- The REAL SUBSTANCE of the December 17th referendum is that Ghanaians are being asked to judge whether or not we are happy with what political parties have achieved ...
There are 16 regions in Ghana. These are divided into districts and these districts can be called Metropolis, Municipals or Districts (MMD), depending on their population size. Each of these Districts are governed by a "DISTRICT ASSEMBLY," made up of:
(1) District Chief Executive (DCE or MMDCE) appointed by the president;
(2) One elected person each from the electoral areas that fall within the district;
(3) MP(s) that fall within the District;
(4) 30% of the assembly membership, appointed by the president;
Context is crucial in these conversations - first, we know the unmeritocratic and capturing characters of the 2 major political parties. As long as it stays so and the chances of either forcing their dominance remains, it must affect our dissection of these matters.
Is whether or not, we as a people wish for MMDCEs to now be ELECTED by local citizens to lead their local governments and no more be appointed by the President. This change can happen by 2/3rd of MPs in parliament passing a bill for the amendment of article 243 of the constitution. *THIS IS NOT WHAT THE DECEMBER REFERENDUM IS ABOUT!* But if passed, it will mean DCEs will also be elected to head District Assemblies.
THIS IS WHAT the DECEMBER REFERENDUM IS ALL ABOUT. We, the Ghanaian people are being asked to decide whether or not, we now want Political Parties to be involved in, sponsor and give backing to persons who stand to be elected to the District Assemblies and lower local units? This is about the amendment of Article 55, clause (3), of our constitution that presently prohibits political party involvement in local level elections. That said however, since currently the President appoints MMDCEs, and 30% of the District Assemblies, it is reasonable to say that even currently, political parties (at least that of an incumbent President) already influences the composition of District Assemblies. The only difference is that for now, only the party of the Government in power has that influence (at least on paper). A YES vote means All political parties will have the chance to influence the composition of District Assemblies. The immediate logical question then is - if local citizens currently elect 70% of their Local assembly members without political party involvement and sponsorship (on paper), what is the EXTRA VALUE that political party involvement & sponsorship bring to District Assemblies legal, administrative, financial and operational efficiencies?
Using this December referendum to give power to political parties to get INVOLVED, BACK & SPONSOR candidates for election into District Assemblies has its pluses and minuses. Firstly, it has been argued as an advantage, that a President from a particular political party may end up with Districts controlled by political parties other than his/her own. If that happens, it will mean the President's party will not automatically exercise control at national level AND also at local government level, so, the "Winner takes it All" monotony gets broken. For that monotony to be effectively broken in my view, non-governing parties will have to control majority of Local Districts to prevent a ruling Government from controlling executive, parliamentary and local power. There is however a high probability, that Districts in which the Governing party wins majority parliamentary or presidential votes, will likely also support them to control the District. Knowing the nature of our current politics, another question also begets: whether a party with local control will use that control to act as check and balance on national government dealings at local level or act as a limiting or punishing mechanism against the government of the day?
But there are other issues - firstly, Ghanaians are beginning to worry that no differences really exists between the NDC and NPP and that there is the need to do away with both's incompetence and corrupt characters at a national level. So, even though on paper, the two main parties may create a National-District-Local power balance if one carries executive power and the other, local power - the reality from the perspective of citizens is that - they are the same (at least the 2 big ones). And if indeed Ghanaians judge them as poorly performing at national level - why must the same parties be allowed to interfere at the local levels? Will they perform any better locally? Unless of course other parties or Independents outside of the big 2, are able to capture more local power than any of the big 2, or become the government of the day. The real fear for most people is in allowing the unhealthy political character of the big two, to filter down to local levels.
Second, with party financing in its current form, where monies paid to sponsor political party activities translates into capturing and controlling everything that come under the winning parties' governing jurisdiction at national level - the question to be asked then is: will allowing the sponsorship by political parties in local level elections not replicate and deepen such "Sponsor-to-Capture" democracy at the Local and District levels? Considering these are parties with considerably more resources and machinery than individuals or new parties. Where is the democracy in being asked to elect local and district leaders when the options to elect from have been politically engineered with financing?
Finally, So far, we have largely only been able to achieve administrative decentralization and hardly the financial decentralization needed to make the former work fully to a level we can consider developmental. Allowing parties to sponsor Local and Distric assembly Leaders is in my view only going to ensure that we not only have a parliament that is by and large an extension of the executive - we may end up with local governments and parliament both becoming an extension of the executive. In other words, we could end up politically RE-Centralizing the little decentralization achieved at local level using political machinery.
As an Independent Presidential Aspirant, a Yes vote would have meant that I am (like other political parties) able to sponsor people to stand for District leadership, so that I can influence local power, if not executive. Is that what I want? Well, It's not what I want that matters, it's about what is good for Ghana at this particular point in time. I stress POINT IN TIME because current context matters. In our current political climate and with the known nature of party players in it, it is safer that local power remains with Local people. The status quo may not be great, but political parties have not also shown superior betterment capabilities to inspire citizens to agree to them taking over local agenda. Parliament must pass the bill to allow MMDCEs to be elected and WE the people in December must vote to ensure no political party influences who goes into our District Assemblies. If the argument is that political parties are already involved in the sponsorship of District Assembly leaders illegally and secretly - it behooves our democratic machineries to find a way to punish such political misbehavior NOT legalize it. Otherwise, we may very well legalise every wrong currently happening on the blind sides of our laws.
The REAL SUBSTANCE of the December 17th referendum is that Ghanaians are being asked to judge whether or not we are happy with what political parties have achieved with their sponsored MP and Presidential candidates at the national level, and to decide whether we are happy for them to repeat the same in our local communities?
That answer in my opinion must be a NO.
Marricke K. Gane is a declared independent candidate for Ghana's 2020 presidential election.