As you are aware, the President has constituted a Commission of Inquiry to examine 6 petitions to create 6 new regions, which seeks to bring the number of regions to 16.
I stand with the petitioners in raising an alarm about the large-scale poverty that exists in their areas. I also agree with their observation that they are unable to access facilities in their respective regional capitals.
While I commend the petitioners, and acknowledge that their petitions are well intentioned, I rise this morning to express my utter, unreserved and unrepentant opposition to the creation of any new regions on the grounds submitted to the Commission and briefly listed below:
1. The petitions are based on the false assumption that the mere creation of regions will accelerate development, improve governance and alleviate poverty in the newly created regions. The evidence, however, is to the contrary.
2. The petitioners do not show the financing or planning models that justify their optimism. Rather, they implicitly assume that there is a pot of unused funds that would become immediately available for the development of the newly created regions.
3. As a constitutional matter, there is no basis for a referendum because there has not been a showing that there is substantial demand for the creation of new regions.
4. The question of who is entitled to vote in a referendum to create a new region is a complicated question of law. The narrow view that only voters in the affected region can vote is consistent with a federal conception of regions that existed in the 1957 Constitution but is inconsistent with the 1992 Constitution’s unitary conception. The broader view that all voters should participate in the referendum, while aligning with the unitary conception, is inconsistent with a literal reading of the 1992 Constitution.
5. The threshold for creating regions is appositely high to avoid opportunistic creation of regions that ultimately confers benefits to a few and imposes cost on the many. Thus far, the petitioners have not indicated how the creating of new regions will affect the other regions, especially the ones that are being carved out.
6. Significant resources must be directed to the referendum, which we can ill afford considering our budgetary deficit that has put the payment of some current salaries in arrears.
7. A negative outcome on the referendum will not only be embarrassing but will also constitute an avoidable and willful waste of resources.
8. New regions are costly. At a minimum, each must have the full panoply of constitutionally mandated agencies and other government departments — Prison Service, Division of Health Services, Division of Social Welfare, etc. These are substantial costs that would only worsen the budgetary and infrastructural deficits.
9. Creating new regions worsens our insular proclivities.
10. Districts, not regions, are at the core of devolution. We must rationalize the number of and strengthen the districts while moving away from the regions.
11. Creating new regions dilute the vested interests of the other regions while accreting those of the split-regions.
12. The dilutive impact will trigger an endless cycle of petitions to create even more regions, which will lead to a slippery slope to the well-known tragedy of commons.
Before assuming my seat, allow me to explain the dilutive problem (point 11 above and point 7 in the memorandum) by applying it to the composition of the National House of Chiefs. Article 271(2) provides that, “The House of Chiefs of each region shall elect as members of the National House of Chiefs five paramount chiefs from the region,” and 271(3) provides that “Where in a region there are fewer than five paramount chiefs, the House of Chiefs of the region shall elect such number of divisional chiefs as shall make up the required representation of chiefs for the region.”
Currently, with 10 regions, the National House of Chiefs has 50 (10 x 5) members. The membership increases to 55 (11 x 5) if a new region is created. Effectively that means the old region from which the new one was created now provides 10 members while all the other regions continue to have 5 each. The power of chiefs from the split region has been accreted while that of others from the other 9 regions has been diluted.
The more regions that are created the bigger the problem of dilution.
With 6 new regions, Article 271(2)(3) will operate to require 80 (16 x 5) members of the National House of Chiefs with the four split regions (Western, Volta, Brong Ahafo and Northern) now providing 50 (10 x 5) of the 80 members (approximately 63% of the membership) compared to the existing composition where the 4 regions provide 20 (40%) of the 50 members. For no reason, other than creating new regions, the balance of power in the House has shifted radically in favour of the 4 regions that split.
This dilutive problem will exist whenever region is used as an argument in allocating funds, resources, facilities, military bases, appointments or other regional balancing schemes.
Lastly, I must reiterate that the issues that the petitioners raise are pervasive and true of most places in the country. The solution then lies in a holistic developmental approach, including rethinking our current revenue models, tapping into the wealth of our Diaspora citizens, reordering our consumption and investment profiles, investing in information technology and reliable transportation networks, etc. The solution certainly does not lie in creating more regions, districts, constituencies and other administrative bureaucracies.
By : Kwaku Azar