Will Good Governance Make a Comeback in 2014?

The dialogue needs to move from being a general desirable thing to do to being judged using tangible, measurable indicators

Published: Jan 4, 2014 06:47:20 AM IST
Updated: Dec 31, 2013 05:03:14 PM IST
Will Good Governance Make a Comeback in 2014?
Image: Getty Images
Residents fill water containers from a water supply truck from the New Delhi Municipal Council

The cynic would say the question to ask is whether ‘governance’, not even ‘good governance’, will make a comeback in 2014. In the last few years reforms have been dead and there has been very little to write home about on most governance fronts. Good governance as a concept has been as used as much as abused, and if the four 2014 Assembly results are any indication, the verdict is clearly anti-misgovernance.

The dominant economic strategy for success in good governance appears to be a highly calibrated 80:20 mix of (a) growth-enhancing, competitiveness-creating policies which increase the overall size of the cake and (b) carefully modulated left-of-centre distributive policies, respectively—these will split that cake reasonably fairly as per the political calculus. Economic growth has to be the lynchpin of good governance and this formula is a close approximation of that, provided the 20 is not growth-decimating which impacts the 80.

Will Good Governance Make a Comeback in 2014?
What does World Bank data show? Between 2004 and 2012, India’s per capita income grew from $643 to $1,530. But, during the same period, China’s moved from $1,490 to $5,680, Brazil’s from $3,610 to $11,630, Russia’s from $4,109 to $12,700, war-ravaged Iraq’s from $9,57 to $5,870, and Indonesia’s from $1,143 to $3,420. Almost 50 countries did better than India. This leads one to ask about what lies beneath: What are the indicators of good governance which underlie this growth data?

There are six key heads that make for an effective assessment but these, by no means, add up to an exhaustive list. However, they are the minimum necessary conditions by which one needs to measure good governance. There are other important pointers like preservation of law and order, civil service reforms, quality of roads and infrastructure, agrarian reforms, to name just a few.

Power and Water
This is one sector which has seen maximum funds and reforms, yet, ironically, with little to show for it. Most states continue to have large debt-laden utilities, huge, unsustainable subsidies as well as poor quality and quantity of power. The metrics which can be counted towards good (or bad) governance are:
  • Has the separation of agriculture and household feeders been done?
  • Is free power promised and given?
  • Are losses from agriculture swept under transmission and distribution (T&D) losses?
  • Have T&D losses been coming down at the rate of at least 2 percent per annum?
  •  Has true ‘open access’ been implemented?
  • What percentage of the population gets water through tankers and how many get piped water?
  • Is non-revenue water as a percentage of total water supplied declining?

Independent, Effective Lokayukta
Corruption usually declines as a country grows
as does poverty, yet the problem of graft appears to be getting worse in India, which has fallen on the Transparency International (an NGO that monitors corporate and political corruption) rankings from 772nd in 2007 to 94th in 2012. Thanks to Anna Hazare’s movement, corruption has been brought firmly to centre stage and every Indian is finally waking up to the importance of electing a party which is the ‘lesser of all evils’. The markers for assessing this parameter should be:

  • Does the state have an independently appointed and pro-active anti-corruption watchdog?
  • Does the state government mandatorily use electronic procurement in all procurements above Rs 5 lakh?
  • Are serious audit paras (irregularities) and election complaints pursued and acted upon as per law?

    Illustration by Sameer Pawar

Will Good Governance Make a Comeback in 2014?
Image: Adnan Abidi / Reuters
Activist Anna Hazare during his anti-corruption fast in New Delhi

Investments and Ease of Starting a Business
The economic engine of every economy is the quality and quantity of investments committed versus those grounded—and this needs to be measured. This, in turn, depends on the overall investment climate, the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the ease of starting a new business. Every state serious about attracting investments must have a World Bank ‘Doing Business’ survey done. Subsequently, it must act on its findings along factors such as number of licences required to start a business, contracts enforcement, getting credit, registration of property and simplified payment of taxes.

Despite significant unemployment (and underemploy-ment), strangely, political discourse in India does not measure jobs created, unlike in the West. How many jobs get created in the private sector, government sector and the informal sector, quarter on quarter, must be an important component of any measure of good governance. There was a highly lauded, well-designed Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) in the early 2000s with strict conditionalities for assets and jobs creation in Maharashtra —this could be a model worth exploring.

Desi Pork & Barrel Political Expenditure
Governments, irrespective of political hue and colour, squander taxpayers’ money in pursuit of voters’ subversion. Waivers of farm loans, electricity dues and debt as well as loan melas—these are all systematic attempts at the pursuit of a targeted groups’ votes at the cost of the treasury’s health. Another indicator of good governance would be who does this least or doesn’t do it at all. ‘Bad’ subsidies versus ‘good’ subsidies need to be delineated, measured, and the bad ones need to be gradually done away with—this is a crucial indicator of good governance.

Will Good Governance Make a Comeback in 2014?
Image: Mansi Thapliyal / Reuters
Given a poor quality of outcomes in primary and tertiary education, good governance has to include measurable guides

Public Service Delivery

With almost 85 percent of health care delivery taking place through the private sector, and given a poor quality of outcomes in primary and tertiary education, good governance has to include measurable guides. Pratham’s ASER (Annual State of Education Report) indicators are widely respected and can be adapted by every state; likewise, a separation of purchaser versus provider of such citizens’ services between government and the private sector are calculable parameters of effective provisioning.

To sum up, good governance needs to move from talk to walking the talk in concrete, measurable terms. Good governance dialogue needs to move from being a general desirable thing to do to being judged using tangible, quantifiable indicators. These again need to be written into every party’s manifesto. Periodic quarterly reviews should happen on target achievement and a league table of states needs to be periodically created based on such factors. That will also engender positive, structured and well-organised inter-state competition which India needs desperately. This should replace the ad hocism and sometimes knee-jerk reaction to crises, masquerading as well-designed policy responses. There is no alternative to good governance and that is as important as self-governance. It is indeed the raison d’etre of modern democracy.

(This story appears in the 10 January, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Umesh Sharma

    If voters decide on the basis of their past experience to vote for a proven leadership in a conclusive manner and bring them to power India can not only reverse the morass into which it has faller but give a strong leadership to the world on economic front.This should have happened a long time ago.As far as GDP growth goes India could have projected a far better figure if the black money moving out of the country was effectively curbed.But when the fence eats the crop there is no remedy.If the new government is successful in getting it back this the country could deliver spectacular results on all fronts

    on Jan 4, 2014