Bad governance is a cause of underdevelopment, poverty, war and human rights violations. Major donors and international financial institutions are increasingly basing their aid and loans on the condition that the recipient countries reform their systems so that these conform to the requirements of good governance.
Good governance means a good way to take and implement government decisions (corporate governance is the way to take and implement decisions in a company, but that’s another topic). When judging whether governance is good or bad one has to look at:
- the way decisions are taken and implemented
- the structures and rules that govern the decision making and implementing process
- the people involved
- the decisions themselves
- the outcome and consequences of the decisions.
The focus is both on what is done and on the way it is done.
Criteria for judging governance
The criteria used to judge governance are the following (some are partially overlapping):
- Is the government accountable or is there no way to criticize it, to replace it or to correct it?
- Is the process of decision-making and implementation transparent or is it hidden from public criticism? Is information freely and directly accessible to those who will be affected by decisions?
- Is the process of decision-making and implementation responsive to the needs of the citizens or does it follow other needs (such as business needs, international requirements, selfish needs’85) and ignores or misrepresents the needs of the people?
- Is the process of decision-making and implementation inclusive, just and fair? Are the needs of the most vulnerable taken into account? Do all the members of society feel that they have an equal stake in it, or do some feel excluded, left out, treated unfairly or discriminated?
- Is the process of decision-making and implementation effective and efficient? Does it produce the results that meet the needs of society or results that are demanded by an elite? Does it deliver rapid service or are the procedures slow and cumbersome? Does it make the best use of resources or is it wasteful and time consuming? Does it make use of natural resources in a sustainable way and a way that protects the environment?
- Does the process of decision-making and implementation follow the rule of law or is it arbitrary? Are decisions based on enforceable rules that apply equally to all? Are these rules enforced by an independent judiciary and an impartial and incorruptible police force?
- Is the process of decision-making and implementation participatory or is it exclusive? Does it respect equality and non-discrimination? Is the participation ad hoc or organized and structured?
- Is the process of decision-making and implementation oriented towards consensus, towards mediation of and compromise between different interests, or is it divisive?
The concept of good governance is therefore not limited to the government, but to the whole of society, including the effects of government on society and the input of society in government.
The criteria to judge governance are universal, but it is important to take into account local circumstances, historical “baggage” (like previous regimes, colonialism etc.), a country’s position in the international system etc.