15 Dec 2010

Good governance

In the previous eight columns I recalled the inability of Clico over a decade ago to comply with the law and good insurance practices, as well as the inaction of the regulatory authorities and governments in protecting policyholders, investors and indeed the public interest. I went on to detail the relationship between the head and senior management personnel of CL Financial and the head and other leading members of the UNC Government.

I have again averted to this matter to focus on three issues which, in my view, are of significance to matters of good governance — (a) the permitted dominance of any particular private interest or individual in determining the orientation of government and outcomes of its decisions (b) the overriding power and authority of the Prime Minister in our system of government and politics (c) the role and relationship of the political party in question to the government in office.

In analysing just these three factors among other issues of good governance, one may come to the conclusion that there is a long distance to travel if we are to achieve an acceptable level of good governance in this country. We bear in mind that there is no perfect model of good governance and even mature and sophisticated democracies falter in fully embracing this ideal. It is an ideal to which some in the society may aspire but we face the reality that we have to overcome a debilitating political culture, a virtual absence of institutions and a deficiency of constitutional provision.

I am of the opinion that the vast majority of people in this country are totally indifferent to good governance as an on-going phenomenon. It may be of concern only to a very small minority. I speak of my own experiences in government and the negative public responses to questions I raised on matters which touched on good governance. I am not therefore sanguine that my comments will have any impact at all. Nevertheless, I write as a form of catharsis.

In my view, good governance is grounded in a clear vision for the society and a progressive philosophy of government. It has to encompass governmental policy, programmes, decisions and action which are geared to promoting the welfare and well being of the vast majority of citizens and are acceptable to them. While decisions must not be dominated by special interests, it must protect the legitimate interests of the minority. Good governance will be committed to the preservation of the rights, freedoms and security of the citizenry. It will seek the maintenance of balance and stability in the society through programmes of empowerment, equality of opportunity, social discipline and acknowledgment of merit.

Good governance implies policies to foster economic development and the distribution of its benefits as well as a rational determination of physical and social infrastructural priorities, prudent fiscal and financial management and the minimisation of corruption, mismanagement and waste through a regime of transparency and accountability. It thus impacts on virtually every facet of life in the society.

However, critical to the achievement of good governance are the processes and procedures through which policies, programmes and priorities are decided upon particularly the level of informed citizen input through meaningful participation, consultation and debate.

The role of the political party in this process of aspiring to good governance is pivotal. The party functions to gather the views of the rank and file and foster Inquiry and debate as a result of which positions and viewpoints are then relayed to the government. The party also serves to disseminate information and, crucially, to serve as a medium of accountability to the party’s membership of the stewardship of the government and holders of key party positions. It should also identify candidates to represent it in national elections.

Given the above prescriptions for good governance, it is obvious that the UNC Government (as well as others) fell short of achieving this goal. Its leader and others condoned and facilitated the exercise of significant influence by a dominant financial interest in the affairs of government. It was therefore greatly compromised and abdicated its responsibility to regulate, manage and control in the public interest. Crucial decisions were made behind the scenes in social gatherings and drink sessions which had consequences for savings, investment, applications for government concessions and approvals and disposition of state assets.

But it must be acknowledged that the clout and power of moneyed elements and business interests in the conduct of governmental affairs is sanctioned by the political culture which views donations to the party coffers as investments to be recouped when office is gained. It would indeed require extraordinary leadership to resist fulfilling this expectation of patronage.

In the Westminster system as practised here, the Prime Minister as head of the Executive enjoys a virtual monopoly of power. He determines portfolios and presides over Cabinet where the positions he assumes are seldom ever opposed by the majority.

Trevor Sudama, writing in the Newsday.

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