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Governance: Institutional reform and capacity building

GN3 Editorial Comment: The activities of civil society around the world are increasingly paving the way for de facto tri-sectoral or threefold approaches to governance. In the article below from Bangladesh, the writer highlights the importance of developing new approaches to governance that involve state, private sector and civil society in the effort to achieve sustainable human development and poverty eradication.

Major global political changes in last couple of decades have prompted major changes in the role of the state. Those political changes have changed the views of governance; shifted emphasis to market economy development, and have recognised an increased role of the private sector and the civil society in governance. The 1997 World Development Report of the World Bank describes the state as facilitator, catalyst and regulator, rather than the engine for economic development.

Institutional reforms include, in addition to public sector policy and structural changes, strengthening of the civil society, private sector and other key governance actors. The process of change requires learning by the national governments lessons, primarily from the countries within the region with similar socio-cultural, political and economic set up. This is essential for reducing mistakes and conducting reforms in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Reforms in India can serve as good examples for Bangladesh.

The national governments in the reform process should always be aware of the rights of the people over national resources. Hence, reforms should adequately address the issues of proper distribution and re-distribution of national wealth. This needs appropriate policy formulation and implementation, aimed at optimal participation of the people. Strengthened democracy can ensure that. Experiences show that despite vigorous reforms in some of the developing countries, the benefits are not successfully extended throughout the population. On the other hand, isolated reform programmes may not yield expected results in the context of enhanced sectoral integration in the society.

It is important that reforms address adequately the ways to develop modalities and mechanisms for efficient and sustainable use of state controlled resources through equitable sharing. Isolated initiatives at the local and national levels by the government, CSOs, NGOs and the private sector may not lead to needed level of impact on the governance, reforms and development as a whole. It is also inevitable that good governance requires developed public sector management mechanisms, policies and institutions. All these at the end are prime prerequisites for sustainable human development and poverty eradication.

Reform process aimed at attaining expected level of governance should ideally involve i) creation of favourable development relationships among the key governance actors: government, civil society and the private sector; ii) identification of most effective resource use and management modality; iii) decentralisation; iv) effective support to the disadvantaged groups: the rural and urban poor, women and children, the ethnic and religious minorities.

Reforms in the context of globalisation should essentially be aimed at enhanced private sector role. This also involves collaboration among the key governance actors, individual being at the centre and the prime beneficiary. Effective service delivery to the people can only be attained through the creation of efficient, accountable and transparent resource management system at all levels, which virtually is the essence of good governance.

Efficient financial and human resource management is an integral part of reforms. This involves increased transparency and accountability in the budgeting system, decentralisation of tax collection and fund management. At the same time, it is true that only a properly skilled stock of human resources can ensure proper management of resources. The reforms should seriously address this issue.

Decentralisation is one of the most important cornerstones of reforms. This ensures more participation of the disadvantaged people in the management and planning, in the designing of their own programmes and their monitoring.

It is important that the governments have the ability and capacity to absorb and make use of the new trends that the new international process produces. The governments should try to benefit from new trends rather than resisting them. Those involve, among others, intensification of international network; emergence of multiple options resulting in increased responsiveness to market conditions; shift to consumer-driven market decisions; shift to market driven economic decision-making; enhanced rural-urban migration; and shift to high technology industries.

Government's initiatives in taking advantage of above trends should include coordination of GO-NGO-CSO-Private Sector activities; formulation and implementation of pro-market and pro-consumer policies; and ensuring people's participation in the development process, including planning.

The reform processes and initiatives in this country have quite long history and insignificant results. Over the last 20 years various reform initiatives have been undertaken, several projects implemented and reports and recommendations elaborating the ways, modalities, aspects and dimensions of the problem produced. Paradoxically, none of the initiatives produced expected results due to various reasons: lack of political commitment, lack of political and policy environment conducive to reforms, bureaucratic resistance, etc. The absence of constitutional method of political changes, i.e. lack of democracy and people's participation in the state affairs were the main causes of the lack of political commitment of the governments that came to power through non-constitutional means. This is indicative of the fact that political commitment for reforms requires an accountable political system in place. Enhanced democratisation during the last 14 years has impacted positively on the reform process. Constitutional changes of the political leadership have 'to some extent' created an accountable political system in the country, but the country has to go a long way to fulfil the aspirations of the people. The second major obstacle to reforms, the bureaucratic resistance, however, continues to remain. This results in non-implementation of most of the extremely valid reform recommendations produced by different actors. Many of those recommendations concern important macro and micro level reforms.

Apparently, the politicians of the country are now more than ever convinced about the necessity of reform as a vehicle for increased accountability, transparency, efficiency and participation in the public administration, improved service delivery and decreased wastage of public resources. However, the translation of desire of the political leadership into practice is lacking due to various reasons. The reasons are linked to the lack of political consensus on national issues, lack of strong partnership and wise decision-making in the political arena needed for attaining valuable strategic pro-people and pro-poor actions required for poverty alleviation and growth rate.

On the other hand, as reforms, in some way or other, involve rationalisation of the size of civil administration, curtailing certain powers and benefits of the bureaucrats and the staff, reduced wastage in the public sector, directly concern vested interests of a considerable section of the government employees, instigate strong resistances among the affected bureaucrats and such resistances will continue to remain as long as the political leadership continues to lack enormous strength to withstand that incredible power and undertake drastic reform measures, supported by the mass. This requires, on the one hand, creation of a strong democratic system, building and strengthening of democratic and rights based institutions, such as the electoral system, a functional parliament and strong human rights institutions, independent judiciary, etc. On the other hand, vigorous social mobilisation in favour of the reform process, involving all key actors, the CSOs, NGOs, private sector, social elites, and the general people is needed for expected results. The ruling political leadership is in a position to undertake drastic reform measures provided those are actively supported by all segments of the population.

Zahurul Alam Ph.D is President, Governance and Rights Centre, Dhaka.


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