GOVERNANCE – What does this really mean?

“The future holds little hope for any government where the present holds no hope for the people” Lyndon Johnson

Governance has today become a buzz word. A key slogan for business leaders, politicians, media, academicians and the general public, it is increasingly becoming an elastic term so pliable that its use (or abuse) has blurred its edges. It is further complicated by using prefixes such as Corporate Governance, Rural Governance, e-Governance and Policy Governance etc. And conspicuously absent is any reference to governance in government.
Then there is the wrong impression that a democratic system of government guarantees good governance.And the converse, that there is no good governance wherever there is no democracy. In the examples I give below, China compares well with India on some governance measures sometimes even better than us. I mean the word is today almost exploited to disorient the common man. There is cause for worry.

So what really is Governance in the realm of governments? Without getting into complicated definitions, governance simply means the process by which decisions are put into practice. While decision making is the kernel of governance, the process by which decisions are made determines whether it qualifies to be termed as Good Governance or Bad Governance. So it is an art. It is inclusive and has many players. It is complicated. Values play an important part. Style of operation and perception are also important.

So how do we know that we have good governance? I mean how do we measure the performance of our Governments and the people who have the authority and responsibility to run governments?. Is growth in our GDP or growth in per capita income or growth in employment or a rise in the stock exchange index or rush of Foreign Direct Investment or a prosperous urban community or general feel good factor, the criteria for measurement?

Can we trust the government to produce reliable measures to benchmark their performance? The answer to my mind is NO. They always lay down one set of standards for people and an entirely different set for themselves. Therefore it is essential to keep an independent and reliable annual score card to bench mark their performance and through that the political leadership and their paraphernalia.
“Everybody now knows that the quality of governance is vital for development. But how does one measure performance on governance and compare it across countries and over time? The World Bank governance indicators are the definitive answer to these questions.” says Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Commentator, Financial Times

Yes, the Worldwide Governance Indicators Report 2007, a project from World Bank , will now give you a glimpse of where we are as a country on governance.

This report is available at http://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi2007/. It has aggregate and individual governance indicators for 212 countries and territories over the period 1996–2006, for six dimensions of governance namely

* Voice and Accountability,

* Political Stability and Absence of Violence,

* Government Effectiveness,

* Regulatory Quality,

* Rule of Law,

* Control of Corruption.

The website is interactive and produces instant charts across the six dimensions for comparison amongst as many as 20 countries at a time.
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I chose the largest 10 Countries by GDP and India figured in it as did the other BRIC countries. The above figures are complied from information from the WGI website. These are latest figures for 2006.

The column on HDI is the Human Development Index. HDI  is a comparative measure of well being amongst United Nations Member Countries. It is also used to measure the impact of economic policies on quality of life. The latest figures are sourced from the website of United Nations.

While we brag about our achievements and glibly refer to our positioning as a super power, a close review of this report will give us the big picture and our comparative position on some of these measures that matter.We are no where near the greener pastures. We keep company with Italy on some of the weaker scores. Check out the yellow patches and the range of scores that we share with Italy. I hope it has nothing to do with the style of leadership we may have imbibed.

On Government Effectiveness China has a better score than us. On Regulatory Quality, we are only marginally better than China but both countries fall under the same range of percentile. I thought as a nation except on economic indicators, we do not pride ourselves being compared to China.

On political stability and absence of violence we are at the real bottom lower than Russia (amongst the 10 largest countries by GDP) China has a better score than us. I wish we had kept company with Italy on this dimension as they have more than double our score. Italy is not widely perceived to have a more stable political system than India and so I decided to understand the credibility of this score for India.

I found the report to be comprehensive. It has robust data that considers various factors under each of the six dimensions. A closer examination of the various factors that go into measuring this dimension (political stability and absence of violence) gives a better understanding of the real situation. The study looks at government stability and measures the government’s ability to carry out its declared programs, and its ability to stay in office. Then it looks at internal & external conflicts where amongst many other factors it also assesses political violence and its influence on governance. Then it looks at ethnic tensions.

The reports says“This component measures the degree of tension within a country attributable to racial, nationality, or language divisions. Lower ratings are given to countries where racial and nationality tensions are high because opposing groups are intolerant and unwilling to compromise. Higher ratings are given to countries where tensions are minimal, even though such differences may still exist”.

On Political Stability and Absence of violence, I then selected the largest 20 counties by population to see if India has a better standing amongst the most populous countries of the world.(You can select one indicator for a given number of countries). Of course India did figure in it. While Japan and Germany are on top of this list, countries like France, Vietnam (Yes, Vietnam) & USA (in that order) come next followed by Brazil, China, Mexico & Turkey.  India is on the lower quartile and keeps company with Egypt, Thailand, Indonesia, Iran & Philippines. Really at the bottom with a red indicator are our neighbors Bangladesh & Pakistan and countries like Ethiopia and Nigeria.

On the whole the comparative scores on governance are a cause for serious concern. And when you plot HDI against these measures, the picture is to say the least is pathetic. We have one of the lowest scores on HDI.I am beginning to have questions in my mind about our thoughtless pursuit to improve certain financially/economically driven measures while ignoring a global score card that keeps a tab on measures that really matter.

As we celebrate our 60th Independence day, I cannot refrain from quoting the words of Churchill in a speech he delivered in the House of Commons in 1946 during the debate on transfer of power to India. I shall refrain from quoting all that he said because most of it is not printable. If you need the raw and undiluted version then Google on it.He said: “Liberty is man’s birthright. Today we hand over the reins of Government to men of straw …….Not a bottle of water or a loaf of bread shall escape taxation, only the air will be free ….”

If these words come to haunt us even after 60 years, then We the People have to play some responsible roles. Working hard and improving our individual balance sheets and the balance sheet of corporate India and the coffers of the government may not mean much in the absence of meaningful programs to achieve better scores on all the 6 dimensions of measuring governance.

If we are able to drill down the National Score Card on governance to the state levels and then plot them on to a personal score card of regional and national politicians & bureaucrats, then we may have a better picture on the positive and negative contributions of various players to the aggregate low scores on the 6 dimensions as well as the components of HDI.The personal score cards of the politicians & bureaucrats as well as the State Governments should be published annually to educate the people. What gets measured gets done.

Political leadership always crave for undeserved credits that otherwise accrue and rightfully belongs to hard working people Please recall what Thomas Jefferson said “ I think we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious”.

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