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ghana_mapPopulation: 31.07 Million

HDI rank: 138/189

HDI score: 0.611

The 1992 Constitution of Ghana established decentralization, accountability and participation as national priorities that the current Government has built upon, recently releasing a national framework and action plan for decentralization. However, local governments remain financially and politically tied to the central government, with the President appointing up to 30 percent of local assemblies.

Local governance at a glance

  • At the national level the Ministry for Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) is responsible for local government, including: Local government policy, Monitoring the effectiveness of local government and the decentralization process, Advising government on local government issues, Promoting and administering local government training institutions, and Acting in an advisory capacity to district assemblies and approving their by-laws (CLGF, 2011).
  • There are 10 Regional Coordinating Committees, operating in each of Ghana’s 10 administrative districts and headed by a presidential appointee (USAID, 2010).
  • There are 260 Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs), the units of local government, including 6 metropolitan assemblies covering urban areas, 40 municipal single-town councils, and 124 district assemblies covering a wider geographical area by combining rural areas and small towns (Georgetown, 2010)(National Association of Local Authorities of Ghana (NALAG)).
  • Metropolitan assemblies are four-tiered, composed of sub-metropolitan district councils, town councils, and then unit committees as the most local government (Georgetown, 2010).
  • Municipal and district assemblies have a three-tiered system, composed of zonal or urban/town/area councils and then unit committees as the most local government (CLGF, 2011; Ghana Districts, 2006).
  • MMDAs are led by a Chief Executive appointed by the President and approved by assembly members, 70 percent of whom are directly elected and up to 30 percent of whom are appointed by the President (Georgetown, 2010).
  • 9 percent of assembly seats are reserved for traditional leaders (CLGF, 2011). Ghana’s most influential Chiefs are organized into Regional and National Houses of Chiefs, established by the Chieftaincy Act of 1971.  However, the 1992 Constitution prohibits Chiefs from engaging in active party politics, although the meaning of “active” is not well defined (Georgetown, 2010).
  • The proportion of women councilors following the 2015 local election was 4.7% (276/5,930), down from 6.7% following the 2010 elections, the lowest since the turn of the millennium (Commonwealth Local Government Forum).

Civil society actors include

  • Abantu for Development is an organization dedicated to addressing gender inequality to establish a just society.
  • The Institute of Democratic Governance is devoted to increasing citizen and civil society participation in government to further the democratic process and achieve poverty reduction goals.

Capacity building institutions

  • The National Association of Local Authorities in Ghana (NALAG) is a voluntary platform for communication and capacity building of local government. All district assembly members are members.

Fiscal control

  • The Constitution establishes the District Assemblies’ Common Fund (DACF) and recently increased the percentage of total revenues provided to MMDAs from not less than 5% to not less than 7.5% for district assemblies for development (CLGF, 2011).
  • MMDA’s have little fiscal autonomy, deriving 85 percent of their budgets from the central government or donor agencies (Georgetown, 2010).
  • Each district assembly must present an annual development plan and budget estimates to its general assembly for approval. The assembly is empowered to raise internal revenue to finance some of the development activities (Commonwealth Local Government Forum).
    • The district assemblies are responsible for the setting and collecting of local revenue. Areas of competence include rates and fees, rents, fines and licenses, investments and income from commercial activities, and loans (with Minister of Finance approval).

Key initiatives for participatory local democracy

  • Ghana’s 1992 Constitution includes many features that seek to foster accountable, decentralized, transparent and participatory democratic governance.
    • Chapter 20 states that “functions, powers, responsibilities and resources should be transferred from the central government to local government units”, that local institution capacity-building, fiscal and staff management is important (UNHCR, 2013).
    • Chapter 6 explicitly links Ghana’s democracy to “decentralising the administrative and financial machinery of government to the regions and districts and by affording all possible opportunities to the people to participate in decision-making at every level in national life and government” (UNHCR, 2013).
  • Citizens can hold elected assemblies accountable for their actions either through the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) or the judicial system (CLGF, 2011).
  • Auditing of assemblies is led by an Auditor General and each district must also establish a committee, led by the assembly chairperson, to hear public complaints (CLGF, 2011).
  • The Local Government Act 1993 provides that each assembly member must consult with the electorate on issues that come before the assembly and frequently consult civil society. However, many assembly members are severely resource-constrained and rarely meet constituent communities (CLGF, 2011).
  • Ghana’s policy on development planning “encourages a bottom-up approach by which planning is initiated at community level and harmonised at the district and national levels.  Public hearings to obtain input from local people are required at both the community and district level” (CLGF, 2011).
  • In 2010, the Government of Ghana released a National Decentralization Action Plan that listed 10 primary objectives for decentralization (GoG, 2010):
    1. To clarify the status, roles and relationships between levels of government and different actors to strengthen their participation in and contribution to local governance;
    2. To improve the administrative and human resource capacity of the MMDAs and other local government stakeholders to ensure quality service delivery;
    3. To strengthen the capacity for, coordination and implementation of spatial, physical and development planning at the local level and its integration with budgeting and the national agenda, generally;
    4. To facilitate economic growth, employment and income generation in order to promote household welfare and alleviate poverty;
    5. To improve funding and financial management of MMDAs;
    6. To promote local democracy, participation and accountability through strong and more viable stakeholder involvement in local governance;
    7. To promote a rights-based orientation to local level development, ensuring equitable access to public resources and inclusiveness in decision-making;
    8. To clarify and strengthen the roles and relationships between key non-state actors such as the traditional authorities and civil society groups in local governance;
    9. To streamline, harmonize and coordinate development partner interventions to ensure optimal use of donor resources for local level development; and
    10. To facilitate effective policy coordination and collaboration for smooth devolution of political, administrative and financial authority from the centre to the assemblies.
  • “In recent times, donors are increasingly pooling their support packages together in the form of basket funding arrangements for civil society; these include the Business Sector Advocacy Challenge (BUSAC), the Ghana Research and Advocacy Programme (G-RAP) and now the Strengthening Transparency, Accountability and Responsiveness in Ghana (STAR-Ghana). STAR-Ghana is expected to become a major aid delivery mechanism for CSOs and Parliament in the fields of governance of public goods and service delivery” (Alliance, 2011).
  • In April 2013, the Government of Ghana and the World Bank launched the third phase of the new Local Government Capacity Support Project (LGCP), building the capacity of the media and civil society groups to monitor government financial management. The four phases of the Project are: strengthening the fiscal framework for decentralization, enhancing decentralized urban service delivery, stimulating demand for accountable governance and service delivery, and institutional and project management support (Ghanian Chronicle, 2013).
  • CLGF is working with the National Association of Local Authorities of Ghana (NALAG), the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development and three local governments (two district assemblies and one municipality) on an Local Economic Development (LED) pilot project focused on the practical implementation of the National LED policy as part of the wider Department for International Development (DFID) funded programme supporting local governance and local economic development.
  • At the local level CLGF is working in Asunafo North Municipality in the Brong Ahafo region, Nadowli-Kaleo District Assembly in Upper West region and Ayensuano District Assembly in the Eastern Region. To date, at the local level the projects have focused on building the capacity to municipal staff to undertake local economic assessments, establish local business forums with the private sector, community trainings on business and entrepreneurship skills. In addition the each pilot is taking forward a catalytic project supporting existing local sectors, ranging from community coordinated vegetable gardens, palm oil production, soap making, to a small and medium enterprises trade fair.
  • CLGF is working with the National Association of Local Authorities of Ghana (NALAG) to support the re-development and implementation of their strategic plan. CLGF will continue to work with NALAG as it takes forward the EC funded project “Strengthening local government’s role as a partner in development” focused on the role for local government and other local and national actors in localising and implementing the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Challenges for participatory local democracy

  • The Ghana National Decentralization Action Plan of 2010 identified several challenges for the country. Specifically, “[w]hile relevant legislation had been enacted to empower local authorities, the assignment of financial, human and other resources to match the functions had not been achieved. There were accountability issues including that of the chief executive to local communities, the effectiveness of assembly members and adequacy of citizens’ participation in local governance. Some aspects required review including the circumstances of the sub-district structures, modes of selecting chief executives and appointed members, the role of traditional authorities in local governance arrangements and collaboration between assemblies and interest-groups. Fiscal decentralization, integration of district level departments in assemblies, composite budgeting and staff control by local authorities were still incomplete. The local government service envisaged by local government and civil service legislation was not operational” (GoG, 2010).
  • A 2010 paper prepared for the World Bank stated a number of challenges for the country, including (Georgetown, 2010):
    • “Major challenges in making local government more capable and accountable.” In addition, “For wide-ranging decentralization to improve local government significantly requires the central government to solve difficult challenges surrounding administration and finance at the local level, national unity, and the inclusion of traditional authorities in local government.”
    • Each MMDA must produce a district development plan and budget. However, this document is prepared – and approved – by appointees of the central government. “For these reasons, MMDAs have little autonomy even within their areas of jurisdiction.”
  • “Although the Ghanaian government has incorporated decentralization into the country’s strategic development plans, there is resistance to moving toward a fully democratically-elected local government and a severe lack of transparency between the district governments and central governments in regard to financial transfers. Furthermore, changes in 2007 to the Regional Coordinating Council recentralized fiscal power and service procurement to centrally-appointed actors” (Decentralization in Ghana).

Recent posts on this website about this country:


List of sources (in order of citation):

UNDP, 2012: “Ghana”

NALAG, n.d.

CLGF, 2011: “Ghana”

USAID, 2010: “Comparative desk assessment of decentralization in Africa: Ghana desk study”

Georgetown, 2010: “The Political Economy of Decentralization in Ghana”

Ghana Districts, 2006

Commonwealth Local Government Forum: “Ghana”

UNHCR, 2013: “Constitution of the Republic of Ghana (last amended 1996)”

GoG, 2010: Government of Ghana, “Ghana national decentralization action plan”

Alliance, 2011: “Towards Democratic Ownership in Ghana: Strong Progress in Civil Society Engagement”

Ghanian Chronicle, 2013: “World Bank Sponsored Projects Rolled Out”

Decentralization in Ghana, 2012