Pathology Of Governance
Governance has become a buzzword in the political and institutional management discourse in recent years. A state that is well governed is said to be democratic and accountable to the people. It does meet requisites and preconditions for the development and wellbeing of the citizens.
In fact, poor governance is responsible for underdevelopment and poverty in a country. To define it precisely, governance is generally understood as the sum total of the institutions and processes by which a state orders and conducts its collective or common affairs. The institutions and processes may be formal and informal. In this sense, governance refers to the provision of the formal and informal political rules of the game. It indicates those measures and processes that involve management and power exercise.
In the functional terms, governance comprises the institutional capacity of public organisations to set the rules of the game, deliver public goods and services in an effective, transparent, impartial and accountable manner. What affects life of ordinary citizens on a daily basis– roads being built and repaired, health services being delivered properly and public school teachers attending to their duties in schools regularly are at the core of the governance systems and processes in terms of results and outcomes.
The governance systems vary greatly from country to country. But they all tend to have three fundamental components. They are: how governments make things happen, how institutions hold government accountable through checks and balances and how citizens are actively engaged in the governance process to deliver outcomes. Governance, therefore, combines structures, opportunities and processes with civic capacity and agency in operational terms. Agency of citizens can be institutionalised and enhanced only in a democratic environment. In democratic environment the setting of the rules is done with the consent and the informed participation of the citizens.
Likewise, settling and resolution of conflicts are carried out and executed with the participation of stakeholders especially taking their interests and viewpoints into full account. A fully democratic polity sets the enabling stage. It empowers and enables citizens to interact with and interconnect to the formal structures and organisations. In this regard, democracy and governance are inseparable and indivisible since the former sets the enabling environment for the latter.
But experiences have indicated that introducing democracy in a country can be easier. But enhancing and constructing firmly it with appropriate governing process, structures and mechanism is often a very difficult proposition and prolonging exercise especially in a country like Nepal where institutions are incipient and fragile and the state capacity is very weak.
Needless to repeat, Nepal made a formal transition to democracy in1990 and it became a federal republic which is institutionalised by the Constitution promulgated in 2015. But attempts to consolidate and institutionalise the democratic mechanism and process have encountered difficulties over the last two decades. Due to decade-long armed conflict, the nascent democratic governance institutions and structures had been rendered quite weak and dysfunctional.
Moreover, civic and political governance has gone disarray. Several examples exist to indicate the failure of the political governance in the country. The political actors in Nepal indulge in the game theory to serve and advance their crass interests. The game theory in politics implies zero sum game played out to eliminate the rivals. Needless to say, in the zero sum game the payoffs are generated and distributed in the context to suit to one’s own interests. The tendencies and behaviour of the political actors are forged and beholden to individual interests and self-centric values.
Maintaining firm control over public resources and expanding patronage networks have been the leading motivated interests of the political leaders. And the pervasive patronage penetrates into such state institutions such as bureaucracy, professional interest groups and oversight institutions in a bid to build a rent seeking coalition between the political parties and these actors. Clientelist politics deters institutionalisation of political parties in Nepal.
The political parties have become in a way more dependent upon patrons (leaders) or a coterie of leaders rather than organisational structure and discipline. They lack institutional means to voice dissent. They act within a culture of distrust and compete with each other within the rubric of enemy discourse. The battle line of the antagonism is drawn or redrawn among the political leaders and groups. The political parties are constructed and deconstructed at the interests and whims of the leaders. The state power has been misused for partisan and personal gain and public institutions have been subjected to intense factional pressure and meddling.
The game of politics has resulted into an unhealthy political contest and competition. It has yielded into chronic political instability and directionless as no major parties are ready to trust each other and engage in the zero sum play off. This zero sum game is caused partly by the apparent absence of institutions that clearly demarcate between the partisan and public interests.
Nonetheless, at the root of some of the problems lay institutional and functional defects in the sphere of political governance, and this underlines the need for major changes and the adaptations in the ways power is acquired and exercised. The practice of partisan politics has severely undermined even the state accountability mechanisms of the political system and rendered it largely dysfunctional. The glaring instance of failed political governance is the pathology of indecision and inaction that ruin the effectiveness of the state institutions.
The way the political parties have behaved or tend to respond to the evolving situations without taking care of the values and practices of good governance, it is very difficult to say whether they will be able produce different, in this sense, more optimistic result than they did in the past especially in terms of implementing the democratic federal constitution in an effective way.