In this blog, the fourth in a series on Interrogating Decentralisation in Africa, Daniel Doh investigates the impact of staff motivation and competence levels within local government on the quality of service delivery in Ghana’s district assemblies
Kejetia Market, Ghana. Image credit: Nyani Quarmyne/Panos
Decentralisation in Ghana
One of the most discussed and acted upon issues in Ghana today is decentralisation. Over the last decade, the country has created several new districts and upgraded many others into municipal and metropolitan status. Since the beginning of 2017 decentralisation has been given a further boost: there are now proposals to create four new regions to spread the gains of development. Furthermore, the newly-elected government’s promise of providing a dam per village and a factory per district has been given a further boost in the March budget, which has also made important allocations to district assemblies to promote district level industrialisation, job creation and food security. In effect, district assemblies have been given an expanded mandate for service delivery.
In the midst of all these emerging policies to promote development and service delivery through decentralisation, there appears to be unanswered questions and a lack of discussion about the quality of staff needed to translate these policies into tangible results. For example, does Ghana have the requisite staff quality to promote development through decentralisation? Does the country have qualified, competent and motivated public officials at local government level?
To answer these questions, I examined staff quality in two selected district assemblies in Ghana by looking at competences in terms of technical skills, knowledge and experiences alongside the level of public service motivation. I looked at both competence and public service motivation because there is sufficient argument that knowledge and skills without the right heart and attitude to public good cannot ensure effective service delivery.
Achieving the right mix of skill and motivation
My initial findings confirm that where there is the right balance between staff competence and public service motivation, service delivery is significantly improved. On the other hand, where there is higher public service motivation without the requisite competence, staff do their best but achieve very little, and where there is high competence without public service motivation there is apathy, grumbling and complaining.
Overall, the findings from the two cases together show that the majority of staff demonstrate high public service motivation but low competence – and this is more visible in the district where service delivery did not improve that much. In the district where service delivery had improved, the evidence shows a high concentration of quality staff with the right mix of competence and public service motivation. This finding made me curious to find out why a district has such high concentration of quality and the other doesn’t.
The importance of favourable conditions for staff
I realised that when all background conditions are favourable in a district, it attracts high quality staff who can develop the right organisational culture, capable of providing creativity and innovation in programming and revenue mobilisation. By favourable background conditions I mean important social conditions that support family life and are attractive to high quality staff, such as good housing, good schools for their children, and good markets for essential commodities. When these conditions are met, districts attract staff with higher levels of competence and manage to sustain motivation which – in a cyclical manner –ensure high quality staff and service delivery.
So, why should we be concerned? As Ghana seeks to expand decentralisation in order to promote development, we should be concerned about staff capacity to translate policies into action. Districts must attract, recruit, and maintain high quality staff who have the head, heart and hand for decentralisation. To do this the country must create favourable conditions that support family life in every district, so that staff are willing to accept postings anywhere without fear of lowering their standard of living. In other words, it must design mechanisms to minimise brain drain across districts. If this does not happen, the obvious inequality in the distribution of quality staff will only increase overall inequality of services across districts.