Published: Deccan Herald, February 28, 2008
By George Cheriyan
The concept of governance has evolved to transcend the arena of the nation-state.
Conventionally, governance encompasses the manner in which the state and its various institutions negotiate and mediate with people, markets and civil society, through laws, policies, regulation and finance. Today governance is overarching with many dimensions including institutional and political manifestations. Governance refers to decision-making and the process through which power is exercised to utilise economic and social resources for development.
The concept of governance, over the last 15 years, has evolved to transcend the conventional arena of the nation-state or government. Market forces as well as civil-society processes and citizens’ initiatives have increasingly started influencing the process of governance today. Many civil society organizations (CSOs) strongly believe that governance is not just the effective management of economic resources.
Citizens have the right to demand accountability and public actors are obliged to be accountable to citizens. This is a fundamental principle of democracy and a keystone of a growing movement around the world that focuses on strengthening capacities within government and civil society to make public institutions more responsive to citizens.
Traditionally, in a parliamentary system, political accountability of the executive is to the voters through elected assemblies. Administrative and legal accountability of the executive branch is exercised through administrative procedures and the court of law. But since decision-making and implementation is now to be shared with the interests of the private sector, it has become difficult to fix political responsibility.
Democratic governance underlines the spirit of a contract – that rulers and people were bound to each other by reciprocal obligations. In other words, it established the “basic bargain” between the government and its citizens that entails accountability of the government to the citizens in lieu of the authority vested in it by the citizens.
The traditional paradigms of public administration and democratic accountability had to fit well together.
However, now a new approach has emerged in which the citizen actively engages in holding those in power accountable for their actions, decisions and behavior called – Social Accountability (SAc). Mechanisms of SAc can be initiated and supported by the state, citizens or both, but very often they are demand-driven and operate from the bottom-up.
It refers to a broad range of actions and mechanisms that citizens, communities, civil society organisations and independent media can use to hold public servants and public and private service providers accountable.
Traditionally, these have included protests, demonstrations, campaigns etc.
In recent times, attempts have been made, particularly by CSOs; to apply SAc mechanisms in a systematic manner. Different instances of gradual, albeit grudging, acceptance of such mechanisms by the State and evidence of better public performance through the use of such mechanisms have lent credence to the need for greater use and institutionalisation of social accountability mechanisms within the governance process.
Access to government-held information is a pre-condition to ensure accountability and in turn good governance.
The plea here is not for piecemeal access to information, but for deliberately and systematically integrating information in the debate on fundamental public issues.
Lately, good governance is highlighted in political discourses in India. Reforms could help to come out of the morass of problems that our country faces, which includes bureaucratic inertia and inefficiency, corruption, poor quality public services and delays in delivery of justice.
There is a need for the state to encourage private capital initiatives, and build capabilities rather than redistribute wealth. Some states have adopted a stakeholder approach according to which the service providers, which provide public services, would be held responsible to their end users, or consumers, provided of course, the latter pay for the services.
SAc contributes to increased development effectiveness through improved public service delivery and better-informed policy design. The right to good governance is also considered as an essential part of the citizen’s rights that one can expect from the government.
The writer is Associate Director of Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), Jaipur.