The concept of "governance" is not new. However, it means different things to
different people, therefore we have to get our focus right. The actual meaning of
the concept depends on the level of governance we are talking about, the goals
to be achieved and the approach being followed.
The concept has been around in both political and academic discourse for a
long time, referring in a generic sense to the task of running a government, or
any other appropriate entity for that matter. In this regard the general definition
provided by Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1986:982) is of
some assistance, indicating only that governance is a synonym for government,
or "the act or process of governing, specifically authoritative direction and
control". This interpretation specifically focuses on the effectiveness of the
executive branch of government.
The working definition used by the British Council, however, emphasises that
"governance" is a broader notion than government (and for that matter also
related concepts like the state, good government and regime), and goes on
to state: "Governance involves interaction between the formal institutions and
those in civil society. Governance refers to a process whereby elements in
society wield power, authority and influence and enact policies and decisions
concerning public life and social upliftment."
"Governance", therefore, not only encompasses but transcends the collective
meaning of related concepts like the state, government, regime and good
government. Many of the elements and principles underlying "good
government" have become an integral part of the meaning of "governance".
John Healey and Mark Robinson1 define "good government" as follows: "It
implies a high level of organisational effectiveness in relation to
policy-formulation and the policies actually pursued, especially in the conduct of
economic policy and its contribution to growth, stability and popular welfare.
Good government also implies accountability, transparency, participation,
openness and the rule of law. It does not necessarily presuppose a value
judgement, for example, a healthy respect for civil and political liberties,
although good government tends to be a prerequisite for political legitimacy".
We can apply our minds to
the definition of governance provided by the World Bank in Governance: The
World Banks Experience, as it has special relevance for the
"Good governance is epitomized by predictable, open and enlightened policy-making, a bureaucracy imbued with a professional ethos acting in furtherance of the public good, the rule of law, transparent processes, and a strong civil society participating in public affairs. Poor governance (on the other hand) is characterized by arbitrary policy making, unaccountable bureaucracies, unenforced or unjust legal systems, the abuse of executive power, a civil society unengaged in public life, and widespread corruption."
The World Bank's focus on governance reflects the worldwide thrust toward
political and economic liberalisation. Such a governance approach highlights issues of greater state responsiveness and accountability,
and the impact of these factors on political stability and economic development.
In its 1989 report, From Crisis to Sustainable Growth, the World Bank
expressed this notion as follows:
"Efforts to create an enabling environment and to build capacities will be wasted
if the political context is not favourable. Ultimately, better governance requires
political renewal. This means a concerted attack on corruption from the highest
to lowest level. This can be done by setting a good example, by strengthening
accountability, by encouraging public debate, and by nurturing a free press. It
also means ... fostering grassroots and non-governmental organisations such
as farmers' associations, co-operatives, and women's groups".
Apart from the World Bank's emphasis on governance, it is also necessary to
refer to academic literature on governance, which mostly originates from
scholars working with international development and donor agencies. The
majority of these scholars has concentrated almost exclusively on the issue of
political legitimacy, which is the dependent variable produced by effective
governance. Governance, as defined here, is "the conscious management of
regime structures, with a view to enhancing the public realm".
The contribution of Goran Hyden to bring greater clarity to the concept of
governance needs special attention. He elevates governance to an "umbrella
concept to define an approach to comparative politics", an approach that
fills analytical gaps left by others. Using a governance approach, he
emphasises "the creative potential of politics, especially with the ability of
leaders to rise above the existing structure of the ordinary, to change the rules of
the game and to inspire others to partake in efforts to move society forward in
new and productive directions".
His views boil down to the following:
- Governance is a conceptual approach that, when fully elaborated, can frame a
comparative analysis of macro-politics.
- Governance concerns "big" questions of a "constitutional" nature that
establish the rules of political conduct.
- Governance involves creative intervention by political actors to change
structures that inhibit the expression of human potential.
- Governance is a rational concept, emphasising the nature of interactions
between state and social actors, and among social actors themselves.
- Governance refers to particular types of relationships among political actors: that is, those which are socially sanctioned rather than arbitrary.
To conclude, it is clear that the concept of governance has over the years
gained momentum and a wider meaning. Apart from being an instrument of
public affairs management, or a gauge of political development, governance
has become a useful mechanism to enhance the legitimacy of the public realm.
It has also become an analytical framework or approach to comparative politics.
"Governance Barometer: Policy guidelines for good governance"
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