SEND GHANA, Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), Penplusbytes and the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition held a two-day social accountability stakeholder forum on February 27 and 28 in Accra, as part of project activities supported by the World Bank Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa.

The theme of the forum was ‘Institutionalizing Social Accountability in Local Governance: the Successes, Gaps and the Way Forward.’

About 100 representatives from the ministries of finance, education, local government and rural development, health and gender; metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies; the Global Partnership for Social Accountability-supported project in Rwanda; civil society organisations (CSOs); academia; and the media attended.

 

“We support CSO-led social accountability initiatives because we believe in the partnership between government and citizens. – Ghana Audit Service Board Chairman Professor Dua Agyemang, speaking on behalf of Senior Minister Yaw Osafo Marfo

 

Institutionalizing Social Accountability in Local Governance: the Successes, Gaps and the Way Forward

Delivering a keynote address on the theme of the forum, the Senior Minister, Yaw Osafo Marfo in an address delivered on his behalf by Ghana Audit Service Board Chairman Professor Dua Agyemang, noted that the country’s laws, administrative guidelines and procedures, such as the Supreme Audit Institution of Ghana, support the ability of citizens to hold public offices to account.

 

(credit: the pulse-Joy news)

 

However, in spite of these laws, guidelines and procedures, social accountability has not been widely accepted as a norm at the local and national levels. The Senior Minister said there is a gap in communication between citizens and public officials, and CDD-Ghana Deputy Executive Director Dr. Franklin Oduro added that “access to information on local government development plans and budgeting systems remains weak.”

 


A session of participants listening to the board chairman of the Ghana Audit Service.

 

Information sharing and social accountability must be improved “before the spaces that have been provided… close up”, as Social Policy Analyst and the chairperson for Star Ghana, a multi-donor funded voice and accountability programme, Dr. Esther Ofei-Aboakye warned. The ministries of finance as well as local government and rural development suggested that social accountability be codified in the Public Financial Management Act, mainstreamed in plans and budgets, and introduced as a performance indicator in the local government system to ensure its implementation by authorities.

 

Apathy a risk of unresponsive government

Social accountability will require adequate resources, said 'Forum participants', who therefore advised that government avoid overly ambitious plans. Echoing ministry representatives, they urged that budgeting should be done accordingly and funds released on time.

‘You work with citizens to develop plans which consist of their needs and aspirations but the district assemblies common fund is not released or you get a budget cut, and you have to roll over plans year on year. How do you go back to inform the people and to seek their inputs again for another plan?’  Alhaji Alhassan Mohammed, Coordinating Director,Tolon District Assembly.

Stakeholders added that mismanaged funding for citizen engagement engenders public distrust of government systems, and party politics at town hall meetings and hearings further puts citizens at risk of apathy.


Mr. Paul N.K Aborampah-Mensah of CDD-Ghana making remarks.

 “Increased citizens’ apathy toward activities of their local assemblies is a result of the rampant dissipation and mismanagement of resources and the poor quality of services provided at the local level,” said CDD-Ghana Senior Programmes Officer Mr. Paul N.K Aborampah-Mensah.

 

Collaborating for open government

During a discussion on the Open Government Partnership (OGP) initiative, panelists concluded that better coordination and collaboration between government and CSOs are needed to improve oversight and public participation, and the overall success of the OGP initiative.

“Coordinating effort toward promoting OGP is a bit weak from the side of government,” said SEND Ghana Country Director George Osei-Bimpeh. “Going forward, civil society and government will have to come together to see how we can engage in a more constructive way to promote open governance.”

SEND GHANA Country Director George Osei-Bimpeh provides comment while Deputy Auditor General George Winful looks on.

 

Deputy Auditor General George Winful emphasized the importance of CSO work in audits, saying CSO discussions on radio send signals to government and put pressure on them to explore issues more deeply.

In addition to discussions on radio, Osei-Bimpeh said the audit service should use CSO monitoring reports as guides for assessments.

 

Enabling social accountability through media and ICT

Stakeholders agreed that media, especially community radio, is an important tool for social accountability. However, media and ICT often occur as an after-thought when it comes to social accountability efforts.

Participants said both local government and CSOs must start planning their social accountability work with the media – and each other – in mind.


Panelists deliberating on media and ICT as enablers for enhancing social accountability.

 “It is very important that we involve local government authorities in the design of ICT platforms to bolster their support for sustainability,” said Mumuni Mohammed, Learning and M&E Coordinator of SEND GHANA, with Penplusbytes CEO Kwame Ahiabenu adding that local government and CSOs must consider which technologies work best for citizens before deployment.

(credit: SEND Ghana)

Stakeholders also said ICT (radio, websites, mobile telephony and other interactive platforms) should be used more effectively to facilitate information flow and strengthen the Supreme Audit Institution.

The forum ended with a call for fiscal decentralization to allow local government to engage citizens and ultimately enhance service delivery in the country.