Letters & Opinion

Good Governance: Seeking a Paradigm Shift

Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E
By Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E

THE terms “governance” and “good governance” have been used increasingly in our society today. But what exactly do these terms mean to the citizens of our country? This article is intended to explain the terms in an amazingly simple way and to determine how the terms affect their daily lives.

Simply put, “governance” means the process of decision- making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented). The term could be used in several contexts. However, for the purposes of this article we wish to look at national and local governance.

Good governance has eight 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, free expression is allowed and considered, that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is responsive to the present and future needs of society.

Now let us look at the characteristics separately. There is always a desire for members of a community to participate in the decision-making processes of a country. And to be frank, there are structures in governance which allows for proper consultation. But officials rather do it for them to win their hearts; in whatever way and fashion, and they should accept. The result is, often times, “A white Elephant”.

As I write, I refer to two cases. I studied in UWI St. Augustine, Trinidad in 1978 and the programme I was pursuing was Adult Education, a component of which was Community Development. And I often went to a market in Tunapuna, not too far away from the University. It was an attractive building. However, all the vendors were outside the market selling their produce.

On my return to the classroom, I discussed the matter with one of the Trinidadian students who lived in the area. She told me that the building was built without any consultation with the people for whom it was intended. And there were several deficiencies which the vendors were unhappy about. So, they stayed outside. Exactly the issues we were discussing in our Community Development classes!

Right here at home, we had a similar case with the Marchand Market. The market was constructed by the government, and was intended to absorb the vendors coming from the east: Forestierre, Ti Rocher, Trois Piton and those along the Marchand Road. But the buyers went pass the vendors at the Market and went to the Castries Market because there was a greater variety there, cheaper and did not have to pay transportation twice to get to town. The vendors themselves would get a much bigger crowd to purchase their goods. The building is standing there up to now.

Now consultation is one thing, but consensus is another. There are several actors and as many viewpoints in each society, community. Good governance requires mediation of the different interests to reach a broad consensus on how a project, programme or development goals generally can be achieved in the short, medium and long term. But this can only result from an understanding of the historical, cultural and social contexts of a given society or community. Parliamentary Representatives are in a unique position to tap into the groups in their constituency.

Equity and inclusiveness are vital for good governance. A society’s well-being depends on ensuring that all its member feel that they have a stake in the developmental programmes and should not feel excluded from the mainstream of the society. Equity and inclusiveness require all groups, particularly the most vulnerable.

A lot of what I have written thus far gives support to participation. This should include men, women and youth. Now in St. Lucia, the youth make up about 70% of our society. We cannot leave them out on the grounds that they are young. In our case they will be the ones governing our country tomorrow. Participation could be either direct or through legitimate intermediate institutions or representatives.

Now 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 must be deliberate, informed and organized. This means freedom of association and expression on the one hand and an organized civil society on the other. It is not a matter of leaving out persons whom we perceive as not supporting one government or the other.

Now we come to the issue of transparency. Transparency means that the 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 available and freely accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement. It means that enough information is provided and that it is provided in easily understood forms and media. When the process is clearly observed, the participants take ownership of the projects and other developmental programmes.

Earlier I mentioned rules and regulations. Indeed, good governance requires a fair legal framework which could make persons impartial and make people accountable. The rule of will require full protection of human rights, Now the impartial enforcement of laws require an independent judiciary and impartial enforcement by law enforcers.

Good governance requires a level of effectiveness and efficiency.

Indeed, accountable is a key requirement of good governance. Not only governmental institutions but the private sector and civil society organizations which would in turn be accountable to the public.

Now those institutions which I referred to must be responsive to the processes and try to serve all stakeholders or interest groups. Then and only then we will come close to achieving good governance in St. Lucia and other parts of the world..

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