The Octagon of Governance

Published on March 4, 2007

Amid various international country ranking reports where Pakistan is fast approaching the victory stand of corruption, terrorism, lack of accountability, transparency and rule of law despite being a front line state in war against terror, one is inclined to see the larger canvas of overall governance in the country.
The term governance is being increasingly used in the latest development literature, among development professionals and political analysts all over the world. The gospel of governance, in simple terms, is the way where certain decisions are taken (or not taken) and implemented (or not implemented) to manage a society’s political, economic and social affairs. The onus of all the evils of a society is conveniently put on bad governance. Major donors and international financial institutions are basing their loaning and aid strategies in developing countries on the demand from the respective governments for a broader reform agenda ensuring good governance. In the presence of these “chaperons” for good governance, one can still see all the elements that contribute to the worst form of governance in the entire developing generally and in Pakistan particularly.
It becomes imperative to have a closer look at the term and its components in order to discern Pakistan’s performance on this pitch. Good governance, as the Governance Matters Report 2005 of our financial Vatican – the World Bank – warns us, has eight important elements: accountability, transparency, participation, responsiveness, effectiveness & efficiency, inclusiveness, stability and last but not least, rule of law. A steady performance and progress on these eight indicators would make the octagon of governance look balanced and poised.
Accountability – a self explanatory but largely misunderstood and abused term in Pakistan’s context – is a measure of the degree to which people are able to participate in selecting their government, have freedoms of expression and association alongside a free media. The need of making public officials and people’s representatives answerable for government behavior to the entity from which they derive authority can not be overemphasized. In countries with established democratic ethos and strong egalitarian roots, the accountability is ensured by audit covenants at one level and broadly elected legislatures and narrowly conceived committees etc at another. In Pakistan a simulation of democracy is doing the trick. Pakistan’s percentile rank (0 to 100) for accountability in governance among world’s largest populated twenty countries was 12.6 in 2005. Pakistan was fourth country from bottom, while China and Vietnam stood at the base of accountability pyramid. In South Asia, Pakistan was ranked second last among eight countries in 2005. The least accountable governance was carried by Afghanistan.
Transparency, correlated to accountability explains the accessibility of general public to information and government rules, regulations, procedures and decisions. The difficulty with ensuring transparency is that public access to information might very easily be restricted by the same authority that is responsible for providing that information. So, it is crucial to give the freedom of information a legal and legislative cover. Pakistan, having a scarcely envisioned Freedom of Information Act (which never saw itself explored by the parliamentarians on the floor of the House), is not displaying a pleasing picture on this front. With a country average of 16.1, Pakistan stands at the third least transparent country in its governance practices, rules, regulations etc. among South Asian countries closely beating Bangladesh and Afghanistan with country averages of 15.2 and 10.3 respectively. Maldives secures its place as the most transparent country with very tight regulatory framework among eight South Asian countries having a country average for transparency at 66.2 in 2005.
As far as government effectiveness is concerned, it’s a bit tricky to comprehend the concept and its relevance to good governance. As per definition accepted by most international governance assessment institutions, it measures the quality of civil and public service and degree to which both these services are independent from political pressures. It also gauges the quality of policy formulation and process of its implementation along with credibility of government’s commitment to such policies. Pakistan stands at fifth position among eight South Asian countries having a country average for effectiveness of 34 as opposed to Bhutan at number one with 64.6, India at number three with country average of 51.7, Nepal at number seven with 14.3 and Afghanistan at number eight with country average of 9.1. It demonstrates a devious kaleidoscope of political activity related to government effectiveness. Countries like Bhutan and Maldives may show higher averages of government effectiveness on account of being governed by autocracy and / or oligarchy, which leaves little space for non-state actors to dissent government’s actions. Countries with stronger democratic values may show a mid level average like that of India where government’s effectiveness indicators may confront a potent civil society interference. Countries like Nepal for example may show a major diversion and stay at the bottom as far as effectiveness stats are concerned, in the presence of a strong people’s opposition to autocracy. That explains Pakistan’s comparatively higher average compared to other indicators!
Rule of law, an important cornerstone of governance in any country is the measure of the level of social agents’ confidence in and abiding by the rules of society in particular, the value of writ enforcement, the police, the judiciary and the likelihood of crime and violence (we may use the word terrorism complying with emerging international linguistics). Pakistan ranks sixth among eight South Asian countries with a country average at 24.2 compared with Bhutan at number one with 64.7, Maldives at number two at 60, India at number three with an average of 56.4, Sri Lanka at number four with 54.1, Nepal at number five with 25.1, Bangladesh with 19.8 and Afghanistan with 1.4 at numbers seven and eight respectively. A country with greater value for democracy and people’s voices may display foreign and domestic policies with greater mass acceptance. A factor that minimizes people’s concerns resultantly less violent attitudes, more people-friendly policies, greater political and social freedom and social safety nets. All contributing to a just and equitable society thus leading to rule of law.
Conceptually and rationally, all these elements of governance support and reinforce each other. Accountability is related to citizens participation in decision making processes, which in turn is linked to transparency, information openness, government responsiveness to people’s needs and concerns, government efficiency and predictable decision making of autonomous government agencies. Similarly, the transparency and accessibility can not be ensured with out legal frameworks to balance people’s right to information against governments’ right to confidentiality along side a wide institutional acceptance to accountability. Finally, a democratic system facilitates governments to take informed decisions, incorporate people’s interests and voices in policy formulation, a free media to act as autonomous watchdog that props predictable outcome of governance. It, therefore, appears to be an unmistakable reality that the flag of good governance can only be unfurled under the bright sunlight of democratic system. The octagon has to be perfectly figured if soft image of Pakistan is to be popularized!