Speak Magazine

Field Notes

Charting government accountability

By: John Van Dusen

NKROFUL – A chalkboard with numbers charted like a scoreboard sits outside the district office, the months of the year running across the top and the names of communities running along the side. It’s a tool rarely seen outside the classroom but in this public forum the information is available to all, and that’s exactly its purpose.

A chalkboard sits outside the Ellembelle district office in Nkroful, listing the monthly revenue performance for each of the district's communities.

A chalkboard sits outside the Ellembelle district office in Nkroful, listing the monthly revenue performance for each of the district’s communities.

The Ellembelle district tracks the monthly inventory of tax revenue collected and posts it for the public’s consumption.

In a country where there is a perception that politicians are corrupt, George Kyei-Baffour says the board is a novel approach to curbing the stigma.

The local government expert and former president of the National Association of Local Authorities of Ghana thinks all districts should be encouraged to do the same.

“It enhances their accountability and transparency,” he says.

The taxes, known as internally generated funds (IGF), consist of a number of fees like property tax and business licenses.

The IGFs also include a fee called a basic rate, a tax collected from every citizen between the ages of 18 and 60 and not attending school.

The fee varies by district but is often a couple of cedis (approximately one Canadian dollar), Kyei-Baffour says.

At the beginning of the year the prices are determined and approved by the Ministry of Local Government.

“Sometimes there are gaps,” Kyei-Baffour says. “They are supposed to visit the assemblies to follow up as to whether indeed the assemblies’ proposals provided for in their approved development plans are followed to the letter,” he says.

But that’s not always the case.

“Sometimes [the politicians] would want to implement it to suit their political gains,” he says.

Ghana is broken down into ten regions and further sub-divided into assemblies. Larger cities like Accra are termed metropolitans. Smaller towns are districts.

Ellembelle is a relatively new district at just five years old. Daniel Eshun says there is a lot of work to be done like road maintenance and garbage collection. The Ellembelle district chief executive says the chalkboard is a way to be open with citizens.

“If you’re taking money from the community you should let them know how much you’re taking,” he says.

“We just want to send a signal that if we are able to mobilize a lot of money and if our citizenry are ready to pay more to help the assembly, the assembly in turn will also give back to the community.”

The district commissions a number of tax collectors who take a 30 per cent cut on what they bring in, Eshun says.

“You take 30 per cent out of it, consider fuel, consider other donations, you see that half of the month the whole thing is gone,” he says.

Eshun says the board is way to communicate with the community and add a layer of transparency, one of Ghana’s main pillars of its constitution.

But it hasn’t been one of the country’s strong suits. A 2011 report by Ghana’s Auditor General shows 118 million Ghana cedis were unaccounted for in the country’s ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), including 34 million cedis in cash irregularities for unauthorized expenditure and misappropriation of revenue, 25 million cedis in contract irregularities from “management lapses” and a million cedis in payroll overpayments.

“The cataloguing of financial irregularities in my Report on MDAs and other agencies has become an annual ritual that seems to have no effect because affected MDAs are not seen to be taking any effective action to address the basic problems of lack of monitoring and supervision and non-adherence to legislation put in place to
provide effective financial management of public resources,” Richard Quartey, Ghana’s Auditor General writes in the report.

“These are the results of systemic weaknesses that have persisted over time and other break-downs in internal controls.”

Kyei-Baffour says the country has done well to establish a number of accountability institutions, pointing to the Media Commission, the National Security Council and the Economic and Organized Crime Office. He says the country needs to strengthen them by ending partisan appointments and laying out harsh punishments on perpetrators.

“The sanctions in our laws ought to be updated to provide strict punishments for those who engage in corruption,” he says.

Above all else, Kyei-Baffour says it is up to the citizens to play their role.

“We ought to engage the citizen to be up to the task of exposing corruption in this country.”

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