Good governance is about being pragmatic

Last Wednesday, on 8 November 2017, I attended a Holland Alumni Workshop under the theme “Impact of Holland Alumni in Strengthening the Rule of Law in Rwanda”, organised by Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace), a non-governmental organisation that strives to enhance the culture of peace in Africa’s Great Lakes region through human rights and good governance education.

'Discussions covered a wide range of informative topics that matter to Rwanda and Africa at large. Among others was good governance, what it entails and why it should respond pragmatically to the societal context.

According to Dr. Elvis Mbembe, a law lecturer at University of Rwanda, and Prof. Henk Addink, a law professor at Utrecht University, key discussants of good governance, both acknowledge the lack of a universal consensus on principles of good governance.

They both believe that the term good governance was first used in a World Bank report, as most recent as 1989. It was described as ‘the exercise of political power to manage a nation’s affairs’.

Elsewhere, World Bank described it as the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development.

UNDP, too, described good governance as the exercise of economic, political, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels.

The common denominator in these definitions is the implicit recognition of State authorities that organise and run the administration of the society. And, in so doing, they have to ensure the realization of the rule of law.

On this point, however, the rule of law constitutes fundamentals of good governance. It is highly improbable to achieve good governance if the rule of law isn’t strengthened.

From the historical perspective of the World Bank, the term ‘good governance’ was coined as a means to keep corruption and maladministration at bay. But, literally, the term good governance remains polysemic and multidimensional.

Nonetheless, good governance must be characterised by principles of properness, transparency, participation, effectiveness, accountability, and human rights. These must indeed be its core values. It is, however, equally important to assert that there must be a normative framework for good governance. 

In as much as the preceding principles constitute good governance, it is equally important to say good governance would be futile, or perhaps a mere abstract, if it doesn’t embrace home-grown solutions.

On this note, I’m inclined to go along with a school of thought which urges that good governance must be responding pragmatically to the needs and aspirations of citizens in a given context.  

From Rwanda’s perspective, good governance has to be demonstrated through observance of the rule of law, respect for political rights and civil liberties, participation and inclusiveness, safety and security, investing in human and social development, control of corruption, transparency and accountability, quality of service delivery, and economic and corporate governance.

In my view, one of the fundamentals of good governance is decentralisation. In this approach, local authorities – inter alia, District, Sector, Cell and Village – are the implementers of strategies, plans and policies and laws adopted at the national level.

The executive simply plays a supervisory role in implementation and planning and evaluation. In other words, decentralisation is a means of addressing the needs of citizens more directly, while also making local leaders more accountable. And, in case of dereliction of duties, they would be legally accountable.  

Signing performance contract, known as imihigo, constitutes a home-grown solution that has been integrated in national policy, laws and programmes. Amazingly, it has gained a general application in both public and private sectors. But, what does it require?

Normally, it is about work commitment to meet certain milestones; once these targets aren’t met, it is seen as a failure, which is perhaps followed by unpleasant effects. So, performance contract has become a normative practice in Rwanda.         

Furthermore, the concept of good governance has to be exhibited by quality service delivery for the citizens and sustainable development. Good governance aims to put people at the centre of service delivery and improve their welfare, which in turn improves government’s effectiveness and responsiveness to the needs of citizens.

Since government is the largest service provider, it has embarked on improved service delivery, by decentralizing basic services at local levels. In doing so, the government has introduced e-government (services), which is a vital tool in improving service delivery by public sector organisations.

A good example is the introduction of Integrated Electronic Case Management System (IECMS) designed to improve the efficiency of the judicial system. This system is paramount to access to justice, a basic principle of the rule of law.

In the absence of access to justice, people are unable to have their voice(s) heard, exercise their rights, challenge discrimination or hold decision-makers accountable.

Today, citizens, even in rural areas, can be able to access justice wherever they are since mediation committees are at every administrative unit with the mandate to provide mediation services before parties can decide to refer their case to the courts of law.

Once the parties are dissatisfied with outcome of mediation settlement, that’s not the end of the road, they can refer the case to a competent court.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.