Next to the catatonic alacrity by politicians in Ghana to immediately sack appointed Government officials to replace them with their own upon assumption of political reins, comes the creation of new districts. The New Patriotic Party (NPP) government of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo, as integral segment of our “yɛntiɛobiaa” (we won`t listen to anybody) Ghanaian politicians, in their zeal to prove that they possess power in Ghana now, have through the Minister of Local Government, Hajia Alima Mahama laid down the Legislative Instrument in Parliament for the creation of 38 novel Metropolitan, Municipal and Districts (MMDAs). This swift political move brings the number of MMDAs in Ghana to 254 from the previous 216.
I must emphasise here that this presidential exercise of gleeful creation of new districts is not a novel thing in Ghana as I stated in the preamble. It has pre-colonial and post-colonial historical antecedents. It has, however, recorded a monumental increment since the inception of Ghana`s Fourth Republic. Indeed, the practice has become very predictable so much that as soon as one government is defeated, it then becomes clear that the next government will also create another district as part of campaign promises to certain chiefs and ethnic groups who helped them to win elections. Thus, once could describe the practice as “after-change-of-government gerrymandering festival” in Ghana.
One even wonders, if voters are aware that in voting for the change of government, one of the implicit decisions they make with their votes is their approval to the elected regime to create new districts.
Popular moves toward decentralization and creation of new districts
In the recent past, the concept of comprehensive decentralization programmes was ironically ushered in by the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) military junta under Jerry John Rawlings in 1988-9. The renewed fervour in the decentralization by the regime was in line with the Bretton Woods institutions` idea of pushing African countries to introduce popular participation, which has become a novel political sine qua non or conditionality which must be met by African countries before loans, aids and grants could be extended to them.
Popular participation conditionality of the Bretton Woods institutions, which replaced economic conditionalities (devaluation, liberalisation, retrenchment, deregulation and so on), prevailed on African countries to observe good governance practices by ensuring transparency, accountability and ownership of policies from its formulation to its implementation stages.
Consequently, according to the Political Scientist, Professor Joseph R. Atsu Ayee, the PNDC military junta launched a decentralization programme which was meant to ‘give power to the people’ and bring ‘democracy to the doorstep’ of the people’, which was the political philosophy of the government at the time. The PNDC created new districts to deepen the participatory inclusion in the development policies, and when Ghana returned to constitutional rule in 1993, the new National Democratic Congress (NDC), an offshoot of the PNDC military junta also continued pace of decentralization but created no new MMDAs.
When the NDC regime lost its political mandate in 2000 elections, the NPP regime headed by John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor developed a new decentralization policy to speed up the process by creating new MMDAs from 2001 to 2008. The defeat of the NPP in 2008 brought NDC once again to power; both Professor John Evans Atta Mills and John Dramani Mahama also made decentralization one of its policy tools to make Ghana a democratic developmental state. These two leaders from the belly of the NDC proceeded to create new MMDAs to further deepen our decentralization agenda. Thus, the current move by Nana Akufo Addo`s government to create 38 MMDAs is, perhaps, another strategy to deepen our decentralization concept as catalyst for faster and equitable development. It is, therefore, quite crystal that the creation of districts in Ghana since 1988–9 has always been linked to local governance and development.
Arguments surrounding creation of new districts
The idea of creation of districts is in sync with the concept of decentralization including its underlying complexity, elusiveness, definition, forms or types (political, administrative fiscal and economic), dimensions and the relationship between decentralization and centralization. Decentralization in itself is seen by its advocates as an effective tool for the promotion of developmental goals such as popular participation, effectiveness, accountability, responsiveness, equality, national unity, checking the urban–rural drift. In spite of these laudable positives flowing from the operations of decentralization, the concept according to its critics also blinks with certain challenges such as elite capture, conflict, increased costs and corruption, lessened efficiency in service delivery and greater inequity.
From intellectual points of view, two schools of thought: Consolidation and Fragmentation schools propels creation of districts. The Consolidationists prefer strong, centralized administration by arguing that emergence of too many governments in the urban areas calls for reduction of the total number of governments in order to ensure economy and efficiency in the provision of local services.
Thus, the consolidationists push for greater focus on political responsibility and assure a more integrated governmental response to area-wide problems. This school of thought further believe that creation of districts leads to financial benefits(greater co-ordination and improved service quality as well as producing economies of scale), economic development, more comprehensive and integrated regional land use planning and insulation from intergovernmental financial and economic pressures.
The Fragmentationists, on the other hand, sees the creation of the districts from economic perspective with regards to how public goods can be delivered to aggregate individuals by determining the ‘most efficient’ structures for provision of public goods.’ Thus by creating districts, individuals benefit from separating into smaller, more homogeneous communities that are better able to match services to local preferences.
Prof. Ayee, has also argued elsewhere, that Fragmentationists push for creation of districts because it helps to optimize opportunities for individuals to choose a tax-service package that best suited their needs, promotion of popular participation, proximity in terms of accessibility of services, maximization of economies of scale, and provision to the local level people with small-scale services.
Within the context of inter-governmentality relations (the vertical relationships between the central government and local government units), the Fragmentationists, argue that the relationships are mutual and involve the devolution of power and responsibilities to perform functions from the centre to the periphery, local autonomy, local discretion as well as the provision of adequate resources by the centre to enable the periphery to perform its assigned tasks and responsibilities. Thus, Prof. Ayee contends, beyond the political furore and its attendant propaganda that characterizes government`s attempts to create new districts, it is the fragmentation perspective which serves as the fulcrum for district creation and the increase in their number from 1988 to 2012.
What are reasons pushed by Ghanaian leaders for creation of Districts?
Creation of more districts started after Ghana`s independence, but was halted by the military regime which took over from Nkrumah. Under the First Republic (1957–66), the first president, Kwame Nkrumah increased that Local government unit from 59 in 1957 at the time of independence to 183 in 1966, when he was overthrown in a joint military-police putsch. Thus, by the time Rawlings staged his second coup d` tat in 1982, there was 65 districts in Ghana.
Rawlings` PNDC increased the number of districts from 65 in 1988 to 110 in 1989. According to the regime, this was to ‘facilitate economic programmes and to ensure equitable development throughout the country’ by ensuring ‘practical translation of the ideals of the revolution [that] would ensure that not only a large majority of the people actually have a say in the assemblies but also contribute positively towards nation-building.’ Rawlings` eight-year rule as civilian president of Ghana from 1992-2000 under the ticket of the NDC, however, and impressively recorded no creation of districts.
The Kufuor government which came after the heels of the Rawlings NDC in 2001 also did not add any districts in their first term (2001-2004), probably because of the declaration of Ghana as Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPIC). In the second term (2004-2008), however, the NPP administration under Kufuor added 60 more districts to the existing 110 districts, bring the total number of the districts as at the end of Kufuor`s tenure to the sum of 170. In 2004 Kufuor added 28 districts, whilst in 2008, he added 32 more districts. Kufuor explained his rationale for creating more districts at the time that it was to ‘improve administration, deepen democracy and governance as well as the equitable distribution of the national cake as well as accelerated and overall national development.’
After the defeat of the NPP in 2008, John Mills NDC regime which replaced Kufuor did not create any districts, however, John Mahama`s tenure as the president saw an addition of 42 more districts in 2012, swelling Ghana`s districts to 212. The NDC regime also explained poignantly their reasons for creating more districts that it was to ‘address a critical first need of the people and to ensure even and balanced development throughout the country, especially for the deprived and underserved district areas . . . It has been shown over the years that when you create districts, you bring development into the area . . . attract support from development partners to channel needed resources for the development of the new districts in various aspects.’
New trends in creation of Districts and corresponding creation of new constituencies
One significant move which characterized Kufuor`s NPP`s creation of more districts was the corresponding creation of new constituencies. In 2004, when Kufuor created 28 more districts, he proceeded further to create 30 more constituencies to the 200 constituencies, thereby increasing parliamentary seats to 230.
The NDC regime under the leadership of John Mahama in 2012 followed Kufuor`s trajectory. Mahama after creating 42 more districts went further to create an additional 45 constituencies to the existing 230 constituencies, thereby pushing the parliamentary seats on upward trajectory of 275. This new trends is one of the major reasons why the opposition NDC, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and scholars are very sceptical about the recent creation of 38 more MMDAs, despite the Local Government minister`s explanation and assurance that the Government is not going to create additional constituencies.
For now, it is early days yet to treat Hajia Alima Mahama`s explanation for the Government with pinch of salt and or to proceed further to accuse the government of political gerrymandering.
Has Ghana achieved developmental growth after creation of districts?
So far no research has shown that the creation of districts has led to overall growth in the Ghanaian economy. On the bright side, the newly created district has led to improvement of infrastructure and job creation for selected communities which serves as the District capital. Development of district capitals also leads to development of other infrastructure and services in the districts such as roads, pavements/sidewalks, modifications in traffic control, metro mass transit, markets and sanitary facilities. These projects became realities as a result of the District Assemblies Common Fund (DACF), a set of intergovernmental transfers, as well as the central government`s strategic development projects in localities as a result of promises made alongside the creation of the districts.
Research into who benefits from the creation of the MMDAs in Ghana mentions the politicians, traditional leaders and youth groups as the main beneficiaries. When the NPP created 28 districts and 30 constituencies in 2004 they benefitted by snatching 16 seats, whilst the NDC had 13 with the rest going to smaller parties. Similarly, the NDC also gained immense electoral advantage when it created new MMDAs and constituencies in 2012.
Advocates of creation of more districts and constituencies contend that it naturally led to job opportunities, but careful analysis shows that those jobs most often goes to some members of the political parties. Party members are either appointed by the president as Metropolitan/Municipal/District/Chief Executives (MMDCEs) as stipulated by the Local Government Act 462, 1993, or elected to contest national elections after winning their parties’ primaries. The implication of this, Prof Ayee notes, is that the creation of districts and constituencies may be regarded as a patronage-building exercise for the president.
As usual, the traditional leaders (chiefs), opinion leaders and youth groups have also benefitted immensely from the agitation for the creation of new districts. Governments in Ghana have been inundated with several petitions or blackmailed with press conferences to press home their demands for creation of districts or risk losing elections in certain areas. Thus, politicians have created districts just to placate these powerful sections of the society.
The creation of the district itself also leads to polarisation in the regions as it intensifies ethnic cleavages and mobilisation, inter-ethnic and inter-stools or skins boundary disputes, and animosities among groups. There is also a constant furore about the location of the district capitals; naming of the district; and the elevation of districts to either municipal or metropolitan status.
Is NPP Government right to create this new 38 districts?
Legally, the government has the constitutional right to create new districts, per the tenets of 1992 Constitution and the Local Government Act (Act 462) 1993. Indeed, article 241 (2) of the constitution stipulates that ‘Parliament may by law make provision for the redrawing of the boundaries of districts or for reconstituting the districts’. The Act 462 further gives the president the dominant role in the creation of districts as the section 1(2) empowers the president by executive instrument to (a) declare any area within Ghana to be a district; and (b) assign a name to the district. The president in the exercise of his powers is required ‘to direct the Electoral Commission to make such recommendations as it considers appropriate for the purpose’. In other words, the president considers the advice of the Electoral Commission for the creation of a new district as less binding.
The section 1 (4) of the act stipulates the criteria of population, geographical contiguity and economic viability (that is, the ability of an area to provide the basic infrastructural and other developmental needs from the monetary and other resources generated in the area), which the commission should apply in the creation of districts. Specifically, in terms of population (a) for a district, there should be a minimum population of 75,000 people; (b) for a municipality, the minimum population is 95,000 people as well as a geographical area which consists of a single compact settlement; and (c) for a metropolis, the minimum population is 250,000 people. The section 3 empowers the Minister for Local Government, Rural Development and Environment to enact a legislative instrument to establish an assembly for each district, municipality and metropolis.
Despite, the fact that various government have followed the appropriate constitutional parameters to create new MMDAs, it is also about time that as citizens we must evaluate the actual benefits of these district creation to our socio-economic growth and sustainable development. For instances, how has creation of new districts impacted on the government`s wage bill and the corresponding benefits from the districts to the country in real growth terms? Do we create district as an avenue for provision of jobs to party members, real equitable employment opportunity for Ghanaians or just for gerrymandering?
If it is for gerrymandering as the NDC is arguing then, that is a politically grievous mistake. The losses of NPP in 2008 and 2016 shows that whilst creation of districts offers some gerrymandering incentives, it does not offer a sustainable gerrymandering plan to put governments in power for a long time.