What Manipur needs: A white paper on good governance

Jagat Thoudam *

Concept of good governance:

The governance or good governance has been at the centre stage of administrative reforms and development since 1989 when the term was used in a World Bank document on Sub-Saharan African context. The World Bank found lack of governance as the major cause of underdevelopment in these countries despite huge investment and technological assistance IMF and the World Bank.

Initially good governance was associated with the sound development management of a country's resources for development. The four key areas identified are the sound public sector management, accountability, legal framework for development and information and transparency. Again the World Bank's document entitles Governance and Development (1992) defined governance as the manner in which a power is exercised in the management of a country's economic and social resources for development.

The edifice of good governance is said to rest on four pillars or 4 Es, (1) Ethos of service to the citizen; (2) Ethics of honesty, integrity and transparency; (3) Equity which means treating all citizens alike with empathy for the weaker section; and (4) Efficiency in terms of speedy and effective delivery of service without harassment.

These pillars are almost absent in the context of Manipur, while paying Up service to the governance became the norm. Government and its administrative agency often spoke about governance on many occasions, however, in actual practice, one finds widespread corruption, red-tapism and nepotism. "Administration" works as a closed social category indulging into an empire building project to sustain it for its own benefits. In other words self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement characterised the behavior of officials.

The administrative behaviour is highly "formalistic" in the state. Fred W. Riggs, a well known American administrative thinker, defined formalism as "the degree of discrepancy or congruence between what is formally prescribed norms and what is really practiced". Discrepancy leads to formalism, and the more formalistic the officials are, the more corrupted they are. This is true, to a great extent, in the context of Manipur. This formalistic behaviour hinders growth and development, leads consolidation of power and wealth in the hands of few persons and denial of equal opportunity on the basis of merit thereby killing the talents and potentials of youths.

Potentials of good governance in Manipur:

According to United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific "governance" is the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented). It lists eight major characteristics of good governance - 1) participatory 2) consensus oriented 3) accountable 4) transparent 5) responsive 6) effective and efficient 7) equitable and inclusive and 8) follows the rule of law. Good governance further 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. Responsiveness to the present and future needs of society is also an important aspect of good governance.

Participation: Good governance necessarily requires participation by both men and women as a basic element. The participation has to be informed and organized. To achieve this, freedom of association and expression and an organized civil society on the other hand is a must. Manipur has a strong and vibrant civil society when the western societies are struggling to revive them.

Clubs, Meira-Paibees in the valleys and assemblies and councils in the hills representing various communities, along with other various organizations represent the vibrant civil society of Manipur. But engaging the civil society by the government for good governance has not materialized so far. There is a huge untapped potential of engaging the strong grassroots civil society organizations for developmental works. However to the credit of the civil society of Manipur, they have been the vigilante for democracy in Manipur so far, fighting the undemocratic and repressive policies of the government.

Rule of law: "Good governance requires fair legal frameworks that are enforced impartially." Full protection of human rights, particularly those of minorities are also required. For impartial enforcement of laws, an independent judiciary and an impartial and incorruptible police force are a must. Full protection of human rights in Manipur does not exist in Manipur as long as Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 prevails in Manipur. Protection of minorities is guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

Independence of judiciary in lower courts in Manipur is doubtful as many decisions are understood to be influenced by the executive. But an impartial and incorruptible police force is almost non existent in Manipur. Fake encounters and existence of illegal activities right under the nose of the police force are few clear signals for this.

Transparency: When decisions are taken and their enforcement are done in a manner that follows rules and regulations it is transparent. Information should be freely available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement. For this information should be provided in easily understandable forms and media.

Transparency cannot exist when corruption and nepotism is the norm for governance. This is exactly what is happening in Manipur. The number of court cases for appointment and promotion in government services is a clear indicator. It is not surprising that government officials meet Ministers and bureaucrats for promotion and appointment more often than for discussing developmental works.

Responsiveness: Good governance requires that institutions and processes try to serve all stakeholders within a reasonable timeframe. Responsiveness in Manipur is sacrificed at the altar of Non-transparency.

Consensus oriented: "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." A broad and long-term perspective on what is needed for sustainable human development and how to achieve the goals of such development is needed. For this, an understanding of the historical, cultural and social contexts of society should be arrived. In this area, a lot of conflicting issues are still required to be resolved. A consensus on the perspective for sustainable human development and the path to be undertaken are yet to be arrived at.

Equity and inclusiveness: "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." An opportunity to improve or maintain the well being of all groups, particularly the most vulnerable is a requirement for this. While opportunity exists, lack of infrastructure and social barriers are the impediments for converting the opportunity to an achievement.

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." Sustainable use of natural resources and the protection of the environment are covered in the concept of efficiency. Manipur Ms miserably in this context. Corruption and nepotism has weakened the institutions to such an extent that they are not able to use the resources to produce results that meet the needs of society forgetting about making the best use. The result is there for all to see -bad roads, flooding, traffic congestion, no employment generation, no industrial development, decrease in quality of education etc.

Accountability: "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. An organization or an institution is accountable to those who will be affected by its decisions or actions. Institutions in Manipur, especially those in the government sector, scores very low in accountability. When there is flooding in Imphal city after slight rain, nobody is accountable. Millions of rupees are lost everyday due to bad roads, and nobody is accountable. Rightly said, "Accountability cannot be enforced without transparency and the rule of law."

Adding these elements of governance in operation of administration can go a long way in sustaining a pro-people and transparent administration. It will certainly lead to empowerment of people to participate in the decision making process at various and capacities. One crucial requirement is to restore the confidence of the public towards government and its administrative agency about their capacity and will to deliver "good governance".

In this regard the idea of "Citizen's Charter", initiated by the then British Prime Minister John Major in 1992, is worth visiting. The charter sees public services through the eyes of those who use them; otherwise for too long the provider had dominated. The Citizen's Charter is a promise on the part of the government to raise quality, increase choice, secure better value and extend accountability. It sets important principles of public service. Its idea is to enhance "good governance" through people's participation and strengthening grassroots democracy.

Another area which is completely absent in Manipur is the mechanism of "consultative forums", composed of civil society representative, academia and other experts in the respective fields on the one hand and representatives of government and heads of departments. As the new government in Manipur has promised "good governance" and a corruption free state to the people of Manipur, it will be then most appropriate for the present Government to prepare a white paper on where Manipur stands on good governance and what it intends to take up to realize the same. Then only we can have a yardstick on which the promise of the new government be assessed.

* Jagat Thoudam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Associate Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering & Technology, AP
This article was posted on May 11, 2017.

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