This module is a resource for lecturers  


Governance reforms and anti-corruption


In general, good governance is an ideal that is difficult to achieve in its totality. It typically involves well-intentioned people who bring their ideas, experiences and preferences to the policymaking table. It requires effective ethical leadership (for a further discussion on this issue, see Module 4 of the E4J University Module Series on Integrity and Ethics).

According to Johnston (2002), improved governance requires strengthening both participation and institutions - which includes an integrated, long-term strategy built upon cooperation between government and citizens. When a government is accountable and transparent, acts with integrity and upholds the rule of law, it can increase public trust, effectiveness and legitimacy. This can in turn foster the conditions for a more participative democracy where citizens are actively engaged.

Furthermore, debates over the meaning of "good governance" and its links to the quality of democracy, competent policymaking, and anti-corruption are ongoing and need to be unpacked in light of both new types of technocratic knowledge and demands for more inclusive, deliberative policymaking procedures, including anti-corruption efforts (Grindle, 2017; Rose-Ackerman, 2016).

Debates around the relationship between good governance and democracy arise because of underlying disputes over what good governance entails under different constitutional structures. Despite its flaws, liberal democracy, as a form of state organization, offers characteristics that are the most naturally congruent with good governance because it involves the empowerment of people to exercise and protect their rights, notably through their representatives. Still, democracy also requires checks and balances and well-informed, educated citizens. Yet, formal democracy, in the sense of contested elections with alterations in power, is not a necessary condition for good governance in that sense. Democracy should help to encourage good governance, but it is possible to have publicly accountable policymaking without electoral democracy. Thus, the main challenge for governance reforms is to balance expertise and democratic participation to produce public policies that solve essential social problems and are accepted as legitimate by citizens (Rose-Ackerman, 2016).

Generally, governance reforms should concentrate on improving the interface between government officials, and private individuals and businesses (Rose- Ackerman, 2016). The challenge is to create an infrastructure of integrity in government (and private sector) activity, with systems, rules and regulations that foster accountability and efficiency (in terms of making the best use of society's resources). For a discussion on integrity and ethics management in the public sector see Module 13 and in the private sector see Module 11 of the E4J University Module Series on Integrity and Ethics. The complexity of mitigating unethical behaviour is also explored in Module 6, Module 7 and Module 8 of the E4J University Module Series on Integrity and Ethics.

Yet, there are no quick fixes. Some efforts have been effective, while others have had little benefit, have wasted resources and opportunities or have done even more harm than good. Often development practitioners (such as development advisers, leaders of non-governmental organizations and government officials) provide long lists of "things that must be done" to achieve good governance, with little guidance about what to prioritize (Grindle, 2017). Johnston (2002) discusses nine major challenges that should be anticipated and must be avoided in order to increase the quality of good governance and to reduce corruption. A summary of his discussion is presented below:

Avoid excessive legislation and regulation

To improve policy and implementation it is tempting to rely too much on laws and top-down policymaking. The resulting inflexibility wastes resources and opportunities, produces policies that are unresponsive to social realities and thus erode the credibility of good governance efforts, and can increase incentives to corruption. Hence, there is a need for policies that increase the space for debate and consultation, encourage innovation, and pursue desired outcomes with positive incentives rather than through prohibitions alone.

Remember that politics is a part of good governance

Too many reformers view governance primarily as a set of technical administrative tasks, and public participation as either a pro forma exercise or a process to be orchestrated from above via high-profile, but short-lived, mass public campaigns. In either of the public participation scenarios, citizens have little opportunity or incentive to participate in any long-term way or to link official promises to the problems of their own communities.

Build broad-based support for reform and pay close attention to problems and controversies

Governance reforms require lasting leadership and commitment from the top. Even though it takes time, effort and resources, and even though it will involve sharing the credit for improved governance, it is far better to get out into communities, learn about popular concerns, and build a broad base of support.

Pay close attention to incentives

Governance reforms often emphasize public goods, such as efficiency, honesty, cultural empathy, and the like, to the exclusion of private benefits. Other kinds of appeals - such as that better governance would cut taxes, make it easier to find jobs in a revived economy, protect one's family and property - receive too little attention, even when the goal is enlisting the participation and support of civil society. Extensive efforts must be made to persuade citizens, government officials and political leaders that they stand to benefit from reform.

Public opinion matters

Even in emerging democracies, reformers ignore public opinion at their peril. Surveys and community meetings to identify what people believe about the current state of affairs and expect of reform are essential. So are sustained efforts to educate the public about key problems, the justification for proposed changes, the costs of better governance, and actual results.

Strengthen checks and balances

While a measure of coordination among segments of government is essential, it is only part of the picture. The government must also be able to check its own excesses. The judiciary is essential to interpreting and enforcing new laws and standards, and if it is not independent of the government of the day it will be ineffective (resources on judicial independence and integrity are available on the website of UNODC's Global Judicial Integrity Network. If governance structures are in place, such as rules regarding procurement, hiring, firing and promotion criteria, laws allowing freedom of gathering and access to information along the lines of the governance principles, corrupt activity can be obviated. Similarly, executive agencies require oversight, and here legislative scrutiny and credible external watchdogs can enhance effective policy implementation and check abuses. An ombudsman system to which citizens can submit complaints and reports may also be valuable, but citizens must be able to trust that they will not face retaliation nor intimidation, that their reports will be taken seriously and that information is handled confidentially.

Never underestimate opposition to reform

Serious reforms may encounter increasing resistance within government or from segments of the public. Transparency and accountability problems are particularly likely to persist because of vested interests in government and society, and reformers must be aware that, at times, those resisting enhanced transparency and accountability will go through the motions (e.g. filing reports, producing data, carrying out reviews and assessments) in ways that actually conceal, rather than reveal and resolve, governance problems. Outside monitors such as auditors, legislative oversight bodies and investigating judges will be essential.

Do not focus only on nation states

Neighbouring societies and governments may well be coping with similar problems and constraints and may find ways to adapt the rule of law, accountability and transparency mechanisms to new and complex situations. Sharing ideas, experiences and resources, coordinating rule of law functions on a regional basis, and peer review of governance procedures can all contribute to reforms appropriate to social realities and can make better use of limited resources.

Stay focused on the long term

Too often governance reform is a short-lived issue, in particular, following crises or corruption scandals. With respect to the rule of law and its social foundations, governance reform will take at least one generation to achieve, and not just a few months or years. This is also the case for transparency and accountability, in the sense that agency, the political elite, and civil service "cultures" may need to be changed. More rapid progress may be possible in those areas to the extent that individuals can be replaced and the incentive systems of institutions overhauled. Bureaucrats will need periodic re-training, elected officials will need continuous information on governance problems (and continuous incentives to fix them), and citizen support will be required over the long term. Public education will be an integral part of any effort to deepen the rule of law, and to improve transparency and accountability.

Good governance requires adopting a multi-pronged approach, with several systems of checks and balances that can be achieved through separation of powers of different agencies, through civil society and media involvement, and through partnership or pacts with the business sector.

A variety of policies and tools that could improve governance are also discussed in other forthcoming modules of the E4J University Module Series on Anti-Corruption, such as Module 6 (Detecting and Investigating Corruption), Module 10 (Citizen Participation in Anti-Corruption), Module 12 (International Anti-Corruption Frameworks), and Module 13 (National Anti-Corruption Frameworks).

Next: References
Back to top