Additional considerations

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Why Good Governance?

Good governance is a powerful force for development and improved productivity in many contexts. Drawing lessons and techniques from a range of disciplines, good governance promotes principled decision-making, openness, legitimacy, probity and competence in public life to enhance the ordering of human affairs. Its importance is recognised in numerous international and national instruments and declarations. It occupies a central position in the Millennium Development agenda and in the mission statements and objectives of countless government agencies, civil society organisations and development institutions. By virtue of the manner in which it is defined and pursued by different organisations, developing a shared understanding of what it is and how it is put into practice remains a significant challenge.

What is the scope of Good Governance for the purposes of this Initiative?

Good governance will be defined in sufficiently broad terms to embrace the key elements of public decision-making, with a focus on the processes by which policies are formulated and implemented. These elements include non-authoritarian, open dialogue and consensus-building on policies and priorities, transparency and wide access to information, genuine opportunities for participation by citizens in policy-making and political processes, a fair mediation of competing interests in society, forms of public, professional and financial accountability, responsiveness to public need, enhanced competence and capacity in public institutions, cost-effective service delivery, fairness and inclusiveness in allocating resources, a better understanding of the role of government in facilitating private sector wealth creation on a level playing field, and strong adherence to the rule of law. Some goals are achieved through an emphasis on recognition and enforcement of human rights, others are realised by greater attention to the performance of the obligations of duty-bearers, which will be the initial focus of this Initiative.

Why is there a focus on obligations?

It is a strategy that has been relatively neglected. One of the defining principles of good governance is that with authority comes responsibility. This responsibility takes the form of fiduciary obligations and a corresponding degree of accountability for any breach of those obligations. There are few, if any, political regimes that do not claim to rule on behalf of, and in the best interests of, their citizens; a fortiori in nations aspiring to democracy, public authority engages duties in the nature of trusteeship, regardless of the nature of power exercised or extent of discretion conferred. Where democratic governance is avowed, decision-makers at all levels, including Heads of State, Ministers, parliamentarians, judges, and other government officials are constrained by a comprehensive range of duties defined by their roles. Many of these are articulated in domestic laws, treaties and other instruments, and informed by professional codes of conduct and best practice.

What about human rights?

Human rights are considerably strengthened by this approach because decision-making will be more rights-oriented as a matter of policy and practice. Although human rights will form an important part of the curriculum, many rights, especially socio-economic rights, depend upon the consistent fulfilment of a complex of obligations by many responsible parties over time. Human rights, especially for vulnerable and marginalised groups, can only be realised when public institutions improve service delivery and when there is a more productive relationship with the private sector and with civil society. This Initiative helps to promote an understanding of obligations that makes government more receptive and responsive to rights-holders.

Why is there such an emphasis on decision-making?

From decisions flow actions and chains of events, often with disproportionate impact in relation to the investment of effort, skill and knowledge that goes into the decision-making process. One of the hallmarks and strategies of good governance is structured, accountable, evidence-based decision-making. Yet many officials have received little training and are unaware of their many decision-making obligations, in spite of the fact that they determine how vast public and private resources are deployed, with far-reaching consequences for human development and welfare, including international peace and security. When decision-makers get it wrong, the people that bear the burden most often are those who can least afford to. There are strong indications that training in decision-making obligations and techniques offers a potent lever for productivity and change. This Initiative promotes the techniques of sound decision-making as a discipline in its own right.

What is meant by structured decision-making?

Structured decision-making is guided and constrained by rules that give effect to citizens' fundamental right to good administration. The most basic rule concerns a duty to act within the confines of the law, but this entails a host of quite specific legal obligations that, if better understood and reinforced at all levels, would influence the quality of decision-making and enhance outcomes. Among these obligations are duties to act in good faith, to be duly informed, not to exceed one’s powers, to decide matters impartially on the merits rather than capriciously or by reference to extraneous or immaterial considerations. There are obligations to avoid conflicts of interest and other proscribed conduct, including receiving benefits that could distort outcomes or undermine public confidence in the decisions made or office held. There are also substantive and procedural rules relating to proportionality, non-discrimination, timeliness, fairness and reasonableness, including principles of natural justice and related duties to refrain from pre-judging issues, and providing a reasonable opportunity for those whose rights or interests are most affected to be heard. In addition, there are little-understood rules and principles that govern the consequences of the breach of rules and regulations, as well as relating to the provision of corrective measures.

How else does the Initiative promote good governance?

The Initiative recognises and seeks to underpin other strategies through education and training. In additional to the technical content of taught courses is the strengthening of professional identity through global and regional exchanges. Such interactions embed decision-makers in an ethical framework defined by peers through agreed standards and membership obligations. Professional associations also facilitate working relationships and cooperative arrangements that enhance capacity. While professional networking is not new, the sheer scale of this global normative activity through enhanced communications technology, increased travel and migration is unprecedented. The influence of the Diaspora in promoting good governance is also profoundly important and the Initiative actively welcomes participation by professionals living and working abroad as well as those in their countries of origin.

Public accountability can be strengthened by increased Parliamentary oversight and by improving the capacity of public bodies and case-handling institutions created to serve and protect the public interest. The Initiative will be active in providing support for training programmes directed at such institutions. It is also important that citizens become aware of the obligations of public office as well as appropriate corrective mechanisms so that leaders and public officials are properly held to account for their decisions and actions. The Initiative therefore seeks to enhance legal and public accountability by providing education and training that strengthens NGO monitoring functions, access to information, public interest advocacy, responsible investigative journalism and anti-corruption measures.

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