Interview: The Power of Decentralisation
Ghana is one of the frontrunner countries dedicated to implementing the SDGs. Highlighting the local perspective, one area of implementation is the revision of the country’s National Urban Policy. URBANET spoke to Sylvanus K. Adzornu from the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development about key drivers for successful implementation of SDGs.
Ghana developed its National Urban Policy in 2012. What was the motivation behind this? Which results can you see?
Sylvanus Adzornu: According to the 2010 housing and population census, Ghana is a rapidly urbanising country. From this, a number of issues arise: traffic congestion, growth of slums, and the need to attract more investment for the urban sector. The National Urban Policy was developed to serve as a guide on how to address these issues.
One result of the policy was the implementation of concrete projects aimed at problems stemming from urbanisation – for example infrastructure improvements in secondary cities and slum upgrading projects. Another result was the development of several other policies, in the areas of housing and economy for example. We have institutionalised the Ghana Urban Forum that takes place every year. It is a space to discuss the policy and issues related to it where all stakeholders come together. The urban policy really was the frontrunner of several developments.
What are the reasons that the National Urban Policy had such a successful outcome?
Sylvanus Adzornu: One critical reason has been Ghana’s decentralisation process. From this, we learned that decentralised assemblies across the country are highly effective in their work. We created a multilevel governance system with the national level for policy consultation, the middle level—province or region – for monitoring, coordination, and evaluation, and the district level for implementation. The assemblies were created by government and they have been given the power to prepare and implement plans with the aim to further deepen decentralization to the local level. The assembly members are elected by the people and the decisions to implement projects and programmes on development are taken by these elected members. Projects and programmes are monitored and reported on for the inclusion and review of national policies.
The ability to involve local governments is crucial. We try to make sure they are part of the policy consultation process. This process is just as important as the policy document itself, because it brings together a variety of stakeholders. When developing the National Urban Policy, we got together with people from all sectors and departments to form a working group. Any policy has to be based on empirical evidence, so we also worked together with research institutions. Civil society organisations from all over the country were also involved in the process. We involved the metropolitan, municipal, and district assemblies.
A policy is a statement of intent – but this needs to be the population’s intention. If you want a policy to be implemented successfully, you need to ensure that you involve all parts of the population into the process, so that the new policy is in agreement with public opinion. Another reason why these participatory processes are so important is that they create awareness for the policies’ respective issues among civil society and government bodies. In this case, the policy planning process has allowed for a prioritisation of urban topics. For instance, the newly created Ministry of Inner Cities and Zongo Development (MICZD) seeks to mitigate the effects of slums in urban areas. Currently, the Institute of Local Government Studies (ILGS) has introduced Urban Development Programmes into their curriculum with several other institutions following the trend including the Department of Planning. The newly created Urban Management Institute has also been established to undertake diploma and masters degree programmes in urban development.
Five years after the development of the National Urban Policy, your government decided that it needs a revision. What led to this decision?
Sylvanus Adzornu: In 2017, several international agreements had been decided upon, most prominently among them the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda. We felt that these international debates and developments needed to be captured in our urban policy therefore we need to incorporate the SDGs and other relevant international agreement into the revised National Urban Policies.
In addition to these international developments, national developments also needed to be considered. For instance, there are rapid industrialisation processes in some regions of Ghana. Such developments led to a re-thinking of issues, for example in economic terms. Both international and national developments necessarily have to find a place in any policy that is to be owned by the people, and owned by the government. Then we will be able to push the policy forward – we won’t be successful if we treat the policy like a fixed document that is not shared with the public. It has to contain international, national, and districts’ ideas. Even though the National Urban Policy was prepared before the SDGs were introduced, the SDGs were reflected in the policy by highlighting issues of climate change, poverty reduction and ensuring resilient and sustainable cities and communities. We however seek to incorporate the SDGs and other relevant international agreements into the revised National Urban Policy.
The New Urban Agenda and the SDGs contain a variety of goals. How do you filter the relevance of these goals for the Ghanaian context? What is your approach to integrate all these different goals?
Sylvanus Adzornu: You need to compare your current policy with the goals from the international agreements to see which goals are already taken care of in the national policy – and also which ones have been neglected so far and need more attention. When implementing the SDGs on a national and local level, monitoring is critical.
Essential to the monitoring process is the creation of a baseline, of a point against which you compare your progress on a certain SDG. If you make improvement, you need to know that there has been improvement. Therefore, it is important to strengthen capacities to get better data at the local level. Data that is sufficiently disaggregated to really measure progress in one district – and this requires more than just figures on the national average.
At the same time, there is no need to stick with all goals – you need to consider your national political and economic situation when you think about how these documents address issues like climate change and disaster management. You need to adapt international goals to your country’s specific situation. During this process, you always have to keep in mind that you have to convince your ministries, cities, and assemblies: they need to be on board and need to accept this as something they want to implement.
He has also led Ghana’s participation in global and continental urban conferences, contributing specifically to the drafting of the New Urban Agenda and the African Urban Agenda through UN-Habitat and the World Urban Forum in Kuala-Lumpur, Malaysia.
He is passionate about urban development and about promoting investment in the infrastructure and the financial autonomy of local authorities as a means of ensuring the development of cities.
He holds a BSc in Planning from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Urban Development Finance from IHS, Rotterdam, and a master's degree in Organisational Development. He has over 24 years of experience in planning and urban development and is currently coordinating the Ghana Urban Management Pilot Programme (GUMPP) and Ghana's Urban Agenda.