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Api Nodanna Yahapalanaya – Defining a promise

Here we attempt to answer the question of what “Good Governance” really means.

So every Sri Lankan who is reading this article has been influenced by “good governance”, at least that is what they say right? The good governance regime won the presidential elections on the 8th of January 2015 and during the parliamentary elections in August the ‘United National Front for Good Governance’ (UNFGG) seeks our blessing to further entrench it. Never has the concept of “good governance” got so much attention in Sri Lankan politics. Well what is this “yaha paalanaya” (good governance) that we hear so much about?

Let me first define ‘governance’ in order to understand the “good” part of it. I looked up the word on the Oxford dictionary (8th edition printed in 2010) and as per that; governance is an activity of governing a country or controlling a company or an organization. Well that doesn’t explain much does it? I looked up how “govern” was defined and it was as follows. To legally control a country or its people and be responsible for introducing new laws, organizing public services etc.

“Good governance” is an attempt to conceptualize all the good characteristics a government can have. Theoretically it contains 8 main areas. I would look at them closely below, so sit back and understand what yaha paalanaya really means.

Participation

Both men and women irrelevant of socially constructed norms such as race should be able to voice their opinion regarding matters of interest. If legally an individual is accepted to belong to a certain nationality, he/she has a right to stand by their respective viewpoint. Participation could be direct or through institutions. Democratic elections in a country is a key to uphold this aspect of good governance. However with firsthand experience we can say that electing a representative does not necessarily mean that the voice of the most vulnerable people in society is heard. Freedom of speech along with media freedom is also important when talking about participation. Public involvement contains three basic components.

  1. Public access to information
  2. Public participation in decision making processes
  3. Public access to justice

The public should be able to receive information upon request and also the governments should be obliged to provide the public with information. Both these active and passive methods should be guaranteed by law.

Rule of Law

Rules, laws and code of conduct should be common to all and should be enforced impartially. Governments should take steps to uphold human rights of both majority and minority communities in a country. Legal institutions should not be influenced and should be given sovereign rights to make decisions. A police force should also be given the immunity for sovereign lawful conduct which will not be influenced by political agenda.

Transparency

Information about decisions made by the governing body should be accessible to the public. The information should be available in an organized and simplified manner. This would mean that the government will be accountable to the public and that all decisions taken will be done lawfully.

Responsiveness

The government institutions should take into account all the stakeholders when making decisions and should be concerned regarding time frames associated with those decisions. It is vital in created sustainable development goals and carrying out these projects.

Consensus Oriented

Both long term and short term decisions should be made by taking into account the cultural, social and economic environments of the area and the country in general. As mentioned before, being responsive and being consensus oriented is closely linked as it both requires taking opinions of many stakeholders into consideration. It is vital in a multinational country, as minority voices should not be shadowed under a good governance agenda. A nationalistic feeling about one’s country would be a catalyst in bringing a society together as a community, since only then will a general consensus could be formulated.

Equity and Inclusiveness

All members of the society should be given equal rights to ensure their wellbeing. Social inclusiveness should be promoted hence promoting the sense of belonging as a nation and community.

Effectiveness and Efficiency

Governments should take steps to make sure that the public sector and government institutions act effectively. This involves efficient resource allocation and usage. Natural resources of a country should also be considered as an asset and should be utilized in the most sustainable manner. The public sector should be given incentive to perform and given proper recognition as a profession.

Accountability

The government should be able to answer and stand by the decisions taken. Both government institutions and the private sector are accountable to the civil society. In case of decentralization, local governments should be accountable to both the public and the central government. Accountability is the key for all the above mentioned criteria.

 

Now that we have gone through the components of good governance, we need to know about the other side of the coin. What is bad governance? Usually when a governing body lacks any of the above mentioned criteria it can be said that it is a weakness in governance. Logically however I do not believe that a single government in the world can achieve each of these without a trade-off. But relatively there are better governments than the other.

As per the corruption perceptions index of 2014

Somalia, North Korea, Sudan, Afghanistan and South Sudan are the world’s most corrupt countries. (Note that information exists of only 174 nation-states) Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden and Norway on the other hand are the cleanest of them all. Sri Lanka is ranked 85th!

There are clear differences in governing structures of these two sets of countries. As you would have guessed, the top five are the closest to “good governance” as a country can get. What is common in these countries are that the government is accountable to the public, it allows free speech and participation and that information is freely available to be accessed. The societies are open minded and government social policies such as welfare schemes are provided on equal terms to everyone. As long as you are legal, you are equal.

This political change takes time, especially when it is against the tide of the existing political culture of the country. I agree that “good governance” has taken center stage in Sri Lanka recently but with time we surely will know whether we are moving towards or further away from it. It is important that we equip ourselves with the primary knowledge needed to understand what our politicians are talking about. Given that they know it themselves.

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