Governance and for that matter, local governance did not start with the coming of Europeans to Ghana. Indeed, communities and societies had their own peculiar ways of governing themselves. Basically, the head of government in the communities was the chief, supported by his elders.
However, following the discovery and settlement of Europeans in Africa and particularly, the Gold Coast, both the leadership and the dynamics of local governance changed dramatically with the chiefs playing less prominent roles to the British Resident Commissioners. With the coming of the British to the Gold Coast, Local Government and administration centred around the chiefs or some local loyalty which was basically undefined. This system of Local Government was referred to as the ‘Indirect Rule System’ (IRS). The units of Local Government were called Native Authorities which were not democratic. The chiefs in these units were already recognised as wielders of authority and there were no clearly-recognised power wielders. The colonial government handpicked some influential people to help them administer law and order.
Local Government in the Gold Coast developed along two parallel lines. A series of Municipal Council Ordinances regulated Local Government in the major municipals while a series of Native Jurisdiction Ordinances regulated Local Government in the rest of the country through the State Councils and Native Authorities (Ahwoi, 2010). Following the 1948 disturbances in the major cities in Ghana, and in a bid to address the inadequacies identified by the Coussey Committee in 1949, the first Local Government Ordinance was commissioned in 1951.
Unfortunately, there were no marked changes in this Ordinance because it did not affect the major Councils. As many as 252 Local and Urban and 26 District Councils were created (Ahwoi, ibid.).
Further strengthening the undemocratic powers of chiefs, the new system was linked with the old system and the chief was announced the President of the New Councils, though with limited powers.
In just 5 years of implementing the new system, some inadequacies were again identified and F. A. Greenwood headed another commission in 1956 to make propositions to reform the Local Government system paying attention to the structure of Local Government, revenue control systems, expenditure control measures, taxation and Local Government financing among others.
The Greenwood recommendations hardly saw daylight before Ghana re-gained her independence a year later (1957).
This publication has been made possible by the Institute of Local Government Studies and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Ghana