Good governance has been defined in a myriad way since it became an essential prerequisite for the approval of aid from donor countries. Exceeding from the demand of seeing a democratic government elected through ballots, the institutions like the World Bank and the UNDP desired to see developing countries enable a political environment where power and authority were exercised in a pluralistic manner, where the relationship between the ruler and the ruled was defined in terms of equality and justice, where the resolution of conflicts was made through a nonpartisan process of accountability, and where interests were articulated, and rights were exercised without fetters. So, governance meant government plus something else, such as political and economic reforms for capacity enhancement. It is unlikely for any country to progress and grow if its political leaders act arbitrarily and corruptly, and exclude all interests other than their own. To many experts, a country fails to grow if it cannot use its resources efficiently and indiscriminately. In a nutshell, for a country to progress and grow, its governance principles should be aligned to specific benchmarks.
The concept of good governance has evolved over the years. In the first phase of good governance, emphasis was laid on the role of the institution to practise check and balance on the power of various organs of the state so that a stable, predictable, and non-arbitrary state is created to achieve economic development and prosperity. The second phase relied on civic participation and social inclusion from the so-called civil society. Since they operated “outside” politics, they could bypass the competitive political system and bureaucratic hurdles to improve government effectiveness and develop a legal framework for market-based development. Finally, in the third phase, new thinking about governance emerged called political economy of governance. It viewed good governance from the lens of wealth creation and its distribution to eliminate inequality that leaves a substantial segment of the population deprived of the economic pie that only serves the top 10 or even lesser percentage of people.
Does this discussion leave us with an assumption that development or economic growth is accessible if specific parameters of good governance are achieved or practiced? Certainly not. In the recent past, the PTI government and even earlier during the Musharraf regime and also for a brief period during the last PML-N government, Pakistan even touched the growth prospects measured in Gross Domestic Products to 7%. However, by the yardstick of the Human Development Index the people of Pakistan were actually living a life unfettered from the chains of hunger, poverty, and under-resourced health and education sectors. In fact, when Musharraf left and the PPP came to power and subsequently other governments till PTI in 2018, they all went to the IMF to borrow money to meet their expenditures. So, the growth in real terms was just an expression of development in numbers. The money did come but was not invested in improving the quality of life of those who constitute 70% of the rural class population.
Many indicators have since been developed to measure good governance. The World Bank indicators have been one of them. However, according to experts, there is no one-size-fits-all meaning to good governance.
The only anchor that could tie the varying ideas associated with good governance is sustainability. In this regard, the Chinese experiment has been of remarkable success. It built good governance on the foundation of sustained economic development. Rather than reconstructing institutions or attempting to meddle the system with technocratic measures, it focused on developing the economy first. This long-term vision of change transformed the role of its citizens from being patronage- or rent-seekers to the ones with rights, entitlement, and responsibilities.
Measuring governance has also been of interest to think-tanks in the private sector, such as the Cambridge IFA. As a global think tank, the Cambridge IFA has been awarding Global Good Governance (3G) Awards since 2016. Founded on the sidelines of the UN World Humanitarian Summit held in Istanbul, it has been advancing the UNDP agenda to promote sustainability and good governance. Assessment of good governance is carried out in three major streams: Government and Politics, Corporate Sector and Social Sector and Philanthropy. The 3G award nominees are selected through a rigorous process, and winners are selected based on the 3G scorecard developed by Cambridge IFA, consisting of five pillars: Transparency, Social Responsibility, Sustainability, Impact, and Innovation. This year in its virtual ceremony held in London, some of the companies that grabbed 3G awards were the Securities and Exchange Commission Philippines, the Saudi Electricity Company, the Doha Bank, and the South African National Zakah Fund. This year, 60 awards were distributed among 31 institutions.
No country can escape from the responsibility of providing a governing infrastructure that ensures commitment to the constitution, adherence to the rule of law, enforcement of a transparent process of accountability, and creation of implementable public policies. The pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals could be a good start towards the journey of good governance.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10h, 2021.