Lack of coordination among ministries and agencies of government is hampering the decentralization exercise initiated since 2006, to give back some of the power to the local people in the various counties and is said to be dominated by a handful people based mainly in Monrovia.
Upon the inception of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf-led government in 2006, the County Development Funds (CDF) was introduced to spearhead the decentralization exercise. The government initiated the CDF as a way of starting a program of decentralization and moving from the decision-making priority setting in Monrovia, but this is not going as planned, President Sirleaf has said.
The CDF was based on a County Development Agenda (CDA), which brought together all ministry sectors to discuss with local authorities and representatives, along with community and political leaders, in order to determine clear guidelines and the best priorities for the counties, which would in turn be supported by the CDF.
The national medium term development framework, Agenda for Transformation (AT), adopted at the National Vision Conference on December 12, 2012 , has anchored decentralization as one of the major features of the governance arrangement, designed to support inclusive growth and development. But it has yet to be brought to fruition.
But President Sirleaf has indicated that like many things in the country this program, which started so well has failed because the CDF moved from judging the right priorities and instead based its decisions on politics.
She was, however, quick to suggest that ministries and agencies (the government) revert support back to the counties through the County Development Fund (CDF). “We need to go back to the original intent of funding in the counties and the coordination that comes from a comprehensive CDA that establishes the right priorities based on a clear set of criteria,” she said.
President Sirleaf made the assertion at the close of a one-day joint Ministry of Internal Affairs and Governance Commission High-Level Roundtable on Decentralization Implementation, at the Monrovia City Hall last Thursday.
The High-Level Roundtable was convened to discuss the status of decentralization, particularly the implementation of deconcentration over the last three years, and to examine the challenges and support to deconcentration from government and international partners over the next few years. This is to further the National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance, promulgated since January 5, 2012 , and a draft Local Government Law which is under review.
Touching on the Deconcentration Implementation Strategy, with a focus on County Government Centers, President Sirleaf recommended that at the county level, Government must begin to look in the direction where all ministries and agencies have common premises that will enable them to do more efficient service and delivery, leading to better coordination, integration and results.
A Deconcentration Implementation Strategy was developed by 12 ministries and two agencies, through a process coordinated by the Governance Commission. Thus far, the process of deconcentration has been underway in a rather slow procedure, with ministries and agencies for the most part unable to adequately collaborate with the various counties.
Noting that most counties do have administrative buildings that can accommodate and move towards the achievement of this goal, the President said, “Where we have an administrative building, each ministry or agency can take a room or an annex and all go together in common premises so you don’t have to pay for extra services. We will start to move in that direction.”
The President also spoke of the lack of coordination and collaboration among county superintendents. President Sirleaf frowned on their inability to provide, for instance, comprehensive reports on the status of development projects as a means of preparation for her visits to these counties.
She mandated that with immediate effect each county, in collaboration with sector ministries, is to provide a comprehensive quarterly report. “When we’re trying to make resources available, we take into account what everyone is doing or proposes to do and how we can integrate our service with the simple objective of trying to bring better results; and how we can have a more efficient service delivery to the people,” she said.
There is a need for a planned synchronized approach to de-concentration, which will strengthen coordination among agencies of central government in the delivery of services to county and sub-county levels of government, enhancing economies of scale, cost savings, local participation and co-ownership, Minister of Internal Affairs, Morris Dukuly, said. He made a presentation on his Ministry’s Decentralization Plan: Layout of Issues, Challenges and Resource Requirements.
Finance and Development Planning Minister, Amara Konneh, said that government institutions that are involved in the decentralization exercise need to work together as a team, in order to deliver the kind of results that central government is anticipating.
Minister Konneh also observed that others are resisting the exercise because it is taking power from the hands of a few people, which has been the status quo since the existence of the Liberian state, into the hands of the masses, which he said is necessary for the growth of the country. He also called on the ministries and agencies to synchronize their activities.
The Ministers of Education, Agriculture, Transport, Commerce and Industry, amongst others, also spoke on their Ministries’ Deconcentration Implementation Work. Some members of the diplomatic corps, who are also partners in the decentralization exercise, spoke at the roundtable.
Implementation of decentralization is to take place in phases. Deconcentration, the first phase of decentralization, was scheduled to be completed or significantly advanced within three years, promulgating the National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance in January 2012.