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on governance

on governance

kewal krishan sethi

of late the discussion about governance is attracting a lot of attention. modi, in the run up to the elections, had repeatedly spoken about minimum government, maximum governance. others have also been saying the same, though with varying emphasis.

but what is governance and how does it differ from government? governments are concerned with delivery of services. the attributes of good government are said to be transparency, equity, the objectivity of the government agents. this can be viewed both at the macro and the micro level. at the macro level, the laws, the rules and the regulations are made which are implemented through the institutions. how smoothly these institutions perform their function is considered to be test of good government.

the governance is in a different category. the perfect institutions, well oiled machinery and well drafted laws may not mean much unless the common citizens draws satisfaction from their functioning. in other words, governance is concerned with the micro, the public agent citizen interaction. if there is failure at the micro level, it might mean failure at the macro level also. micro level governance does not demand or hope for omnibus policy designs and solutions, even in the basic sector of health or education. the problem of absenteeism, of quality of education or lack of medicines may mean failure of the government so far as the citizen is concerned. how to remedy this aspect of administration is the subject matter of governance. the problem is how to ensure delivery of services at cutting edge. there have to be incentives to perform different services are subject to different incentives and a single strategy may not be applicable to ensure the presence of the teachers, the students and the doctors. mid day meals scheme is meant for incentive to parents to send their wards to schools but these are not the incentives for the teachers to be present there. instead it means more work for them and that too at the cost of education which is their primary duty. the outcome may be better attendance but lesser education which was not the intention when the scheme was devised. on the medical side, beds in hospitals may not be a cure for malaria or the dots for treatment of tuberculosis, unless there is follow up action, the results may not be satisfactory. the procedure does not end with the prescribing the medicines. the client may not use them or be regular in taking the pills which would be a failure of the entire effort.

this is where the rules of the game come in as opposed to institutions. hitherto the emphasis has been on institutions which has even led to evolution of a new branch of economics called institutional economics. it undertakes the study of institutions- political, social, legal - on economic development. here we are more concerned the rules of the game which govern interaction amongst the players (the providers of the services and the recipient of services). this involves the study of  pay offs and sanctions of services and affect incentives. the actors, rather then the rules, can change the initial conditions and boundaries of behavior (can we see here a parallel to quantum physics where the position of the observer is an important ingredient of study of sub atomic particles). socially wasted outcomes of perverse incentives are sometimes generated by well intentioned motivational measures. take an instance. coal companies are to be provided incentives for delivery of coal to electricity generating companies. even when the electricity company closes down for repairs or renovation, or when there is lesser demand during rainy days,  the incentive encourages delivery of coal even when it is not needed leading to waste of effort in transportation and storage.

affective and emotional biases do matter in social interaction but may not be relevant in many situations of public governance. the design of the micro rules needs to take note not only of material incentives but also self interest of the beneficiaries. there is a need of resorting to mild incentives accompanied by nudges to address the irrationality and biases of the human actors. this is especially true of the social causes. take the case of the bureaucrats. the rules are strict regarding punishment for them. threats of punishment leaves them unconvinced due to various loopholes. in many cases, their contribution, or lack of it, is not even measurable. on the other hand, social exposure of misdeeds is more likely to be effective to keep them on the straight path.

political and economic thinkers have influenced the state citizen relationship through the ages.. hobbes advocated authoritarian sovereign to command and control the inherently selfish nature of human beings. this dominated the design and organization of the state for over 300 years. for locke and mill, liberty of individuals took primacy over the government and the state. semi democratic systems replaced (voting was for restricted to certain classes) the authoritarian sovereign in due course. despite this, the relation between state and citizens experienced little change in this transformation. laws replaced the whims and fancies of sovereign but the coercion process remained the same. adam smith advocated that state should confine itself to tolerable administration of justice, peace, and supply of public goods. he wanted the economic markets to be left to their own devices. what followed was the policy of laissez faire. even so, the iron hand of state was visible in the limited areas of state citizen interaction.

the world war I and the great depression of thirties brought about a change. keynesian ideas took hold of the economy and the government expenditure increased to boost economy. proactive governments brought in compulsory education, new labour laws, laws for safety at work, tax funded libraries and other infrastructure.

the seventies brought its own problems of rising unemployment. economists like friedman advocated abolition of role of government not only in economic markets but also in the function of providing public goods. whatever remained of the government was to be on PPP model even including outsourcing of basic government functions such as social security. however, this was not accepted by governments and some compromise was worked out as a remedy.

in the nineties, the new paradigm is individualisation of services. it is recognized that markets have their limitations while the command and control model is no longer relevant. this new development is the basis of the call of minimum government, maximum governance.

the changeover from command and control philosophy to inclusive governance which involves the recipients of services is a difficult process. perhaps this is the reason why this aspect has remained generally neglected in our society. the major problem is how to cultivate the new element in the conduct public agents. presently the practices and the temper is deep rooted. patient and persistent effort is necessary to deal with the malady of ignoring the client  one of the imperatives is to catch them young. what we are advocating is that the idea about inclusive governance should be included in the training programme at the entry stage. the rule making processes and the governance codes are much more susceptible to intervention before they are fully formed. micro governance is actually in the shape of the capillaries and should be taken care of at the beginning. it is generally seen that it is left to the street level where the individuals who come into contact with the public have to fend for themselves and lay down their own norms. at that level they cannot see the implications of their action over the mechanism as such. it will be recalled that mahatma gandhi advised that the face of the poorest person should be kept in mind while deciding on a new policy or initiative. he was led by the same consideration. the street links are lost as the bureaucrat enters the elite area of directive, constitutional and macro governance. he develops amnesia about the man on the street and changes over to numbers. frequent changeover from office to field is necessary to maintain the balance. it is through nudges and minor initiatives that the policy can be modified to become serviceable.  we come back to beginning. what is governance. in its broadest sense it means, according to Wikipedia, governance refers to "all processes of governing, whether undertaken by a government, market or network, whether over a family, tribe, formal or informal organization or territory and whether through laws, norms, power or language“. It relates to "the processes of interaction and decision-making among the actors involved in a collective problem that lead to the creation, reinforcement, or reproduction of social norms and institutions“. for our purpose we  shall  restrict ourselves to government services. it can be interpreted to mean ordered rules and collective action. it can also be seen as the interplay of plural actors including the beneficiaries. the parable of six blind men and the elephant describes the situation more accurately where ’each was partially in the right, and all were in the wrong’.  governance means different things to different persons. corruption, transparency, efficiency, equity, consistency, courtesy are some of the attributes with which people judge the actions of the government and its agents. another point of view recognizes governance as transparency and accountability; efficiency and effectiveness; decentralization and deregulation; and justice and fairness. inclusiveness is another aspect which is emphasized by some.

the modern society depends upon interactions which can be efficiently performed only if the legal rights are clear and can be enforced in a swift and orderly manner. the basic point is that there is a shift from inputs to outcomes. the man in the street is not concerned with how good the laws are; in how flowery language the documents declaring the policy are written. when he is seeking a certificate for caste, a ration card, a birth or death certificate etc. he wants a time bound delivery without hassles and without having to pay speed money.

how can this be achieved and made the normal mode of the government functioning? the quickest way it can be done is by simplifying the processes but there is a limit to that. the alternate option is to make everything automated. if there is no interference by individuals, the things can go smoothly. but there is a limit to this also. human hand is involved in one way or the other at every transaction. so, in the ultimate analysis, it comes down to the behaviour of the agent who deals with the people – which is called the cutting edge. once again we recall gandhi ji who advocated thinking of poorest man while formulating policy but more important is how the agent deals with the poorest man (or for that matter with the richest man – whether he is over awed to make concessions not warranted by the concept of good governance).

we have spoken of automation and stated that it is not the final word but, at the same time, it helps enormously to promote prompt and equitable action. it enables the citizens to be assured that the response will be certain. this is especially true of the grievances and complaints. many of the state governments have launched websites where the complaints can be traced. along with the time limits laid down, this has been become a veritable tool for the right action. the right to information act was the precursor of this approach. one of the provisions in the right to information act is that the basic information about the department or office should be on the website which must be updated regularly, and if possible, automatically.

it will be pertinent to point out some of the initiatives taken by the state governments. the best example is supplying copies of the documents regarding land records. the computerisation of land records started as far back as 1990 but the supply of records in a painless manner is of much recent period. presently registration of sale of property is one important aspect where many states have tried to launch automated or partially automated schemes some of them are from karnataka (bhoomi), maharashtra (sarita), punjab (prism) tamil nadu (star) are performing well. treasury information system in karnataka and tamil nadu are spoken well of. madhya pradesh talks about samadhan scheme. many of the municipal corporations have switched over to e payment of property tax and other dues. railways which was the first to launch electronic system has an enviable record of reservation done through web site. in fact, now there is competition amongst various states to invent and re invent best practices. one of the important things is to see that the best practices of a state are adopted (adopted not copied as the circumstances may be different) by other states.

one of the most important ingredient of governance is redressal of grievances and settlement of disputes. of the grievances, we have spoken above but the question about disputes merits closer attention. in fact any lapse in that negates all the advantages of good governance. the number of civil and criminal cases pending in the courts are legendary. and no solution is in sight. a common excuse is the shortage of the judges but that is not the major problem. the major problem is the will to settle down to disposing off the pending cases. tareekh par tareekh is the normal thing which comes to mind when one thinks about the judicial work. the litigant, the recipient of judicial services, is never at the centre of the rules and regulation which are highly biased in favour of lawyers and advocates. the interest of the lawyers is to prolong the cases since they are getting paid for each date rather than for each case. assume that a rule is made that a particular case will mean so much remuneration regardless of how long it takes, will it not expedite the disposal of the cases. further the rule can be that all payments to the lawyers will be through the courts who will deposit the amount directly in the bank accounts of the lawyers. (it will be recalled that where the adjournment was granted on payment of compensation, this went to the pocket of the lawyer rather than the litigant who was supposed to be compensated for his wasted time and expenses). the lawyers are never charged if they plead for adjournment on the ground that they are busy in another court. where the government decides to subsidise the legal expenses, this will be paid straight to the court and, through them to the pleaders. long winded arguments must be cut short by giving a fixed time to the pleaders to list their arguments. after all the judges are supposed to be as learned as the lawyers and whole judgments need not be read over to them. we believe that this will cut down the time taken for the cases immensely. this will also reduce, if not eliminate, the oft repeated complaint that justice can be purchased.(we may recall the case of presidential election in year 2000 bush vs. gore booth where each party was given forty minutes to present its case. the judgment was delivered the same day).  

it is also seen that the government is the biggest litigant, both in cases by it and the cases against it. there should be mechanism within the government to test the necessity, or otherwise, of the cases. once again the interest of the litigant should be paramount rather than the prestige of the government.

another irritant is the multiplicity of the agencies for regulations. we have commissions for human rights, for scheduled tribes, for scheduled castes, for minorities, in the centre and often duplicated in the states. recently, we have added national green tribunal, why can there not be one single commission for human rights which can look after all the sectors of society. this commission can also take care of the so called public interest litigations, which are more guided by desire of publicity rather  then the grievance to be redressed. this multiplication of commissions to find jobs for the retired judges and others are totally against the spirit of good governance. it may be better to legislate that a judge of the superior court will continue for his whole life, unless he chooses to retire (and retire means retire completely, not for seeking another job).

one of the favourite past times of the well intentioned persons dealing with governance is to multiply information. it is noteworthy that world bank had developed governance indicators based on 310 variables from 33 different agencies totaling some 1000 plus data points. the government of india department of administrative reforms, pension and grievances had 123 indicators across five dimensions. we have human development index for which information is to be collected from a host of agencies. now we have sustainable development goals designed by united nations which has 17 goals, 169 targets and the indicators are still being worked out which may reach the figure of 500. there is no logical relationship between the indicators and the governance. take for example, the indicator about legislators charged for criminal offences. an occasional study is alright but to have it compiled on a regular basis is just meaningless. when we talk about simplification about laws and procedures, we also would like to have simpler data collection which can convey meaningful information to the public.

the last point to be made is that good governance depends upon the mindset of the players. the regulations, the citizen charters, the programmes written for the computers may all be of top quality but the ultimate dispenser of good governance will still be the people at the cutting edge. their initial training, their periodical reorientation, their quick assessment and consequential action will be needed. it is not an easy task but it is a task which has to be performed.

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