Faces of Open Government: Anthony K.K. Sam
Anthony K.K. Sam is the Metropolitan Chief Executive of the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolitan Assembly.
How did you decide to join government and work in public service? Tell us a little bit about your path to becoming Major of Sekondi-Takoradi.
I have over 24 years of experience as a professional teacher and a managing director in some private sector institutions both in Ghana and Liberia. I have taught at several schools in Ghana including Fijai Senior High School, Nana Brempong Yaw Junior High School, Higgins Primary School, West Ridge Primary School and Nana Kobina Gyan Primary School. In Liberia, I taught at Hilton Van E. E School, and also worked as managing director of Asafraba Farms and West Point Maternity Clinic, as well as Afro Group of Companies, all in Monrovia
I also served on the boards of Ghana Secondary Technical School and St. John’s Secondary School in Ghana. From 2007 to 2009, I was the Western Regional Liaison Officer to the National Youth Employment Program.
As far as my political experience, I started as a Polling Station Secretary of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) from 1998 – 2000, then Constituency Secretary from 2002 – 2005. After a successful election in 2005, I became the Western regional secretary of the Party until 2014. I also served as a government appointee to Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolitan Assembly from 2002 – 2008, where I learnt a lot on the structure and processes of the Assembly. The experiences from my days as Member of the Assembly have been beneficial to me in my current position.
I was a member of the 2016 campaign team of the then-leading political party in opposition, the New Patriotic Party. After winning the 2016 general elections, I submitted my application among other eight applicants when the position of Executive became vacant. I was selected after going through interviews at the regional and national levels, and confirmed by the General Assembly of Sekondi-Takoradi on Friday 24th March, 2017.
Open governance focuses on principles like accountability, transparency and civil participation. Why do you think these principles are important?
The aim of governance in a democratic society is to empower citizens who have entrusted individuals into positions of authority. OGP principles such as accountability, transparency and civil participation ensure that good governance practices are upheld, and go a long way in building trust between duty-bearers and the citizenry.
What do you think made Sekondi-Takoradi a good candidate for the subnational pilot program?
Ghana signed onto the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2011; and as an obligation under the Partnership, developed and implemented her first Action Plan which covered the period of 2013-2014. Ghana’s participation is the first criteria that made Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolitan Assembly (STMA) eligible to participate in the Subnational Pilot Program launched by the OGP in 2015.
STMA has rolled-out a number of interventions that encompass participatory decision-making in service delivery and transparent and accountable governance, which, coincidentally, are the main thrusts of OGP.
On public service delivery and enhancement of citizens’ participation: the Metropolitan Assembly introduced the ‘Citizens Report Card’ in 2012 and 2015 respectively. The Citizens Report Card (CRC) captured the satisfaction levels of inhabitants on services rendered by public utility service providers and the Metropolitan Assembly. It provides public agencies with systematic feedback from users of public services to enable them to identify strengths and weaknesses in their work. Data for preparing CRCs was collected using interviews with a randomly selected sample of users of public services. The data helped to assess the performance of service providers from the perspective of service users. The CRC gave consumers an opportunity to score the quality and adequacy, and also to express their levels of satisfaction with services rendered. The CRC provided feedback to service providers in the Metropolis by identifying good practices, and facilitated cross-fertilization of ideas and approaches. The overarching benefit of the CRC was its ability to point out the inequalities in services provided to both the rich and the poor, and enabled prioritization of reforms and corrective actions needed to improve quality of services by drawing attention to the main challenges.
Improving governance and services for the urban poor is another initiative rolled out in 2012-2015 by the Assembly with support from Global Communities, dubbed ‘the IncluCity Program,’ which was geared towards improving governance and services for the urban poor. The program enhanced the participation of slum dwellers in governance, inclusive planning and budgeting processes, while building the capacity of the Metropolitan Assembly to generate revenue. Inputs were sought from Metropolitan Assembly officials, representatives and urban service planners, as well as community members. Selected slum residents were trained on inclusive governance and participatory budgeting and planning. With these new skills, residents were able to hold the Metropolitan Assembly accountable for the services they provided. Residents also took part in the formulation of Community Action Plans, which fed into the Metropolitan Assembly’s Medium-Term Development Plan. In this way, the communities’ needs and aspirations were identified and priority projects highlighted and implemented as part of the city’s wider development strategy. As part of the program, 35 communities within the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolis were provided with public notice boards to serve as platforms for the dissemination of information.
Through the advocacy work of STMA-CSUF, a non-governmental organization formed through a partnership between the STMA and UN-HABITAT in 2007 with a central purpose to facilitate access to funding for community-driven low income housing and slum upgrading for the urban poor, the needs and aspirations of the urban poor were captured and incorporated into the Assembly’s Medium-Term Development Plan (2013-2017). This represented a significant stride in encouraging the inputs of the often deprived, marginalized, and deprived slum dwellers into the development agenda of the STMA.
To strengthen transparency and accountable governance as a way of combating corruption, a social audit approach was adopted to stimulate civil society engagement with local governments on public finance management issues. Social Public Expenditure & Financial Accountability (SPEFA) was launched in 2013 to bring together representatives of citizen groups in the Metropolis to build their understanding of their local government’s public financial management issues, as well as to create opportunities for citizens to demand accountability from their Metropolitan Assembly. It also formed the bedrock for enhancing citizen’s perceptions on urban financial management processes through a citizen’s engagement platform. These engagements with the citizenry offered the opportunity for information exchange and dialogue to improve the quality of governance at the local level, foster citizen empowerment, increase the effectiveness of service delivery and enhance the participation in decision-making by vulnerable and excluded groups.
Also, Town Hall meetings are organized in the four (4) Sub-Metropolitan Districts Councils to discuss developmental issues and also account to the general public.
Development of Service Charter and Information Exchange Platform: As a conscious strategy to improve client service and ensure prompt response to the needs of citizens through technology and innovation, the STMA developed a Service Charter in partnership with Global Communities. The Charter is a commitment by the Assembly to provide an unparalleled level of service to the people in the Metropolis. The document serves as a guide to staff and customers on standards of services rendered by the Assembly with the objective to improve transparency and accountability. In pursuit of this, Smart Solutions (Smartsol) was developed in 2013 as a vehicle for city officials to provide equal quality of services to all residents, regardless of economic or social status. Smartsol is a web-based complaint platform to facilitate municipal service delivery within the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolis. Citizens are offered the platform to channel their concerns on service delivery and receive feedback within the shortest possible time. City officials are now able to effectively track, monitor and address service delivery concerns in real time. There is also a dedicated toll-free hotline, website and suggestion boxes for citizens to register complaints, make enquiries and elicit feedback on service delivery.
To better understand citizen needs, and target policies and programs to meet them, STMA introduced a program dubbed “Time with Community” in March 2016. Time with Community takes place twice every week; Tuesdays and Thursdays, 16:00GMT-18:00GMT at community levels, where the various heads of department and units meet with the inhabitants, including chiefs, Assembly members, unit committee members, opinion leaders, religious leaders, CSOs, and the general public to discuss developmental issues.
This platform has helped to promote better understanding of the local government structures and their roles and responsibilities towards national development and the promotion of transparency, inclusiveness, openness, and accountability. Citizen participation in decision-making that affects their lives is being enhanced and has contributed to improvement in Internally Generated Funds.
Sekondi-Takoradi is implementing its first subnational Action Plan (SNAP). What are your hopes for its implementation? Which commitments do you most want to see succeed?
Considering the mission of Sekondi-Takoradi is ‘to improve the living conditions of the people of the metropolis through the provision of sustainable socio-economic development and good governance that is responsive to the needs of the people,’ every effort and adequate resource will be mobilized to ensure that the commitments outlined in our Action Plan are successfully implemented. STMA will remain committed to the principles of open government and will collaborate with all the stakeholders and take necessary actions in order to ensure greater transparency, accountability, citizen engagement and delivery of improved public services.
We have developed and prioritized five (5) key commitments that would respond to the needs and aspirations of our citizens. These commitments are in the areas of Public Services (security and sanitation), Fiscal Transparency, and Public Participation (private sector involvement and planning). I want all commitments outlined in the Action Plan to succeed but the commitment on public security is my number one priority. Public safety in our world today is a global concern, in which all efforts are being made to ensure the safety of all people. The safety of the people in Sekondi-Takoradi is my major priority. The principles of OGP cannot succeed in an environment of insecurity. However, this does not in any way limit the level of resources, efforts and commitments that should be dedicated to the successful implementation of the other 4 commitments.
Sekondi-Takoradi has a set of diverse commitments on sanitation, safety, fiscal transparency, private sector engagement and public participation. How is implementation of these commitments going?
Implementation of milestones outlined in our Action Plan is progressing steadily. We formally launched our Subnational Action Plan on March 30th, 2017 at a stakeholders’ forum after I took office on 24 March 2017. This was followed by sensitizations of the general public on the Action Plan through the media, banners and brochure. Remarkable successes have already occurred in regards to commitment no.1, “Generate a government-supported, community-led watch system to elevate safety across the metropolis.” To ensure the safety of the citizens at night, STMA authorities, in collaboration with the Ministry of Energy and key stakeholders, have secured 600 street lights and accessories for installation which is currently ongoing. Recruitment and screening of people for the formation of watch committees to support the police and elevate public safety metro-wide is ongoing with the participation of key stakeholders (the police, assembly members, traditional authorities, civil society, etc) at the sub district council levels.
Commitment no. 2 is “develop a new model of collaboration between STMA and landlords to increase the coverage of household toilets.” STMA-CSUF, the lead CSO, together with Global Communities and Friends of the Nation who have done extensive work in this regard, are currently engaging with landlords in the implementation of this commitment and a new model of collaboration is being developed for this commitment.
Commitment no. 3, “Create a localised standard operating procedure for streamlining financial records management and sharing” is also progressing. We are in talks with Oxfam and other organisations working on fiscal transparency to assist the city in developing a standard procedure for streamlining financial records management and sharing for both internal and external use. This commitment is key in creating disaggregated data in a simple and easy-to-understand format for decision making.
Progress is also happening on commitment no. 4, “partner with private sector associations to kick-start a systematic and participatory way of engaging with large businesses in setting fees (in international terms taxes).” We are currently working with the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI) and Sekondi-Takoradi Chamber of Commerce and Industries (STCCI) on this commitment and I must say we are on course to meet the target set for this commitment. We have enjoyed a very fruitful deliberations and collaborations from the two associations with regards to this commitment.
Finally, commitment no. 5, “build a participatory planning process – from needs assessment, to site selection, to project design – of infrastructure development projects” is coming along. We are in partnership with a local NGO, Friends of the Nation, in the implementation of this commitment. Organization of stakeholders meetings in various communities is ongoing. The city is also in the process of preparing its new Medium Term Development Plan for 2018-2021 for the next four years to reflect the current Government development agenda.
What is the biggest challenge for you in implementing open government initiatives?
Our biggest challenge is funding for the implementation of commitments. The Assembly has not been able to secure external support and depends largely on its Internal Generated Funds (IGF). Several proposals for funding and collaboration have been developed and submitted. We are yet to receive any positive feedback from these corporate bodies.
Do you think that the open government concepts being applied in Sekondi-Takoradi could work elsewhere in Ghana or elsewhere in the world?
Yes. The open government concepts being applied in Sekondi-Takoradi could work in all the other five Metropolitan Assemblies in Ghana. Ghana has six (6) metropolitan assemblies with similar characteristics in terms of citizens’ needs and aspirations. The principles of open governance could be easily adopted in any of these cities to promote a more inclusive, transparent and accountable government.