Posted in Governance

Good Governance

One has observed a gradual fading out of a defining corpus of knowledge as one moves from Left to Right on the ideological spectrum. Thus the Marxists have an absolute embarrassment of riches on EVERY aspect of politics, economics and social dynamics; while even the middle of the road parties like the Congress have a legacy bequeathed by Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Dr Ambedkar and numerous others. Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar and Dr Sashi Tharoor are of course internationally read authors today, while the BJP now has Mr M J Akbar – never mind that he spent almost his entire career spewing vitriol against his new friends…

Of course, the new regime in Delhi compensates by being ultra tech-savvy, but sadly a sound bite here and a tweet there do not a Corpus make… Underlying all the alliterative wisdom, slogans and campaigns, is one key word – Governance. We are told that the new Government will provide good governance, while the previous government was simply guilty of bad governance. Period.

In explanation we are assured of quicker decisions, fewer referrals, and faster file movement – in short, more efficiency. (That the efficiency or inefficiency of any government eventually rests upon the capacity and motivation of our permanent bureaucracy is a sad truth the Government will soon discover).

That aside, surely there is more to Governance than mere Government?

Of course there is – and that’s you and me…


So, to set the record straight on a complex concept like GOVERNANCE, let us look at the received wisdom on what constitutes GOOD GOVERNANCE, and what are its parameters… Thanks largely to the work of UN bodies like UNDP and UN-ESCAP, there is now a global consensus on these criteria:

For the GOVERNMENT component of GOVERNANCE, these are:

Efficiency and Effectiveness: Good governance means that processes and institutions produce results that meet needs, 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. While efficiency is a relatively simple ratio of output upon input; effectiveness looks at outcomes and impact.

Decentralization, Security and Sustainability: Good governance also means devolution of powers and resources to the local level. Local governments should be empowered with sufficient resources and autonomy to meet their responsibilities. Further, every individual has the inalienable right to life, liberty and the security of person. Insecurity has a disproportionate impact in further marginalising poor communities. Cities must strive to avoid human conflicts and natural disasters by involving all stakeholders in crime and conflict prevention and disaster preparedness. Security also implies freedom from persecution, forced evictions, and provides for security of tenure. On their part, local bodies must balance the social, economic and environmental needs of present and future generations. This should include a clear commitment to urban poverty reduction. Leaders of all sections of urban society must have a long-term, strategic vision of sustainable human development and the ability to reconcile divergent interests for the common good.

For the CITIZENS’ INTERFACE component of Good Governance, we require:

Participation: All men and women should have a voice in decision-making, either directly or through legitimate intermediate institutions that represent their interests. People are the principal wealth of nations; they are both the object and the means of sustainable human development. Participation also means civic engagement, which implies that living together is not a passive exercise: in cities, people must actively contribute to the common good. Furthermore, the civic capital of the poor must be recognised and supported.

Accountability is a key requirement of good governance. Not only governmental institutions but also the private sector and civil society organisations must be accountable to the public and to their institutional stakeholders. In general an organisation or an institution is accountable to those who will be affected by its decisions or actions. (More on Social Accountability in a separate post…)

Transparency is built on the free flow of information. Access to information is fundamental to this understanding and to good governance. Laws and public policies should be applied in a transparent and predictable manner. Elected and appointed officials and other civil servant leaders need to set an example of high standards of professional and personal integrity.

Responsiveness: Good governance requires that institutions and processes try to serve all stakeholders within a reasonable time frame. The introduction of Citizens’ Charters and e-Governance are the first steps in measuring and monitoring the responsiveness of government bodies to the needs and demands of citizens.

Inclusion of ALL stakeholders in decision-making which affects the lives of all citizens is an essential criterion of good governance. 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 that all groups, but particularly the most vulnerable, have opportunities to improve or maintain their quality of life.

Consensus Orientation: There are several actors (and as many viewpoints) in a given 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, so that it becomes feasible to arrive on common ground and work together.

Rule of Law: Legal frameworks should be fair and enforced impartially, particularly the laws on human rights. Impartial enforcement of laws requires an independent judiciary and an impartial and incorruptible police force.

Equity: The enforcement of the rule of law and the distribution of public goods should not only be equitable, but perceived as such by all citizens. Inclusive societies provide everyone – be it the poor, the young or older persons, religious or ethnic minorities or the handicapped – with equitable access to nutrition, education, employment and livelihood, health care, shelter, safe drinking water, sanitation and other basic services.

So far, we are yet to see any major breakthroughs in meeting ANY of these criteria – in fact, words like inclusion and equity invite derision rather than support; and the approach tends to be confrontational, rather than consensus oriented.

The new Government really has its work cut out. Good Governance remains a distant dream, and 5 years may be too short a time to make good on extravagant electoral promises.

Please surprise us, and convince the 69% who did not vote for you…


I am a trainer of Government Officials and Elected Representatives, specializing in the urban and municipal sector. I have also written extensively on Urban Governance, Poverty, Development, Social Accountability and Municipal Management in the Indian context, and wish to share these writings with you through this blog.

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