et trente pour cent des membres de l'assemblée. Les gouvernements locaux sont victimes de retards dans le transfert des fonds, d'une incapacité à intégrer les fonctionnaires nommés dans la culture locale, et d'un manque de capacité à générer des recettes pour le développement. L'article soutient que les élections locales du chef de district et l'augmentation des fonds alloués aux districts ruraux attireraient des entrepreneurs et des fonctionnaires qualifiés qui seraient en mesure de mettre en oeuvre une décentralisation efficace.

KeyWords: Decentralization; financial resources; administrative responsibility; Ghana


African governance has a undergone radical transformation since the beginning of the 1990s when international donors and Western governments forced democratic reforms on the continent. The international donors, development agencies, and nongovernmental organizations that pushed the agenda for change insisted that the democratic reforms should lead to the opening of political space to allow citizens to participate in the decisionmaking process at all levels of government. As a result, virtually all the developing and transitional countries that heeded the call for political alteration, including Brazil, the Philippines, Bosnia, and Benin (among others) embraced decentralization, which by the middle of the 1990s was the acceptable form of governance for most African governments (Crawford 2004). In both solvent and insolvent regimes, those of the left, center, and right, as well as countries where civil society was weak, decentralization was offered as the panacea for the state-rebuilding effort (Saito 2008; Conyers 2007; Manor 2001). In Africa, the impressive transitions in Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa from authoritarian rule to democracy succeeded partly through the decentralization of resources and policymaking authority to subnational governments (Dickovick 2005; Heller 2001).

Ghana began the implementation of a comprehensive decentralization program in 1993 after its successful transition to democracy in 1992. The Constitution of the Fourth Republic mandated that Parliament legislate to devolve power and resources to the grassroots. In response, Local Government Act 462 was passed, which formally shifted the responsibility for the performance of some public functions to local government bodies called District Assemblies. The objectives embedded in the decentralization policy included improvement in the local production and delivery of public goods and services, responsiveness of service providers to popular demands, and the empowerment of officials familiar with local-level problems to tailor development plans to specific needs (Republic of Ghana 2003). …

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