“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.”
The PM’s agenda of Governance is wrapped up in six impressive sets of buzzwords.
- Pro-people good governance is about putting people at the center of development process;
- Minimum Government, Maximum Governance limits government’s role to that of a facilitator;
- Need for Action, Not Acts is about bureaucratic shift;
- PPPP (People Public Private Partnership) is about making people partner in policy formation and execution;
- Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas defines collective efforts for inclusive growth; and
- Bring out Red Carpet, not Red Tape for investors.
I remember the old sentiment “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast” , but then, not everyone is in wonderland.
Unfortunately, good governance is not always available on order. Participation is not synonymous with transparency. Simply adding a fourth “P” in front of PPP does not automatically ensure accountability of the electorate. Getting India’s encumbered bureaucracy to take real action will require much more than the closure of one Planning Commission. Investors will definitely appreciate PM’s red carpet, but once they get to the end of that (very short) carpet, there will still be the same maze of red tape to navigate.
“Governance” is a popular term, but often imprecise and used to mean different things: a minimal state; the introduction of new public management; defining a new process or method of ordering a society, and so on. Similarly, to achieve good governance one will have to work on many ends simultaneously. An efficient, open, and accountable public service delivery will need bureaucratic and political competence, incentives, and most importantly, integrity.
There are many internal contradictions within these six strands too. The PM is silent on the way to resolve these trade-offs and conflicts. For example, how will minimum government be able to deal with the complex choices of PPPs (which seems to be a panacea of this government)? The United Kingdom, for example,had to set up many new agencies to deal with private infrastructure. Today, infrastructure projects are a series of opaque and very complex contracts between private sector sponsors and governments, providing pre-defined utility services. This approach to infrastructure presents major economic, social, and political risks for not only today’s consumers, but also for our future generations. Huge economic rents are inherent and so far neither politicians, nor bureaucracy have scored well on integrity scales anywhere in India, including PM’s “Janmbhoomi” Gujrat. The mere fact of people’s participation will not subsequently guarantee better governance.
100-day milestone for the new government is approaching fast and perhaps it is time for the PM to move away from the Humpty Dumpty approach: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”
Good governance has to begin with meaningful participation by all stakeholders, open debate about options, and decisive steps forward, where integrity and accountability are demonstrated with…action.