Immediately after being elected as the leader of the Congress Legislature Party and being designated the Chief Minister of Karnataka, Sri Siddaramaiah announced that his Government would strive to be transparent and provide good governance and a corruption-free administration to the people of Karnataka. If this happens, this is indeed good news for the people of the state who for the last several years have seen nothing but poor governance and mal-administration.
It is indeed interesting to understand how the common man relates to good governance. For Madi, an elderly tribal lady from Heggadadevanakote, it simply meant getting her pension on time every month. She now gets it once in 4-6 months and getting it regularly on a monthly basis would make a big difference in her life. Transparency to her meant that the postman delivering her pension not take any ‘commission’ for the same. For Kariaiah, a small and marginal farmer, all that he sought was good quality seeds on time, access to credit, reliable electricity and access to non-exploitative markets.
An industrialist friend had a different view. For him good governance simply meant better infrastructure support from the Government. His view was that the Government had to be an ‘enabler’ and ensure that the sector was supported with adequate infrastructure. He blamed the system for the crumbling infrastructure which included poor roads, poor connectivity, lack of power and no policy focus on developing industries. A fellow activist said that having a pro-poor government with people-friendly policies meant good governance. His view of transparency was limited to ensuring that appropriate social accountability processes were built into every development scheme. All that Ms Sharmila, a housewife wanted was water and electricity throughout the day. She was concerned that inadequate power would affect the food in her refrigerator and watching her favourite tele-serial in the evenings. Muniswamy, a street vendor selling fruits in Bangalore dreamt of the day when the beat policeman would not ask him for a bribe. Good Governance meant the 25 rupees he would save every day by not giving a bribe to stand in the corner of the busy street. Tippesha sells potted plants and mud pots by the wayside on a busy thoroughfare in Mysore. For him, good governance meant that he no longer had to pay the local Corporation authorities any money and that they and the local politicians would actually pay for the plants and pots that they took whenever they felt like it. For Ramu, a temporary driver with the State Road Transport Corporation, good governance meant that his job would be made permanent without having to pay the customary Rs 5 lakhs bribe.
Each of us seem to have our own interpretation of Good Governance and a transparent, corruption-free administration based on how it affects our lives. While people’s expectations can differ, we need to understand what it truly means to have a government that is responsive, people-friendly and committed to providing good governance. The concept of ‘governance’ itself is not new. It is as old as human civilization. Simply put ‘governance’ means: the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented). It is a term that is nowadays used to describe how public institutions conduct public affairs and manage public resources. The concept centers around the responsibility of governments to meet the needs of the masses as opposed to select groups in society.
Since governance is the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented, an analysis of governance focuses on the formal and informal actors involved in decision-making and implementing the decisions made. Other actors apart from the Government that are involved in governance vary depending on the level of government that is under consideration. Some of the non-state actors include influential land lords, farmers’ associations, co-operatives, NGOs, research institutes, religious leaders, finance institutions, political parties, etc. At the state and national levels, in addition to the above actors, media, lobbyists, international donors, multi-national corporations and others may play a role in decision-making or in influencing the decision-making process.
Formal government structures are one means by which decisions are arrived at and implemented. At the national level, informal decision-making structures, such as ‘kitchen cabinets’ or informal advisors like the National Advisory Council may exist. In urban areas, organized crime syndicates such as the ‘land Mafia’ may influence decision-making. In some rural areas locally powerful families may make or influence decision-making. Such informal decision-making is often the result of corrupt practices or leads to corrupt practices. According to the United Nations, good governance has eight major characteristics. It should be participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and should follow the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society.
What this means in real life is that the transfer of our officials would no longer depend on the whims and fancies of the elected politicians. The officials would be allowed to deliver on their responsibilities without fear or favour and that Civil Society will have a legitimate and visible space in the overall scheme of things. Good Governance will mean that issues like caste or religion will not come in the way of decision-making. It will also mean that relatives of politicians can no longer wield power and authority with no accountability. This means that inter-state issues and disputes would also need to be resolved based on evidence and reason and not merely on political compulsions. More importantly, it means that our policies can no longer be skewed in favour of a few individuals or corporations but bears in mind the entire population, especially the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable. This also means that institutions like the Lok Ayukta, the State Human Rights Commission, the Women’s Commission and the Child Rights Commission are independent of State control and serve to be watchdogs of the Government. It means the active and sustained participation of civil society groups and citizen bodies in different aspects of the administration. It could be membership in statutory committees to playing the role of formal and informal advisors to different ministries. Good Governance will necessarily mean that bodies like the Police Establishment Board are actually independent and beyond the interference of the political class.
All this will mean that our present generation of politicians can no longer operate with the ‘business as usual’ mindset but will have to change the paradigm of the political regime itself. It will mean that the Government’s authority in the management of the economic and social resources will now be under public scrutiny and one can no longer work with the discretionary powers that have existed till now. It will mean that the capacity of Governments to formulate policies and their effective implementation will be monitored and both the political and administrative executive will be held accountable for failures. Inculcating all this will mean better legislative frameworks, policies, programs, budgetary allocations and other pro-people measures. If all this happens, people like Madi, Kariaiah, Muniswamy, Tippesha, Sharmila and Ramu will finally get what they aspire for. When our Chief Minister promises Good Governance, it is all this and more that he should deliver on. Five years is not too long a time-frame and he needs to start work on all this immediately. Whether he will walk the talk or not, only time can tell.