IRI’s Dan Fisk posts on CIPE’s Development Blog

Governance Matters
CIPE Development Blog
By Dan Fisk – Coordinator for Governance (IRI)

Natural catastrophes are beyond any government’s ability to control, regardless of the best intentions and planning. The earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and their tragic consequences are reminders of this. Yet, the respective national responses are also reminders that governance matters. The disparity between the two governments’ responses to a natural disaster was highlighted in recent separate analyses by Paul Collier and Anne Appelbaum. Despite years of development aid and capacity building, the Haitian government was largely unable to provide for its citizens prior to the earthquake. It was then overwhelmed by the consequences of that event. The needs both before and after the earthquake have been filled primarily by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). A consequence of this, concludes Collier, has been the marginalization of the Haitian state.

Further, the Haiti earthquake vividly exposed the contradiction between the rhetorical objectives of development aid – to build the capacity of state institutions – and the operational reality of NGOs – which is essentially to bypass the state in the delivery of services. Hence, it should be of little surprise that Haitians defaulted to an expectation that the international community was again responsible for their rescue and welfare.

Chile suffered massive devastation from an even stronger earthquake. While there was eventually a recognition that international assistance could be helpful in responding, the Chilean default was to turn to its own resources and capabilities. Appelbaum credits Chile’s political and economic culture, including a general respect for the rule of law. Most significantly, she juxtaposes Chile as “a working democracy” with Haiti, which may have elections but generally fails to meet the threshold of a system “whose political leaders have to take voters’ concerns into account.”

Given their respective histories, one should be careful with comparisons between Haiti and Chile. But as examples of different experiences in governance, there could be no more stark contrast than these two countries.

In a different regional context – that of Africa – President Obama emphasized the linkage between how a country is governed and its development. In his July 2009 speech in Accra, Ghana, the President noted: “Development depends on good governance. That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long.” And while he specifically referenced Africa, his statement about the ability of good governance to “unlock” a country’s potential applies equally to all countries.

The importance of good governance has gained increasing attention as electoral systems have become more developed and as policymakers recognize that governance is more than the efficiency of elections or the expedient delivery of services. At the International Republican Institute, good governance programs ensure citizen accessibility to the decision-making process and the information required to participate fully in those processes along with governmental responsiveness, accountability, and transparency.

Good governance, then, describes a system in which citizens participate democratically in government planning and decision-making, while those in office exercise responsiveness to citizen needs with accountability and transparency.

Beyond the challenges of responding to natural disasters, the complexity of issues today has resulted in growing expectations for increased citizen participation in the development of responsible policies. Governments will be challenged to be more transparent, accountable and participatory. This will be all the more important when a nation is faced with a national-level crisis. Governments adopting good governance practices – by demonstrating accessibility, transparency, efficiency and accountability – will enhance their responsiveness in the delivery of public services and, equally significant, the legitimacy of their authority to govern. As the Haitian and Chilean governments and the international community turn to longer-term rebuilding initiatives in those two countries, it will be crucial that this reconstruction provide opportunities to help one build good governmental institutions and the other to sustain them.

This post is part of a series of guest posts by the International Republican Institute (IRI).

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