09 Jun
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What is the 'good' in good governance?

1. Introduction

The purpose of this piece is to highlight the link between good governance and democracy. Through an examination of the key components of both, it argues that the two concepts are indeed one and the same: ‘good governance’ is but a sanitized name for ‘democratic governance’. (I have to admit a level of dislike for the term ‘good governance’ which, for me, suggests that it is an option rather than an obligation tied to a set of fundamental rights.)

2. Meaning and Elements of Good Governance

The word ‘governance’ is a noun normally used to designate a system or manner of government, the act or state of governing, or control or formal authority and as a synonym for management, administration, direction, or control. So, taken literally, ‘good governance’ would mean a good system of government, good standard of governing, or good practice in exercising formal authority to govern. While this literal translation may be applicable to many instances of everyday use, such as corporate governance or organizational governance, good governance takes an additional meaning with reference to the management of public affairs. In this sense, it describes

“…the transparent and accountable management of human, natural, economic and financial resources for the purposes of equitable and sustainable development” within “a political and institutional environment that upholds human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law”.

Good governance, as a system or manner of government, incorporates four fundamental and interrelated elements: rule of law, participation, accountability and transparency. In relation to the “structure of government and the prerogatives of the different powers” rule of law entails

“… effective and accessible means of legal redress, an independent legal system guaranteeing equality before the law and an executive that is fully subject to the law”.

From the perspective of participation, good governance is characterized by “… a fair and efficient system of justice, broad popular involvement in political, social and economic processes …” Transparency, on the other hand, refers to “… transparent interaction among all relevant political, economic and social forces working for the responsible shaping of public life and democratically legitimized decision-making”. Finally, accountability as an element of good governance indicates that political leaders who make decisions as agents of the people are accountable to the same.

3. Meaning and Elements of Democracy

The word ‘Democracy’ has its roots in two Greek words which taken together mean a system of governance characterized by direct exercise of political power by citizens’ actual participation in city-state gatherings. Thus, the term originally referred to direct or participatory, democracy, in which all citizens, not just their elected representatives, decided major economic, political, and social questions; as opposed to representative democracy, in which citizens elected officials to govern them.

In modern democracies, supreme authority is exercised for the most part by representatives elected by popular suffrage and are, at least in principle, responsible to the electorate. Sometimes, the elected representatives may be supplanted by the electorate according to the legal procedures of recall and referendum. Thus, in the modern sense, a democratic government is a form of government in which supreme power is held by the people and exercised directly or through elected representatives.

Although democracy comes in many forms, nowadays, the concept generally implies adherence to democratic principles which are:

“…universally recognized principles underpinning the organization of the State to ensure the legitimacy of its authority, the legality of its actions reflected in its constitutional, legislative and regulatory system, and the existence of participatory mechanisms”.

The major features of modern democracy include individual freedom, which entitles citizens to the liberty and responsibility in conducting their own affairs; equality before the law; and universal suffrage. Thus, in addition to the direct and indirect participation of the governed, a democratic system of government

“… endeavors to respect, protect and progressively guarantee the human rights of all population groups; … promotes the rule of law; … commits itself to improving the capacity and transparency of the state”.

4. Conclusions

The basic/fundamental elements of good governance and democracy are one and the same: rule of law, accountability, transparency and participation. If good governance means participatory, transparent and accountable governance based on the rule of law, we are indeed referring to democracy as a system of governance, i.e. democratic governance. This, in my opinion, is cause to conclude that good governance is a misnomer for democratic governance. In other words, the “good” in good governance is democracy.

Ghetnet Metiku Woldegiorgis

I was born in 1975, long before most of you (young Ethiopian Lawyers); graduated from AAU Law Faculty in 1997. I have been working in civil society, the public sector (2 years at the Mekelle University Law Faculty), and in the private sector with consultancy firms. I am currently earning my bread as a freelance socio-legal researcher with multiple institutions. I love research, even for its own sake.