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close this bookThe Courier N 128 July - August 1991 - Dossier : Human Rights- Democracy-Development Country Reports: Benin, Western Samoa (EC Courier, 1991, 96 p.)
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View the documentHuman rights, democracy and development
View the document‘Democracy cannot be imposed from the outside’
View the documentInterview with Dr. Erskine Simmonds, Vice-President of the ACP-EEC Joint Assembly
View the documentInterview with Henry Saby, Chairman of the Development Committee of the European Parliament
View the documentAmnesty International - The international conscience for 30 years
View the documentThe African Charter on Human and People’s Rights
View the documentBuilding democracy with tribalism
View the documentDemocracy in the English speaking Caribbean
View the documentDemocracy and development
View the documentDevelopment and the African political heritage
View the documentSome thoughts on governance and democratisation
View the documentTransition to democracy is there a model?

Some thoughts on governance and democratisation

by F.J. van HOEK

‘Governance’ is now widely recognised, by all concerned with achieving sustainable development, as an important issue that can no longer be neglected. Recent shifts within the international political arena, notably, the changes in Eastern Europe, as well as political changes in various ACP countries (the cold war finally receding from Africa, the movement towards, and demands for, multi-party systems in various ACP States), have reinforced discussion on this topic. However, it is not only the political context which has contributed to the emergence of this debate on governance. The recognition that sustainable development and a more equitable distribution of income have not occurred in most ACP States has also played a part. The crisis in governance is, therefore, now considered to have been one of the main impediments to sustainable development and as a result figures high on the development agenda.

The debate on governance has been characterised at first by a political connotation. It is now generally recognised that in many developing countries, particularly - but not exclusively - in Africa, factors such as extensive personalisation of power and widespread corruption resulted in a situation where government and its organs have only served the interests of a few, while fundamental freedoms and human rights were denied to many. Hence, the crisis can, in part at least, be attributed to the lack of a countervailing power and the pervasive lack of institutions of democracy. Discussions about political reform have stressed the need to bridge the gap between state and civil society; to create the necessary social and political space for popular participation in the development process; to nurture ‘institutional pluralism’ in government and civil society. This in turn explains the recent internal and external pressures for the introduction of the processes of democratisation.

Beyond the political context within which the crisis of governance can be explained, lie the very fragile systems of governance. Historically, alien models of governance were introduced during and after independence and these resulted in institutions managing the development process which were more often not originally designed for this function and thus were ill-adapted to local political, social and cultural conditions. Moreover, external factors such as donor interventions, have also had their effects on the performance of these institutions e.g. through the setting-up of project-related parallel administrations, the introduction of new institutions and organisations that operate either within or outside the realm of government, and the traditional approach to technical assistance favouring, as it did, full-time long term assignment of expatriate personnel in executive positions.

The issue of governance is complex; definitions vary widely and one cannot easily disaggregate the various notions. Nevertheless, it seems appropriate to distinguish between what could be called ‘politico-administrative’ aspects of governance and the economic aspects although in practice they are interwined. As Richard -Joseph- indicates in his article on ‘African Governance in the 1990s’, economic governance embraces the practices of decision-making and implementation in the economic realm, i.e. matters that affect directly public investment and expenditure as well as the use of available resources in both the private and the public sectors. Hence, economic governance embraces such issues as price, fiscal and exchange rate policies, protectionism, subsidies, market liberalisation, the role of the state as an economic agent and as facilitator for the blossoming of an efficient and competitive Private sector etc. The political dimension of governance refers to the prevailing political system, the structure of government, general constitutional provisions (including those referring to an independent judiciary), the nature of the electoral system, the relation between state and civil society (including the question of human rights as well as what is now commonly called ‘participatory government’t

The seminar on Governance and Institutional Development in sub-Saharan Africa , organised by the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) in March 1990, identified several issues as being of critical importance to governance, such as: the level of political stability; the role of the state in development and how this role can be operationalised; the endogenous institutional capacity for policy formulation and implementation and the ‘cheeks and balaneest necessary to ensure transparency of policy formulation and implementation as well as accountability at both political and administrative levels.

For the purpose of achieving its mandate, ECDPM has formulated the following outline of what governance connotes: Governance is taken to refer to political and institutional aspects of the capacity of a government to ensure law and order, formulate and implement policy, and create an enabling environment for development. This capacity comprises the organisational structures, human resources and management systems, which constitute the machinery of government, and is influenced by societal norms. Governance is associated with transparency and accountability of public management and embraces the totality of institutions related to governing a modern state.

The greater part of ECDPM’s present work-programme is of direct relevance to the enhancement of governance capacity as described above. This holds true for programmes like the Sous-Espace Cerealier in the Sahel, which aims at improved cereals marketing systems at national level and policy harmonisation at regional level; the issue of how to ensure more efficient policy formulation and implementation through improved mechanisms dealing with sectoral inter linkages in the OECS region; and the various issues dealt with under the programmes ‘Public Sector Management/Private Sector Development’ and ‘New Avenues for Technical Cooperation’. Thus, ECDPM is clearly involved in a range of aspects of governance. Because of its mandate, its primary focus is on the institutional aspects of administrative and politico-administrative governance.

In this period where democratization forms a major subject of discussion in many ACP countries, a new area that could be explored in the area of governance could be that of ways and means to improve the process of interaction between the several organisations that might be regarded as stakeholders in the policy process. In this context it would be useful to explore the interplay between the state and representative professional and other occupational organisations; the institutional arrangements needed for effective interplay in policy-making, implementation and monitoring.

An analysis of this kind could focus on the kinds of institutions and processes that can lead to a genuine policy dialogue. It may help identify a framework within which organisations such as universities, trade unions, women’s organisations, chambers of commerce and cooperatives, an independent judiciary, the press and other media would actively participate in improving development policy formulation and implementation. Such a dialogue would be part of a systematic effort to build a pluralistic institutional infrastructure. This, in turn, would contribute to improved governance, by encouraging greater transparency and accountability through more intensive popular participation. Transparency in the policy process and accountability within a government system can be the result of the checks and balances that stem from a participatory system. A central issue in development and governance, this synergy can only be achieved if both are supported by the appropriate institutions which, in turn, require the political will to make them work.

The analysis would have to take stock of the existing relevant organisations in order to know how they operate, what their institutional and human capacity is and how they exercise their influence visa-vis the central government.

What is central in this analysis is the channels through which these organisations interact, and the ways in which they can improve the process of policymaking and implementation. The power base of these organisations and the way in which they can operate and contribute to an effective management of the economy evidently constitute parameters for ‘governance’.

As has been said, democratisation is one of the main topics of discussion in relation to developing countries. It features in discussions within these countries as well as between them and the donor community. Its advancement is often an element of conditionality. Most, if not all, of the discussion centres on the political aspects of systems of government. These can be both sensitive issues for the countries concerned and difficult areas in which to effect real change in the short term.

Any system to foster and give effect to popular participation in the process of government will need to take account of the characteristics of the local sociocultural environment. Many developing countries need to be able to accommodate within their boundaries ethnic, religious and other groups which may differ widely and deeply from each other. Today, however, most of the developing countries have models of government that have their origin in the industrialized world. There the environment, with its generally more educated populations and greater and more widespread systems of checks and balances, is so different as to raise questions concerning the relevance of the models. In addition, the continued effectiveness of some of these models is, today, under scrutiny in some industrialised countries. Consideration of the question of democratisation from the perspective of the right and power of the governed to participate in and influence the formulation of policy would be less sensitive. A focus on the institutional rather than the political dimensions of democratisation could lead to the production of more effective mechanisms for consultation and communication between the central government and the several sectors and interest groups in the population. It would thus facilitate the achievement of a policy articulation and formulation process which would be perceived to be more equitable whatever the political system.

Understanding of what the elements of a system to achieve popular participation in this context are, would be a contribution to the evolution of a genuinely indigenous structure of government and a governance system to complement it.

F.J. van H.