The Evolution and History of Local Government and Decentralisation in Ghana (From 1957 – 1987)

The 1957 Constitution which gave birth to Ghana’s independence on the 6th of March 1957 also provided some reforms in the Local Government system. The Constitution divided the country into
five administrative regions: Eastern, Western, Ashanti, Northern and the Trans-Volta Togoland Regions. Representatives from the Regional Houses of Chiefs headed the regions except the Ashanti
which had been headed by the Asantehene. Every region had an Assembly (equivalent of Parliament) and these regional assemblies were responsible for the entire development of the regions. 

Again, the Constitution retained the Local Government Councils: Municipal, District, Urban and Local Councils, as were in existence. Unfortunately, the regional assemblies (Parliaments) did not see their own importance in dispensing local governance and thus, their activities were marked with grave opposition. This was the situation until the 1960 Republican Constitution was promulgated which provided for some reforms in the Local Government system again.

Remarkable in the Republican Constitution about strengthening local governance was the creation of regions the Central Region, the Upper Regions and the Trans-Volta Togoland now the Volta Region. This brought the number of regions in the country to seven. A year after the promulgation of the Republican Constitution, there was another Local Government Act in 1961, Act 54, which divided the country into cities, Municipal and Local Area Councils (Ahwoi, ibid.: 3). This was the Act that recognised the participation of Village, Town and Area Committees in Local Government processes but proscribed the representation of traditional authorities. This again was a major reform in Ghana’s Local Government
system because it introduced elections to get members of the various committees with a Paramount Chief chairing the District Councils who was appointed by the Minister for Justice to chair and lead the processes leading to electing a substantive chair. The District Councils had three-year tenure of office though eligible for re-election.

Local Government in Ghana was subsumed in the Ministry of Justice. The councils had four major functions: environmental management, security which deployed the local authority police, provision of social services and infrastructure. Licenses, permits, fees, land revenues, etc. had been traditional sources of Local Government financing.

Inadequacies in the Local Government system continued to be catalogued and by way of reforming the sector incorporated recommendations from many commissions. There was another Local Administration Act in 1971, Act 359, which conferred the appointive powers of the Prime Minister to the Regional Chief Executives to head the Regional Councils. Interestingly, there was an amendment to the 1971 Act in 1974 which created a four-tier structure of Local Government. The structure had the Regional Councils, District Councils, Area, Municipal, Urban and Local Councils, and then Town or Village Development Committees (Ahwoi, ibid).

The new system abolished the inadequacies in the old order where there was distinction between the Central Government and Local Government and adopted an integrated or fused approach to Local Government. The new system created 58 districts and 273 Municipal, Area, Urban and Local Councils again, basically in charge of organising and carrying out local development.

In 1979, the Constitution that returned the country to civilian rule empowered Parliament to enact a law to create District Councils, Village, Town and Area Development Committees. This was not a novelty because the 1974 Local Administration Amendment had already provided for these Local Government units. The novelty in this case was the re-introduction of the power to appoint some
members of the various units. Two-third of the membership was elected through universal adult suffrage while the remaining onethird was appointed by traditional authorities. Here again, the
appointive power was now conferred on the traditional authorities which sought to re-introduce traditional authorities into Local Government after they were long excluded by Act 54 of 1961.The functions of these four-tier Local Government units were basically the same as before.

Following the provisions made in chapter 20 of the 1979 Constitution of Ghana, the Government in the Third Republic amended the 1974 Act in 1980 and replaced the part one of Act 359 of 1971. This amendment redefined the memberships of the various Local Government units and recreated spaces for traditional authorities as well as re-introduced the appointive powers, now conferred on the President of the Republic of Ghana as well as two representations from the Regional Houses of Chiefs in the Regional Councils. This amendment was the last major reform in the Local Government system of Ghana until the current dispensation of Local Government, established by the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) Law on Decentralisation, (Law 207 of 1988) informed by the PNDC government guidelines on decentralisation in 1982.
This publication has been made possible by the Institute of Local Government Studies and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Ghana

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