Ghana's stability is key to its prominence

One of the principal attractions of Ghana as an investment destination is its status as one of the most well-governed and stable states in the region. It is now more than two decades since the multiparty system was first re-established by a new constitution, and during this time there has been a consolidation of democratic principles in the country, greater trust in the nation’s independent judiciary and the development of a vibrant parliament that has proven itself an effective forum of legislative activity.

The current constitution of the Fourth Republic outlines the foundations of a republican version of democratic government, with an emphasis on a tripartite separation of powers and a system of checks and balances. It has characteristics of both the British system of parliamentary rule as well as the US constitutional model.

Constitutional Framework

The constitution of 1992 establishes Ghana as a multiparty republic with a president as head of state, assisted in his duties by a vice-president.

The president holds executive power, is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and is responsible for appointing ministers of state and the vice-president. He is advised in carrying out the duties of his office by a Council of State, a small body of prominent citizens which, according to the constitution, should include a former chief justice of Ghana, as well as a former chief of defence staff, inspector-general of police and president of the national house of chiefs.

The president is limited to a maximum of two terms of four years each.

Current President John Dramani Mahama was elected to his first term in July 2012 and therefore a general election is due to be held in 2016.

The power of the president is augmented by his ability to veto parliamentary bills, although this does not extend to legislation that has been specially designated as particularly urgent.

The legislative branch is unicameral in structure, consisting of a 275-member elected parliament and a non-elected speaker. As with the president, members of the parliament serve four-year terms. The principal duty of the parliament is law-making, and to that end it is established by the constitution as the sole body with authority to pass any measure with the force of law.

In addition, parliament also carries out a number of other important functions, delineated in the constitution. It enjoys considerable financial powers, by which it has control of all public funds, taxation, the granting and receiving of loans, and the monitoring of foreign exchange receipts. Accordingly, while the executive is free to propose expenditure levels and the means by which revenue might be raised, the parliament retains control of how public funds are expended.

The parliament also performs an important check on the power of the executive, primarily through the scrutiny of policy measures and executive conduct in its committees, questions to ministers, and the motions and censorship of ministers. The parliament retains a power of approval over presidential nominees for ministers, deputy ministers and the justices of the Supreme Court, among other appointments. Parliament’s role as the nation’s chief representation forum is another of its important functions. As with the parliamentary system in the UK, MPs are the most important communication link between constituents and government, the principal mechanisms of which are question time, statements, motions, and debates on policies and bills.

Regional Government

Decentralisation of political power has been a major theme of Ghanaian politics since the December 31, 1981 revolution, as successive governments have sought to restructure legislative machinery to promote democracy and greater efficiency.

Ghana is divided into a total of 10 administrative regions — Western, Central, Greater Accra, Eastern, Volta, Ashanti, Brong-Ahafo, Northern, Upper West and Upper East — which are further subdivided into districts, governed by district assemblies. The assemblies are categorised as metropolitan, municipal and district depending on population size, but all have the same internal policy structures. Each is headed by a district chief executive (DCE), responsible for the executive and administrative functions of the assembly, and who is also seen as the representative of central government in the district.

70% of assembly members are elected by universal adult suffrage, with the remaining 30% appointed by the president based on their experience or ability in a particular field.

The assemblies oversee the disbursement of numerous grants made by the central government, the most significant of which is the District Assemblies’ Common Fund, which transfers not less than 7.5% of GDP to the six metropolitan, 40 municipal and 124 districts each year.

A series of sub-structures lies beneath the assemblies, consisting of town, area and zonal councils. These bodies are made up of five representatives of the district assembly, 10 representatives of unit committees in the area (the lowest level of government structure) and five persons appointed by the government.

While these sub-structures do not possess any legislative or rating powers, they play an important role in the running of the country in their carrying out of tasks delegated to them by the assemblies.

Finally, Ghana’s regional government structure recognises the importance of the nation’s traditional leaders, reserving 9% of assembly seats for them. While their role is largely symbolic, they continue to play a practical role in areas such as the interpretation of customary laws and by liaising between communities and local government units.

Political Parties

Ghana has 24 registered political parties, according to the Electoral Commission. However, the political landscape is dominated by the two major parties, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP). The 2012 elections gave the two parties 147 and 123 parliamentary seats, respectively, leaving only four seats for independents and a single seat for the People’s National Convention.

A subsequent by-election, carried out in July 2015, saw the ruling party gain a seat from the main opposition. The two main parties have largely centrist policies, and, despite a court case stemming from the execution of the 2012 election, have a good record of respecting the Electoral Commission’s final decisions.

The 2016 election is expected to be another closely fought contest, with the NDC’s Mahama defending his slim majority from the NPP’s Nana Akufo-Addo, who was selected in by his party in 2014 to lead the opposition into the 2016 vote.


Ghana has one of the longest traditions of democracy in Western Africa. The president is directly elected by universal adult suffrage, and must achieve a minimum of 50% of the vote. Failure to surmount this minimum threshold triggers a run-off election between the two highest-placed candidates, which must be conducted within 21 days of the first poll.

The 275 members of parliament are also elected by universal suffrage, following a first-past-the-post mechanism, serving four-year terms.

Similarly, elections for all tiers of local government are held concurrently every four years, with district assembly members elected by secret ballot, using the first-past-the-post system. All elected assembly members represent a single-member ward and are barred from standing for any political party.

Local elections cannot be held within six months of national elections, and individual members can be recalled by the electorate through a process triggered by the signing of a petition by 25% of the district electorate. While the DCEs are appointed by the president, they must receive the approval of at least two-thirds of the assembly.

Ghana’s most recent presidential election was held in 2012. The voter turnout of around 80% produced a closely fought contest that saw the NDC’s Mahama poll 5.5m votes, or 50.7% of the total. The opposition leader of the NPP, Nana Akufo-Addo, who secured 47.7% of the vote, contested the result, claiming that technical problems with electronic voter identification machines skewed the final result, leading to a court filing challenging the final poll count.

In August 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that Mahama rightfully won the elections, with the NPP and Akufo-Addo immediately recognising the ruling. General elections to elect a president and members of parliament will be held again in 2016 and are expected to be fought once again between the two main parties.

Electoral Commission

The process, as usual, will be overseen by the Electoral Commission, which was established as an independent government agency under the 1992 constitution. Made up of seven members and more than 1000 permanent staff, the commission has administrative and regulatory powers over all national and district elections, including voter registration, electoral operations, follow-up monitoring, educational campaigns and re-districting.

Electoral Reform

The problems of the 2012 election set in motion a process of electoral reform, which, as of late 2015, has yet to be concluded. In August 2014, the Institute of Economic Affairs, based in Accra, hosted a national workshop on electoral reform that was attended by all the major political parties in the country.

Discussions focused on areas such as petitions, e-voting, biometric voter registration, the role of the Electoral Commission in conducting elections and documentation at the polls.

During the talks, consensus was reached on a number of issues, such as the need for the Electoral Commission to look at periodic re-districting in order to better reflect demographic changes, as well as the need for continuous voter registration and training for party election officials.

While the cross-party cooperation was a welcome development, the implementation of any of the proposals that emerged from the conference requires action by the Electoral Commission.

To that end, the Electoral Commission established a 10-member committee in January 2015, made up of commission members, as well as representatives from the political parties and civil society organisations.

The committee’s terms of reference include the examination of the proposals concerning electoral reform submitted to the Electoral Commission, the alteration of existing laws, rules and regulations, and the appropriate reform of administrative procedures and arrangements.

Governance Issues

Ghana has made significant progress in strengthening its democratic credentials since the return of multi-party politics. According to the World Bank, the country consistently ranks among the top three in Africa in terms of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and strong print and broadcast sectors have helped to improve transparency.

The independent judiciary is comprised of the Superior Courts of Judicature (including the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the High Court of Justice and 10 regional tribunals) and the Inferior Courts (including circuit courts, magistrate courts and juvenile courts).

This system has helped strengthen the country’s governance reputation. Where weaknesses in the judicial system have been identified, the authorities have usually acted swiftly to counter them: for example, in October 2015 the government suspended seven high court judges, having previously sanctioning 22 junior judges, after an undercover journalist filmed them accepting bribes.

The government has over recent decades constructed a robust anti-corruption legal framework. In the 1990s it established the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, the Serious Fraud Office and the Public Procurement Authority. The Serious Fraud Office has since been superseded by the Economic and Organised Crime Office, which has been granted additional powers to investigate and prosecute corruption cases.

Despite the advances, all is not perfect and corruption does remain a challenge. Transparency International showed that more than 90% of respondents felt corruption was a problem in the country, with police, political parties and public financial management bodies (including for procurement) topping the list of poorly viewed institutions. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked the country 61st out of a total of 175 countries in 2014, placing it near the level of nations such Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Cuba and Oman but noticeably higher than that of advanced economies such as Italy and Greece.

Social Development Issues

Ghana’s social development indicators also compare well to those elsewhere in the region, although again there remains room for improvement. According to the World Bank, life expectancy, school enrolment and GDP growth are all above sub-Saharan averages, while poverty levels have consistently decreased over the past decade. In 2005 some 31.9% of the population was considered to be living under the poverty line, as formulated by the World Bank; by 2012, this figure had been reduced to 24.2%.

However, Ghana’s attempts to boost its social development indicators in the coming years will be circumscribed by the nation’s fiscal position.

In 2015 the Ministry of Finance announced that its targeted budget deficit for the year had grown from 6.5% to 7.3%, largely as a result of decreasing international oil prices. The government has embarked upon a process of fiscal consolidation, which has led to fears that some areas of social spending will be adversely affected. However, an IMF financial assistance programme that was agreed upon in the wake of the 2012 election promises to mitigate the effects of fiscal reform, restore debt sustainability and return the nation to macroeconomic stability (see Economy chapter).

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