The West Akim Municipal Assembly engaged the public and other stakeholders on development issues and the processes of preparing the municipal Medium Term Development Plan (MTDP). The Ghanaian planning process which started in November of 2017, ended in April 2018.
Problems and Purpose
Poor knowledge on financial responsibility charting or lack of interest in it is thus a barrier in the struggle for transparency and accountability in local government financial administration. Not until local government authorities, especially the elected representatives of the local residents show interest in knowing who is doing what in the financial management chain, the fight for transparency and accountability in local government administration would be a lost battle.
As stated in the Constitution of Ghana (1992 section 240e), the purpose of citizen participation in local governance is “to ensure the accountability of local government authorities”. This process creates general awareness among the population, eliminate any misunderstanding and distortions, and foster greater understanding, appreciation, acceptance and ownership of the MTDP (West Akim Municipal Assembly, 2018).
Background History and Context
The Constitution of Ghana stipulates how the country should engage citizens and how citizens should be involved in the decision-making process (National Development Planning Commission, 2013). In line with the decentralization policy of the government of Ghana, the District Assemblies (DAs) are required to prepare and implement their development plans to ensure the overall development of their respective areas (NDPC 2013). The NDPC issues Medium-Term Development Plan Preparation Guidelines for the DAs in accordance with the National Development Planning System Act (1994). The DAs formulated their first Medium- Term Development Plans (MTDPs) to cover 1996–2000. It has since been prepared every four years after 2005. The current plan covered the years 2018–2021. There has not been optimum community participation it has been anticipated but, every plan preparation period (every fours) has seen some level of improvement in community participation.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The process was organized and funded by the West Akim Municipal Assembly through their internally generated funds. Community sensitization was done in collaboration with Social Public Expenditure Financial Accountability (SPEFA). SPEFA is the third component of the Local Government Capacity Support Project with funding support from the World bank and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. The aim of SPEFA is “to improve Citizens’ perception of urban management and increase their engagement with urban assemblies to facilitate participatory development”. (SPEFA, 2016)
The autonomous structure of the assembly allows for the imposition of fees and fines on the residents as sources of internally generated fund and the transfer its receives from the central government known as District Assembly Common Fund (DACF) are the main sources of revenue for the assembly. Occasionally, the Assembly receives other external funding from donor agencies like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The West Akim participatory-planning process used a combination of targeted recruitment and self-selection. The process involved a variety of people including ordinary citizens, heads of institutions, traditional authorities (kings and queen mothers), religious leaders, civil society organizations, media, groups like market women and artisans (West Akim Municipal Assembly, 2018). Radio advertisements were run and invitation letters were sent to community and other organizational leaders. Local information centers were also used to publicize the event. The community was involved in the needs assessment and during the adaptation and approval of the plan, two critical steps in the planning process. The constitution of Ghana cited by Stiftung says “to ensure the accountability of local government authorities, people in particular local government areas shall, as far as practicable, be afforded the opportunity to participate effectively in their governance” (Stiftung, 2013).
Methods and Tools Used
Town hall meetings were adopted for this purpose and a public hearing organized at the Assembly’s hall to present the plan for discussions, approval and adoption. The town hall meetings allowed the community members to meet the public officials to deliberate and make important decisions. Town hall meetings were organized in the community durbar ground and inside church buildings. Town hall meetings were organized in all three zonal councils at separate dates for the needs assessment. Assembly members within the zonal councils acted as gatekeepers and provided useful information about convenient dates and venues for the town hall deliberations.
Public hearing was adopted to discuss the draft copy of the report. Even though the public officials were not obliged to act on the comments, it was very necessary to again deliberate on the key issues identified in the report for adoption as a legal document of the assembly. Power point was used to present the findings facilitated by the planning officer. Participation was open with self-selected individuals as well as the representatives from the government agency or organization. All parties that were believed to be interested and effected by the outcome of the decision were also invited.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The preparation of the Medium Term Development Plan was summarized into four stages namely the preparatory process, performance review of past plan, Needs assessment and report writing and public hearing for adoption of the plan. The facilitation was done by the MTDP committee members. The lead facilitation was done by the Municipal Planning Officers while other team members facilitated the group sessions and responded to questions and comments from participants.
To facilitate information gathering, ownership and implementation of the plan, a 12- member plan preparation task force or committee was formed. During this process, the planning unit spearheaded the process to form a committee. The Planning officer was the secretary, chaired by the Coordinating Director. Invitation letters were sent to officers chosen to be members of the committee. Subsequently the committee met and outlined a plan of action for the preparation process. The community members were involved by the representation of chairmen of the three zonal councils.
Performance review of past plan
At this stage, the committee reviewed the past plan (MTDP 2014-2017) prepared by the Assembly. The committee found out reasons for the overall achievement of the plan. The lack of funding contributed to the partial implementation of the past plan. The findings from the review formed the basis of the current plan (MTDP 2018-2021).
Data collection/ needs assessment.
A town hall meeting was used to identify the communities’ needs. Participants discussed their problems, challenges and preferred development projects within their communities in the Zonal Council in stages. They were later separated into three groups to prioritize the problems, challenges and preferred development projects. A total number of 686 people were involved in the three town hall meetings organized.
Report writing and approval of the plan
The committee collated and analyzed the data gathered and wrote the report. A Final Public Hearing was organized for approval by the general assembly. This step is also key in concluding the planning process before implementation begins. The draft report was presented to the general public including the assembly members for scrutiny. Inputs from the general public were used to finalize the plan for approval. At the public hearing, a total number of 103 people attended. The draft report was not made available to the public until after it has been discussed and approved by the assembly members. The hearing adopted the two-way face to face deliberative tactics.
After approval, the plan became a legal document upon which the assembly operated. In order to ensure harmony in the implementation of the regional and national development plans, copies of the plan were submitted to the Regional Coordinating Council and the National Development Planning Commission.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The process achieved its intended result of allowing citizens to be involved in decisions that affected their own lives. Participants who were involved in the process had a better understanding of the process and allowed them to make relevant contributions by asking questions that hitherto they did not have answers to promoting accountability. The roles played by the citizens in this process cannot be overemphasized. The selection and prioritization of issues, projects and programs were based on consensus building among citizens guided by criteria such as:
- Widespread effects that the selected project should reach a large proportion of the citizen especially the poor and the vulnerable like children, women and the disabled.
- Significant linkage effects on meeting basic human needs and
- Significant multiple effect on local economic attraction of enterprise job-creation and
- increase in incomes and growth.
The prioritized issues and development projects from each group were put together and ranked. Problems identified varied from issues such as soil erosions, high cost of utility bills, dilapidated school building and inadequate sanitary facilities, health problems to poor road networks due to improper waste management, and many more.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
There has not been any formal evaluation of the citizens’ involvement in the process but there was improvement in the number of people who participated in the planning process compared to the past to the preparation of the past plan which covered the years 2014-2017. The understanding of the role the citizens need to play must continuously be promoted by the assembly. The involvement of the SPEFA in building the capacities of the assembly members was critical. This was the second time they had been involved in the training and sensitization process on planning process and financial management.
Citizens who were involved were enthused and satisfied to see that their views were captured in the plan. However, a major limitation to this process was the lack of adequate funding to involve a significant number of people. The assembly operates on a limited budget which makes it difficult to achieve its targeted population to ensure transparency and accountability. It is recommended that the assembly sought for other external sources of funding going forward.
The original submission of this case entry was written by Richmond Osei-Danquah, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. The views expressed in the current version are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.