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PROJECT CONCEPT: The Role of Local Governance in Rural Poverty Reduction

Matthew K. Eghan
(Project Coordinator)

Kikis (1999) and many researchers have indicated that the centralised approach to
development was outdated and that poverty alleviation should be specific to local conditions.
Poor communities should not be positioned as objects of development, but rather participate
as part of the solution. This means that poor communities should be involved in the planning,
implementation, supervision and evaluation from the outset of a poverty eradication

Decentralisation, or decentralised development management, and the promotion of good local

governance have come to be accepted in development circles as constituting an enabling
environment within which effective mechanisms for rural poverty reduction could thrive.

Local governance processes are known to focus on strengthening the interface mechanisms
between the central and local government systems, between local administration and civil
society as well as the private sector to promote economic growth, wealth creation, equity and
transparency. In many African countries, policies and processes that ensure the separation
and co-ordination of the public and private sectors as complementary channels of
development at the local level, and the promotion of NGOs, CBOs, traditional authorities,
and civil society organisations as worthy partners in the local development process are
relatively recent and rudimentary.

Ghana adopted the local governance system in 1988 to speed up grass root participation in
governance and engender development. The district assembly common fund was
subsequently created to provide funding for the governance and developmental activities of

the various district assemblies. Good local governance and rural poverty reduction seem to
have close correlation as seen in the parallels that exist between the statutory responsibilities
of local government institutions and the manifestations of poverty. It is argued that the search
for good governance is a search for effective mechanisms to address the various dimensions
or manifestations of rural poverty; namely:
1. Poor access to, or the absence of, basic necessities and facilities
2. Inability to provide for education and medical care for family
3. Lack of assets, including skills and education
4. Unemployment and under-employment
5. Poor access to production resources, including credit, land and technology
6. Hunger, malnutrition and inadequate household food security
7. Exclusion from decision making, policy formulation and resource allocation
8. Loss of dignity and self-esteem

Various researches by RRAG, and many others have indicated the prevalence of many of
these poverty manifestations in the Ejura-Sekyedumase district. The question that arises is, if
local governance and grass root participation in the development process engender
development, why is poverty and underdevelopment still a problem in the district? Is there
really grass root participation in the governance process in the district? What is the level of
participation n the identification, planning, implementation, supervision and evaluation of
development and poverty alleviation strategies? What is the level of participation of NGOs,
CBOs, Pressure Groups and the traditional authorities in governance and the development
process in the district?

The objectives of the research will be to:
1. Identify the level of awareness of the people on some governance issues,
2. Identify the perception of the rural people about local governance,
3. Identify their level of participation in grass root governance,
4. Identify their level of participation in the development process.
5. Identify the relationship between poverty and local governance.

Presentation and Analysis of Data

Like most rural communities in Ghana, rural Ejura is engulfed in very high levels of poverty.
The economy of the district is predominantly agrarian as many of the inhabitants were
engaged in agriculture (Table 1). However, farming in the district is predominantly

Table 1 Major Occupation of Respondents

Occupation Frequency Percent Percent
Farming 64 81 81
Petty trading 3 3.8 84.8
Both 1 1.3 86.1
Unemployed 4 5.1 91.2
student 5 6.3 97.5
teaching 2 2.5 100.0
Total 79 100.0

For majority of these people, apart from farming, there was no other source of livelihood.
Data collected indicate that about 58.2% did not have any alternative source of livelihood
(Table 2).

Table 2 Source of Alternative livelihood

Frequency Percent Percent
Yes 33 41.8 41.8
No 45 58.2 100.0
Total 79 100.0

Local Governance

Extensive efforts have been made to encourage district assemblies to promote local economic
development. Current initiatives include encouraging public private partnerships, increasing
participation in local governance, institutional and organisational capacity-building, and the
building up of planning capacity. However, in many of the districts in Ghana, especially in
the rural areas, participation is very low.

Participation in the Election Process

Data collected revealed a very high participation in the election process. Out of the 79 people
interviewed, 64, representing 81% had voted in the last district level elections to select
assembly members. This indicates the people willingness to be part of the governance

Table 4 Participation in Last Election

Frequency Percent Percent
Yes 64 81 81
No 15 19 100.0
Total 79 100.0

Asked if they considered the position of the assembly members important, 82.3% of the
respondents answered in the affirmative (Table 5). They explained that their importance lied
in the fact that the assembly members served as conduit between them and the assembly and
therefore were very important for their development purposes.

Table 5 Importance of Assembly Members

Frequency Percent Percent
Yes 65 82.3 82.3
No 14 17.7 100.0
Total 79 100.0

Apart from the assembly members, respondents also voted for their unit committee members.
However, there were fewer people (55.7%) who voted for unit committee members (Table 6).

The reason for the gap could be deduced from the fact that the people had not recognised the
importance of the unit committee, or that the previous committee had not worked to their
satisfaction and therefore did not see the need and use to waste time voting. The situation
even becomes worse considering the fact that unit committee members were people who are
supposed to be well known by electorates. This was confirmed by respondents when they
were asked if they knew the aspiring committee members. As many as 68 out of the 79,
representing 86% answered in the affirmative (Table 7). The question is why did fewer
people vote for unit committee members than for assembly members.

Table 6 Voting in Unit Committee Elections

Frequency Percent Percent
Yes 44 55.7 57.1
No 35 41.8 100.0
Total 79 100.0

Table 7 Knowledge of Committee Members

Frequency Percent Percent
Yes 68 86 84.1
No 11 14 100.0
Total 79 100.0

Participation in Local Governance

The relevance of local participation in local governance is in the belief that local people must
be involved in activities that shapes their lives. Their views and opinions must be sought on
all or most issues bothering on their welfare and development. The assembly man must be
proactive in organising meetings, and if he does, do people attend? From this standpoint
respondents were asked if they attended meetings organised by assembly members. Data
collected revealed that majority, 57%, never attended meetings. Only 34 representing 43%
attended such meetings. Reasons given for their inability to attend meetings were that
meeting times conflicted with their farming activities, and also because meetings were rarely

organised, they were sceptic about outcomes of such meetings and would not attend to waste
their precious time.

Table 8 Attendance to Meetings

Frequency Percent Percent
Yes 34 43.0 43
No 45 57 100.0
Total 79 100.0

When the 34 who attended the meetings organised were asked if whatever discussed at
meeting got implemented, only 44.3% contended that what were discussed got implemented.
The majority constituting 55.7%, however said issues discussed never got implemented.

Table 9 Implementation of Issues Discussed

Frequency Percent Percent
Yes 15 44.3 41.3
No 19 55.7 100.0
Total 34 100.0

Significantly, about 79.4% of those who attended such meetings made contributions to issues
discussed (Table 10). This buttresses the point that if given the opportunity rural people will
definitely be able to voice out any issue that bother them. There were some however, who did
not make any contribution at such meetings. They constituted 20.6% of those who attended
meetings. Reasons given by these people were that whatever contribution they made would
not reach the authorities so they would not waste their time to voice them out. Some also
contended that on many occasions that they had made contributions at such meetings their
concerns were not addressed.

Table 10 Make any contribution at meeting?

Frequency Percent Percent
Yes 27 79.4 79.4
No 7 20.6 100.0
Total 34 100.0

One of the roles of assembly members as stipulated in the Local government Act, is to meet
with the community about their concerns, carry them over to assembly meetings, and report
back to the community about the outcome of meetings etc. Respondents were asked if their
elected representatives attended assembly meetings. Majority of the respondents (86%) were
sure their representatives attended meetings. The remaining 14% however said they did not
know whether they attended or not. This information is presented in Table 11.

Table 11 Assembly Members’ Attendance to Meetings

Frequency Percent Percent
Yes 61 86 86
Don’t Know 11 14 100.0
Total 79 100.0

Consultation of Community Members

For an effective governance system at the local level, elected representatives must at all time
be seen to representing the voices and concerns of their electorates. Assembly members had
campaigned to represent the interests of their communities. The researchers wanted to know
the link and feedback mechanism that existed between elected representatives and
community members. Opinions were therefore sought from respondents if assembly members
met them before meetings to discuss agenda of impending assembly meetings and to seek
their opinions on such matters. The results, presented in table 12 indicate that this was not
done as about 74.7% of the respondents responded in the negative. The remaining 25.3% who
were consulted were identified to be the opinion leaders, power brokers political elites and
the few influential people within the communities, whose views, development concerns, and
problems were not necessarily the same as the majority of the people. This was further
confirmed by discussions during the focus group discussion held within the communities, and

by the district planning officer, who in response to a question on whether communities were
consulted during the data gathering stage of Development Plan design, said opinion leaders,
the educated and traditional leaders were the onse who were consulted. This situation left
majority of the people excluded from the governance process. They felt their opinions did not
matter. This confirms information in Table 8, where only 43% of the people attended

Even among the opinion leaders, there was lack of consensus on whether they were
consulted. There were sharp political division among the people in the district. In areas
where the people were sympathetic to the ruling government, their opinions mattered. The
opposite was the case in areas perceived to be the stronghold of the opposition. This had
affected governance and development as a whole in the district.

Table 12 Seeking of Opinions by assemblymen before Meetings

Frequency Percent Percent
Yes 20 25.3 25.3
No 59 74.7 100.0
Total 79 100.0

Another worrying situation was also the fact that even after assembly meetings, assembly
members never reported back to the communities whose interests they represented (Table
13). This resulted in situations where community members especially those within the rural
areas were ignorant about activities of the assembly. In a previous research by RRAG last
year in the same district, community members did not know about many of the interventions
available at the assembly. Numerous livelihood opportunities existed at the assembly but the
intended beneficiaries were not aware. This was primarily due to the lack of communication
between community members and their elected representatives who worked directly with the

Table 13 Reporting Back to Community

Frequency Percent Percent
Yes 10 44.3 46.1
No 69 51.9 100.0
Total 79 100.0

Apart from elected representatives, the assembly itself is supposed to be meeting the people
from time to in the form of durbars and outreach programmes to seek the views of
community members on matters that require wider consultations. In this regard therefore, the
researchers wanted to know if the people had ever been met, and if so how regular have these
interactions been made. Table 14 presents information on whether the assembly had sought
the views of community members on any issue. From the table only 36.7% could attest that
their opinions had ever been sought. They however contended that it was one-off interaction.
From this therefore one could detect a disconnection between the district assembly, which is
the development agent in the district, and the people whose interest the assembly represents.
No effective governance can be experienced when the leadership rarely interacts with the
people. There is very little avenue for participation in the governance process in the district,
making them feel excluded and isolated in the governance structure within the framework of
the district assembly concept.

Table 14 DA Seeking Views from Community

Frequency Percent Percent
Yes 29 36.7 36.7
No 50 63.3 100
Total 79 100.0

Local Governance and Development

According to Onibokun and Faniran (1995), governance has two faces: first, the leadership,
which has responsibilities derived from the principles of effective governmental organization;
second, the governed, that is, the citizens, who are responsible for making relevant inputs to
the socioeconomic and political affairs of their society. In other words, governance is a
relationship between rulers and the ruled, the state and society, the governors and the

governed. It is important that the two principal actors be as close as possible to ensure the
legitimacy, accountability, credibility, and responsiveness of the rulers and the effective
participation, cooperation, and responsiveness of the ruled.

It has been established however that there is a gap between the rulers and the ruled within the
study area as indicated in the previous sections. How does this affect development within the
context of local government and rural development? Data collected revealed that about half
of the respondents did not know the difference between the district assembly and the central
government (Table 15). The significance of this ignorance lies in the fact that the people
would not know who or what institution is responsible for their social, economic and
infrastructure development, and as such would not know who or where to report to and who
or what to hold accountable for the lack of such development. Many of the district
assemblies in the country have over a long period shirked their responsibilities and have got
away with it because there is no one to hold them accountable for their actions and inactions.
District assemblies are held to some form of accountability only at public account
commission hearings held every year to assess audited accounts two or three years after
disbursement. There is no immediate accountability check within the various districts.

Table 15 Knowledge of Difference between Central Government and DA

Frequency Percent Cumulative Percent
Yes 39 49.4 49.4
No 40 50.6 100
Total 79 100.0

The communication gap between the DA and the people had resulted in serious
developmental challenges. In an interaction with the assembly, the district planning officer
outlined several developmental projects being undertaken by the assembly in the various
communities. The community members on the other hand felt the assembly was not
addressing their development concerns (Table 16). This situation was simply due to the fact
that the assembly seldom consulted the people on what their actual development needs were
before embarking on development projects from identification stage to implementation stage.
The best, as already indicated was the consultation of only the rural elites.

Table 16 DA’s Address of Communities’ Concerns
Frequency Percent Percent
Yes 20 25.3 25.3
No 59 72.2 100
Total 79 100.0

Table 17 Level of involvement in DA’s Activities

Frequency Percent Percent
Low 49 62.1 62.1
Fair 17 21.5 83.6
High 9 11.3 94.9
Very high 4 5.1 100.0
Total 79 100.0

There is very low level of involvement in the activities of the assembly in the various
communities (Table 17). From table 17, only 16.4% of the respondents have been involved
actively in the activities of the assembly. This situation does not auger well for project
ownership and sustainability. Various researches have indicated that if there is high level of
involvement of community members in activities that affect their livelihood, there is greater
likelihood of project success and project sustainability. From this therefore and based on table
17, one can say with high level of certainty that development project could suffer if
community involvement is not enhanced.

Onibokun, A.G.; Faniran, A., ed. 1995. Governance and urban poverty in anglophone West
Africa. Centre for African Settlement Studies and Development, Ibadan, Nigeria. CASSAD
Monograph Series 4.