the terms "governance" and "good governance" are being
increasingly used in development literature. Bad governance
is being increasingly regarded as one of the root causes of
all evil within our societies. Major donors and
international financial institutions are increasingly basing
their aid and loans on the condition that reforms that
ensure "good governance" are undertaken.
This article tries to explain, as simply as
possible, what "governance" and "good governance" means.
The concept of "governance" 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).
Governance can be used in several contexts such as corporate
governance, international governance, national governance
and local governance.
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 and the formal and informal
structures that have been set in place to arrive at and
implement the decision.
Government is one of the actors in
governance. Other actors involved in governance vary
depending on the level of government that is under
discussion. In rural areas, for example, other actors may
include influential land lords, associations of peasant
farmers, cooperatives, NGOs, research institutes, religious
leaders, finance institutions political parties, the
military etc. The situation in urban areas is much more
complex. Figure 1 provides the interconnections between
actors involved in urban governance. At the national level,
in addition to the above actors, media, lobbyists,
international donors, multi-national corporations, etc. may
play a role in decision-making or in influencing the
All actors other than government and the
military are grouped together as part of the "civil
society." In some countries in addition to the civil
society, organized crime syndicates also influence
decision-making, particularly in urban areas and at the
Similarly 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 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.
Good governance has 8 major characteristics.
It is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable,
transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable
and inclusive and follows 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.
Participation by both men and women is a key
cornerstone of good governance. Participation could be
either direct or through legitimate intermediate
institutions or representatives. It is important to point
out that representative democracy does not necessarily mean
that the concerns of the most vulnerable in society would be
taken into consideration in decision making. Participation
needs to be informed and organized. This means freedom of
association and expression on the one hand and an organized
civil society on the other hand.
Rule of law
Good governance requires fair legal
frameworks that are enforced impartially. It also requires
full protection of human rights, particularly those of
minorities. Impartial enforcement of laws requires an
independent judiciary and an impartial and incorruptible
Transparency means that decisions taken and
their enforcement are done in a manner that follows rules
and regulations. It also means that information is freely
available and directly accessible to those who will be
affected by such decisions and their enforcement. It also
means that enough information is provided and that it is
provided in easily understandable forms and media.
Good governance requires that institutions
and processes try to serve all stakeholders within a
Characteristics of good governance
There are several actors and as many view
points in a given society. Good governance requires
mediation of the different interests in society to reach a
broad consensus in society on what is in the best interest
of the whole community and how this can be achieved. It also
requires a broad and long-term perspective on what is needed
for sustainable human development and how to achieve the
goals of such development. This can only result from an
understanding of the historical, cultural and social
contexts of a given society or community.
A society’s well being depends on ensuring
that all its members feel that they have a stake in it and
do not feel excluded from the mainstream of society. This
requires all groups, but particularly the most vulnerable,
have opportunities to improve or maintain their well being.
Effectiveness and efficiency
Good governance means that processes and
institutions produce results that meet the needs of society
while making the best use of resources at their disposal.
The concept of efficiency in the context of good governance
also covers the sustainable use of natural resources and the
protection of the environment.
Accountability is a key requirement of good
governance. Not only governmental institutions but also the
private sector and civil society organizations must be
accountable to the public and to their institutional
stakeholders. Who is accountable to whom varies depending on
whether decisions or actions taken are internal or external
to an organization or institution. In general an
organization or an institution is accountable to those who
will be affected by its decisions or actions. Accountability
cannot be enforced without transparency and the rule of law.
From the above discussion it should be clear
that good governance is an ideal which is difficult to
achieve in its totality. Very few countries and societies
have come close to achieving good governance in its
totality. However, to ensure sustainable human development,
actions must be taken to work towards this ideal with the
aim of making it a reality.
What is Good Governance ?
– from UNESCAP