Oby Ezekwesili: Corruption, national development, the Bar, and the Bench – Part 2

Being the text of a paper presented by Obiageli “Oby” Ezekwesili On August 28, 2012 @ the 2012 Nigeria Bar Association Conference, Abuja, Nigeria.

Part 1 of this Series

Now what is Good Governance?

Good governance signifies the way an administration improves the standard of living of the members of its society by creating and making available the basic amenities of life; providing its people security, inspiring them to aspire to build a promising future when it  provides on anequal & equitable basis, access to opportunities for personal growth; availing them the space to participate and the capacity to help shape public policy; it includes the architecture of a responsive judicial system which dispenses justice on merits in a fair, unbiased and meaningful manner; and more fundamentally for a government it means the sum total of a Value Infrastructure that ensures transparency, accountability, probity and overriding integrity in each wing or functionary of the Government.

The UN Economic Commission states that “Good Governance has 8 major characteristics. It is participatory, consensus-oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimized, the view of minorities is taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society”.Building lasting institutions, structures, systems and processes are prerequisite to the evolution of Good Governance. I have chosen to elaborate more on five of these; namely, participation, the rule of law, transparency, accountability and effectiveness/efficiency especially because the other three are mostly self- explanatory and can be achieved through participation.

Participation advocates for the broad inclusion of constituents in the direction and operation of political systems beyond the basic premise that Democracy offers the citizens the opportunity to be in power by determining who governs them. Participatory democracy tends to advocate more involved forms of citizen participation than the basics. Participatory democracy strives to create opportunities for all members of a population to make meaningful contributions to decision-making, and seeks to broaden the range of people who have access to such opportunities. A governance culture that nourishes and encourages the voice of citizens in public debate of policies, priorities and legislation while being accommodating of dissension goes a long way in ensuring continuous increase in the scale of participation. Governments that encourage participation usually respect citizens’ right to associate freely and to express themselves without fear of repression.

Wise governments know today that they can achieve better governance outcomes only when they deliberately nurture participation and ensure that a broader constituency of their citizens stay involved and engaged in how their nation is governed at this time of proliferated social media and access to information overload.  Participation by both men and women is a key cornerstone of good governance but it must also include other groupings particularly other minority and mostvulnerable groups within the society. Quoting President Obama in his speech at the launch of the initiative on Transparency and Open Government, “Public engagement enhances the Government’s effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government collective expertise and information. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Government”. For participation to create salubrious value to any society however, it needs to be informed and organized. This means freedom of association and expression on the one hand and an organized and constructive civil society that engages on the basis of evidence and facts generated from rigorous analysis on the other hand.

Rule of law is defines by the UN as “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.” Good governance requires fair legal frameworks that are enforced impartially. It also requires full protection of human rights, particularly those of minorities. It is generally established that for any modern democracy to earn its credentials “the Rule of Law” must be indispensable within its territory. It envisages the pre-eminence of law as opposed to anarchy or dictatorship in the way public and private affairs are conducted in the society. It advocates and guarantees equal accountability of all before the law irrespective of their high or low status and such impartial enforcement of laws requires an independent judiciary and an impartial and incorruptible police force and we shall come to this more substantively later. An approach ensuring the adherence to the Rule of Law must be inclusive of all sectors of society widens the remit of this noble concept and thus extends its influence and reach beyond the confines of the justice system. Yet no other aspect of Good Governance is the Bench and the Bar held more responsible for in any country as on the matter of upholding the Rule of Law. Aristotle said more than two thousand years ago, “The rule of law is better than that of any individual.” Lord Chief Justice Coke quoting Bracton said in the case of Proclamations (1610) 77 ER 1352 “The King himself ought not to be subject to man, but subject to God and the law, because the law makes him King”.

Transparency is operating in such a way that it is easy for others to see what actions are taken by those who govern and the institutions they lead such that decisions taken and their enforcement are done in a manner that follows rules and regulations or simply put acting in accordance with known rules of the game. Transparency suggests that government, its agencies and agents conduct affairs in a way that everyone who desires to follow the actions being taken can have access to the totality of relevant information. It therefore means that information is freely available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement. It also means that enough information is provided and that it is provided in easily understandable forms and media. Yet again quoting President Obama, “Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. Information maintained by the Federal Government is a nationalasset. ……..take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.”

Accountability, simply put, is the concept that lays down an expectation that in governance those who exercise authority on the basis of public trust must be answerable, blameworthy, liable, and such other terms associated with the expectation of account-giving according toDykstra, Clarence A. who wrote “The Quest for Responsibility” as far back as 1939. In general an organization or an institution is accountable to those who will be affected by its decisions or actions. Accountability is the currency of leadership in that it a duty that a leader owes those that have granted him or her legitimacy to exercise authority on their behalf. True leadership must come with the readiness of the leader to acknowledge their responsibility for actions, decisions, and policies in governance, and implementation specific to the expectations of their office as well as the fulfillment of their obligation to report, explain and be answerable for resulting consequences. So you cannot be one of those who like to lead but have no interest in accepting the Accountability that goes with it as you cannot have one without the other and not compromise the integrity of governance.  But what does accountability look like? First and foremost, it means that you accept responsibility for the outcomes expected of you—both good and bad. Perhaps for the Bar and the Bench, the concept of Accountability would caution against the excuses often made when the public excoriates your group for worrying signals that “youhave dropped the ball” on the important sanctions regime which is the second most important pillar in tackling corruption. Your oft repeated retort that you do not control the rest of the Justice system does little to burnish your fast eroding credentials with your compatriots. There are always things you could have done—or still can do—to change the outcome. Until you take responsibility, you are a victim. And being a victim is the exact opposite of being a leader. As the three key sectors in societies namely; public, private and citizens sector collaborate more in their unique roles it is now expected that not only governmental institutions but also the actors in theprivate sector and civil society organizations must be accountable to the public and to theirinstitutional stakeholders. Lastly an indication of howintertwined all the concepts that make up Good Governance are,Accountability cannot be enforced without Transparency and the Rule of Law.

Effectiveness and efficiency: Good governance means that processes and institutions produce results from well formulated and executed policies and priorities that meet the needs of society while making the best use of resources at their disposal in a value for money targeted manner. The concept of efficiency in the context of good governance also covers the sustainable use of natural resources and the protection of the environment. Strategy wise, having effective and efficient governance that is subjected public scrutiny and accountability. The second part relates to the performance of the public sector on the connection between policy and implementation. It provides a concept that allows the public to discuss the role of government in coping with public issues and the contribution that other players may make. We can address efficiency and effectiveness through focus on either structural or institutional facts. For the structural issues such as public procurement, degree of competition, level of technological development, use of ICT in public administration while the Institutional factors would include issues likemanagement of public institutions, use of performance indicators in budgeting process, applying performance indicators in decision making. Whether looked at structurally or institutionally, a sound public financial management system operated by competent and capable public servants is a fundamental anchor for effectiveness and efficiency with the ultimate goal being results for citizens in the delivery of basic services and other responsibilities of government.

To conclude on this foundational construct for the topic of our discussion, it suffices to say that the universally acceptable vision of any Governance process is that it should seek to deliverresults toward improvement of the standard of living of citizens whether they are from Good Government comes from leaders who are educated, transparent, have a clear political philosophy, and are able to communicate that philosophy to their constituents. Good government also comes from an active, aware, engaged citizenry that communicates their desires to their leaders. Ultimately, we see from the composite concepts that we have worked through that Good Governance is the key to creating a community of lasting value for all residents.

Now that we have elaborated on what Good Governance even when so indeterminate may be, we can easily respond to the question on what Poor Governance is by asserting that it is everything opposite of the former. Our easy and yet accurate summation therefore is that Poor/Bad Governance is the counter factual of all attributes of Good Governance. This means that whenever governance is lacking in the basic artifacts and the expected outcomes of properly delivered Governance, we can conclude that poor or bad Governance is going on with its attendant consequences on the society, the polity, the economy and worst of all on citizens but especially the poor and the most vulnerable. Environments of poor governance are most susceptible to corruption as the incentives become perverted and lend themselves to all mannersof criminality. What gets rewarded is what gets supplied as a basic theory of rationality. Research validates this and shows that corruption is the twin of opportunity so that wherever and whenever the opportunity to engage in corrupt behavior is prevalent in a society with little or no consequences, it proliferates as a more attractive and spreading route to riches.

How then do we define and understand Corruption? Generally accepted is the working definition by Transparency International that it is “the abuse of public trust for private gain”. Corruption may take a number of different forms, including bribery, embezzlement, misappropriation, patronage systems or nepotism and such like. Corruption along with the sheer immorality takes a totally new meaning when looked at from the lenses of its impediment to development and the “tax” it exerts on the poor.  When public resources are pillaged and wasted as a result of corruption thereby restricting the access of the poor to the same basic services like health and education that could help lift them out of poverty we are faced with the phenomenon of arrested development of a nation and its people.

This is a 4-part series. Part 1 was published yesterday, Parts 2 and 3, today. Part 4 will run tomorrow.

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