Good Governance: concept and application

The concept of Good Governance is not new. Kautilya in his treatise Arthashastra elaborated the traits of the king of a well governed state – ‘in the happiness of his subjects lies his happiness, in their welfare his welfare’. Mahatma Gandhi also propounded the concept of ‘Su-raj’.

However, concept of ‘Good Governance’ is a recent entrant in the domain of Public Administration. There are 3 ways of understanding this new development:

1. It is an attempt to widen the scope of Public Administration by going beyond the formal govt.

2. It is an externally dictated term invented to prescribe aid–conditionality.

3. It is a genuinely democracy-intensifying concept to make public administration more open, transparent and accountable.

Good Governance need not to be narrowly conceived in the manner the World Bank and other funding agencies have sought to present them. A more creative approach would be to treat the issues as new opportunities to have a fresh look at state-society relationships in today’s complex world of governance.

In 1989 the concept of ‘governance’ was for the first time highlighted in a World Bank document on Sub-Saharan Africa. At that time, good governance was meant sound development management. Four key dimensions in this context were:

1. Public sector management
2. Accountability
3. Legal framework for development
4. Information and transparency

Bank’s document ‘Governance and Development’ defines governance as ‘the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development.’ Bank document observes that despite the technical soundness, programmes and projects have often failed to produce desired results. Laws are not enforced properly and there are often delays in implementation.

Governance is a continuum and not necessarily unidirectional. It does not improve automatically over time. Citizens need to demand good governance. Their ability to do so is enhanced by literacy, education and employment opportunities. 

Government needs to prove responsiveness to those demands. Neither of these can be taken for granted. Change occurs sometimes in response to external or internal threats. It also occurs through pressure from different interest groups, some of which can be in form of populist demands. Although leaders and aid agencies can contribute resources and ideas to improve governance but for the effective change it must be rooted firmly in the societies concerned and cannot be imposed from outside.

Good governance has the following 8 attributes:

Accountable, consensus oriented, participatory, equitable and inclusive, effective and efficient, responsive, follows rule of law, transparent :: ACPE2R2T

Good Governance aims at providing an environment in which all citizens irrespective of class, caste and gender can develop to their full potential.

The preliminary condition of Good Governance is establishment of the Rule of Law. Good Governance demands that government must be not only representative but responsive as well to the needs of governed.

Necessary Preconditions for Good Governance:

1. Sound legal framework

2. Robust institutional mechanism for proper implementation of laws

3. Competent personnel staffing

4. Right policies for decentralisation, delegation and accountability

To tie up Good Governance with aid conditionalities has been critically reviewed by many commentators. One set of argument is that World Bank is seeking to ‘politicize’ the otherwise technical issue of financial aid to the third world countries. How does one measures Good Governance is an open question. There are others who point out that Good Governance is a simplistic notion as there are diverse ways of governing in multi-cultural contexts.

Experts agree that in the long run the race among the nations will be won or lost not on the basis of comparative advantage arising from resource endowment but by the competitive advantage created by effective governance. (This explains the successful development experience of countries like Ireland, Singapore, Korea and Japan even without apparent comparative advantage in terms of resource endowment.)

Some Appreciation Please!