WHAT IS GOOD GOVERNANCE?
Recently the terms "governance" and "good
governance" are being increasingly used in development literature.
Bad governance is being increasingly regarded as one of the root causes
of all evil within our societies. Major donors and international financial
institutions are increasingly basing their aid and loans on the condition
that reforms that ensure "good governance" are undertaken.
This article tries to explain, as simply as possible,
what "governance" and "good governance" means.
The concept of "governance" is not new. It
is as old as human civilization. Simply put "governance" means:
the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are
implemented (or not implemented). Governance can be used in several
contexts such as corporate governance, international governance, national
governance and local governance.
Since governance is the process of decision-making and
the process by which decisions are implemented, an analysis of governance
focuses on the formal and informal actors involved in decision-making
and implementing the decisions made and the formal and informal structures
that have been set in place to arrive at and implement the decision.
Government is one of the actors in governance. Other
actors involved in governance vary depending on the level of government
that is under discussion. In rural areas, for example, other actors may
include influential land lords, associations of peasant farmers, cooperatives,
NGOs, research institutes, religious leaders, finance institutions political
parties, the military etc. The situation in urban areas is much more complex.
Figure 1 provides the interconnections between actors involved in urban
governance. At the national level, in addition to the above actors, media,
lobbyists, international donors, multi-national corporations, etc. may
play a role in decision-making or in influencing the decision-making process.
All actors other than government and the military are
grouped together as part of the "civil society." In some countries
in addition to the civil society, organized crime syndicates also influence
decision-making, particularly in urban areas and at the national level.
Similarly formal government structures are one means
by which decisions are arrived at and implemented. At the national level,
informal decision-making structures, such as "kitchen cabinets"
or informal advisors may exist. In urban areas, organized crime syndicates
such as the "land Mafia" may influence decision-making. In some
rural areas locally powerful families may make or influence decision-making.
Such, informal decision-making is often the result of corrupt practices
or leads to corrupt practices.
Click to Enlarge
Figure 1: Urban actors
Good governance has 8 major characteristics. It is participatory,
consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and
efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. It assures
that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account
and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making.
It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society.
Figure 2: Characteristics of good governance
Participation by both men and women is a key cornerstone
of good governance. Participation could be either direct or through legitimate
intermediate institutions or representatives. It is important to point
out that representative democracy does not necessarily mean that the concerns
of the most vulnerable in society would be taken into consideration in
decision making. Participation needs to be informed and organized. This
means freedom of association and expression on the one hand and an organized
civil society on the other hand.
Rule of law
Good governance requires fair legal frameworks that are
enforced impartially. It also requires full protection of human rights,
particularly those of minorities. Impartial enforcement of laws requires
an independent judiciary and an impartial and incorruptible police force.
Transparency means that decisions taken and their enforcement
are done in a manner that follows rules and regulations. It also means
that information is freely available and directly accessible to those
who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement. It also
means that enough information is provided and that it is provided in easily
understandable forms and media.
Good governance requires that institutions and processes
try to serve all stakeholders within a reasonable timeframe.
There are several actors and as many view points in a
given society. Good governance requires mediation of the different interests
in society to reach a broad consensus in society on what is in the best
interest of the whole community and how this can be achieved. It also
requires a broad and long-term perspective on what is needed for sustainable
human development and how to achieve the goals of such development. This
can only result from an understanding of the historical, cultural and
social contexts of a given society or community.
Equity and inclusiveness
A society’s well being depends on ensuring that all its
members feel that they have a stake in it and do not feel excluded from
the mainstream of society. This requires all groups, but particularly
the most vulnerable, have opportunities to improve or maintain their well
Effectiveness and efficiency
Good governance means that processes and institutions
produce results that meet the needs of society while making the best use
of resources at their disposal. The concept of efficiency in the context
of good governance also covers the sustainable use of natural resources
and the protection of the environment.
Accountability is a key requirement of good governance.
Not only governmental institutions but also the private sector and civil
society organizations must be accountable to the public and to their institutional
stakeholders. Who is accountable to whom varies depending on whether decisions
or actions taken are internal or external to an organization or institution.
In general an organization or an institution is accountable to those who
will be affected by its decisions or actions. Accountability cannot be
enforced without transparency and the rule of law.
From the above discussion it should be clear that good
governance is an ideal which is difficult to achieve in its totality.
Very few countries and societies have come close to achieving good governance
in its totality. However, to ensure sustainable human development, actions
must be taken to work towards this ideal with the aim of making it a reality.