What do you think of when you hear the phrase ‘good governance’? Poverty reduction? Accountability and openness? The rule of law? Good policy outcomes? What if a country is not a democracy? Can it still be described as providing good governance?
These were some of the questions asked at Monday’s Corruption and Anti-Corruption: Challenges and Future Perspectives, a conference organised by the University of Sussex’s Centre for the Study of Corruption.
Michael Johnston, a political science professor and anti-corruption expert at Colgate University in the United States, said he did not think democracy was necessarily required for good governance.
“Democracy brings its own set of threats and vulnerabilities to the good governance cause,” he said. Accountability, citizen satisfaction and some form of citizen feedback are all necessary elements of good governance but democracy, while desirable, is not crucial, he added.
As pundits were quick to point out after Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was removed from power by the country’s army in July, democracy comes in many forms. Just because President Mohamed Mursi won an election does not mean that he was a democrat or that he was committed to creating a democratic Egypt.
Take for example India and Singapore. With 1.2 billion people, India is considered to be the world’s largest democracy. Singapore also holds regular elections but the People’s Action Party (PAP) has ruled for over half a century and exerts a controlling and paternalistic influence over the island’s 5.3 million people. Which country do you think better embodies the principles of good governance? While good governance is a notoriously difficult concept to measure, the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators point to Singapore.
One country that is regularly praised as a shining example of good governance, on a continent not generally known for it, is Rwanda. However, while Western donor countries fund much of Rwanda’s annual budget, some have expressed reservations about President Paul Kagame’s crackdown on dissenting voices in the country.
What is the trade-off between good governance and democracy? Should donor countries do more to call attention to Kagame’s more authoritarian policies or the fact that he was elected in 2010 with an incredible 93 percent of the vote on 95 percent voter turnout?
Opponents said the other candidates in the 2010 election were a democratic smokescreen and stooges of Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). They also said the campaign playing field had been tilted, with three would-be opposition candidates prevented from registering to contest the ballot. Commonwealth observers said voting had been peaceful and organized but that Rwanda needed to address issues of political participation and media freedom.
While experts can debate the necessity of democracy in a well-governed society, the irony is that in a country in which citizens’ voices have been muted, they are the ones who cannot make the case that the balance between democracy and good governance is out of kilter.