Few people dispute the notion that the quality of governance matters to development. But what does governance really mean? When, why and how does governance make a difference to the way a country develops? This research by the Overseas Development Institute suggests that governance is too important an issue to be left only to international donor agencies to define and determine. Local stakeholders must be brought in to provide a complementary and contrasting perspective.
Many observers and analysts believe that governance is the main reason for explaining variations in socio-economic development performance around the world. Kofi Annan, the U.N. Secretary-General, maintains that good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development. But the current state of thinking about governance is unsatisfactory because its usage has been dominated by international development agencies, both multilateral and bilateral. Although it is positive that these agencies focus on governance issues, they each have a specific programme mandate determining how the concept is translated into practice. While all these actors may share the opinion that governance in one manner or the other refers to the task of getting politics right, their use of it reflects programmatic objectives and considerations peculiar to each agency.
In no case is governance anything other than an over-arching programme concept.
- One common denominator is the idea that good governance is a reflection of what works in Western democracies. This normative or ethnocentric tendency is very much apparent in the recipes that the agencies provide to developing countries.
- So called best practices include multi-party politics, competitive market economies, decentralisation, a lean public service and other ideas in Western countries.
- These are dispensed through various institutional mechanisms in the international community.
- No real distinction is made between governance and other concepts such as policy-making or policy implementation.
- Governance is just a synonym for getting the political machinery to work better.
- Governance is being measured in general terms against the standards of already developed societies and mature democracies.
Only when local stakeholders are brought into the discussion is governance likely to become a concept that can be debated among equals. It will then lend itself to measurements that provide a fairer commentary and perspective on individual countries than the current scales used to measure governance. The current approach has a number of specific problems. These include:
- The normative preference in favor of rules associated with liberal-democratic or capitalist societies.
- The fact that ratings are usually done by international panels comprising only a few individuals, who, despite their expertise, are far removed from the realities of individual countries that they are being asked to rate and rank.
- Information often comes from secondary sources and the scales used are often crude and provide for few, if any, nuances.
- Most assessments are focused on a narrow set of issues and leave out some important governance indicators. Since there is so little existing data, these specific assessments are used as broader indicators of governance.