Posted by: rumnet | September 13, 2011

Taking a second Look

Taking a second Look at District Assembly System

Elections and the quest for gender equality

By Abdallah Kassim and Emmanuel Abeliwine

(published in the July 2011 edition of the advocate)

Many are those who advocate that it is high time the condition of service of the Assembly Member is revisited. The Assembly Member, proponents say, should be remunerated just as the Member of Parliament. For, the roles and responsibilities of the Assembly Member are as important as that of the Member of Parliament. One operates at the national level and the other at the local level.

Parliament is one institution where the needs and interests of citizens are expressed and addressed through debate on public policy by their representatives – Members of Parliament. It provides a unique opportunity for the voices of Ghanaians, particularly those most affected by government policies, to be heard in the legislative process. The Parliament is therefore crucial for reinforcing democracy and scrutinizing public policies effective.

The District Assembly is the fulcrum of national development. It is a vehicle for national mobilisation and an instrument for grassroots development. The District Assembly exercises the functions of Government through decentralised fiscal and public administration. District Assemblies exercise deliberative, legislative and executive functions in complimenting central government. They are responsible for the overall development of local communities and are to ensure that they promote and support productive socio-economic programmes.

The MP is expected to fulfil three main functions:  represent citizens by bringing their needs, goals, problems, and concerns to the legislative process; make laws that govern the nation; and exercise oversight by insuring that legislation and government policies are implemented effectively, according to the original intent, and within the parameters of the rule of law.

 

The MP is supposed to make regular contact with his constituents to enable him to easily identify their needs and elicit their input on policy debates. Frequent interactions between MPs and citizens also facilitate information sharing that could make government more accountable to the people. MPs can also help achieve this outcome by informing citizens about legislative actions, ensuring that citizen voices are reflected in budgets and public policy, and assisting constituents to gain access to governmental services.

At the core of democratic development is the need for people to be confident that the politicians they elect to represent them are addressing their concerns and best interests in improving the welfare and quality of life for the local community. Although MPs have been resourced to perform the preceding functions, how many of them live up to these roles and responsibilities?  It has become the second nature of MPs to intensify contacts with their constituents mostly, only when it is election time.

In a vein similar to that of the MP, the AM is supposed to “maintain close contact with his electoral area, consult his people on issues to be discussed in the District Assembly and collect their views, opinions and proposals; present the views, opinions and proposals to the District Assembly; and meet with the electorate before each meeting of the Assembly.”

Besides, the AM is required to “report to his electorate the general decisions of the Assembly and its Executive Committees, and the actions he has taken to solve problems raised by residents in his electoral area; maintain frequent liaison with organised productive economic groups and take part in communal and development activities in the District.”

 

The AM is increasingly important at the local government level where he ensures that service delivery is more effective and efficient; and where the inaccessibility of citizens to transparent decision-making does not fuel corruption, inhibit good governance and decrease the likelihood for social and economic improvements. Indeed, there is no gainsaying that the Assembly Member is in the thick of grassroots development and closer to the people than the Member of Parliament.

Ironically, while the MP is richly remunerated and lavished with various pecks, the poor and poorly paid AM dissipates his scanty resources on a constant stream of distressed and hapless electorates. Apart from the meagre sitting allowances that are even irregular, the AM has no any significant compensation for his efforts. He is paid a pittance of GH¢20 per sitting per quarter. Yet he has inevitably become a de facto lawyer, caretaker and undertaker who the electorates fall on for assistance whenever they have cases with the police, are bereaved or indebted.

The essence of government is about creating favourable social, economic, political and cultural conditions for citizens to thrive in. While the MP represents the citizens at the national level, the AM does so at the local government level. Both the MP and AM need to operate diligently to bring about that crucial environment. If the Districts are the fundamental structures for inclusive governance and development, then the AM, who is the grassroots development agent, should be empowered to perform to the maximum. One way to do that is to remunerate the AM.

Local government is the coalface of inclusive governance and service delivery. If the AM is paid as the MP, government would have taken a significant step to strengthening citizens’ participation in decisions that affect their lives and embarked on a veritable forward march towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The government has shown the political will by presenting 6,060 motorbikes to Assembly Members throughout the country. It is not impossible to take the bold and necessary decision to pay Assembly Members monthly salary.

 

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