There has long been debate about whether the role of the State is that of ‘enabler’ or ‘manager’. You may wonder why I am bringing it to the table again. But bear with me. Few would disagree that there are some minimal features of the State that are necessary for the upkeep of a society in which economic activities can take place that are likely to contribute to development. These are to be found across the globe, from Asia to South America, and even in countries where political systems differ widely, from democratic to authoritarian. The point here, therefore, is that such features are not the specific attributes of any particular system but, rather, those that matter more generally for the purpose of spurring investment and sustainable growth
The experience of countries that have achieved high rates of economic development in recent decades–the so-called Asian Tigers, gives us some pointers that are relevant to the discussion of ‘good governance’. The first is that a strong State (read efficient government) is fundamental to economic growth. The second is that the State-directed investment is critical. The third is that successful access to the world market is important in several aspects: achieving comparative advantage in trade and sharpening the economy’s competitiveness. The fourth is that economic growth depends heavily on investment in human capital. The final is that culture is important – although not always very obvious. The idea that quality of governance contributes to improved human well‐being and sustained development has gained widespread recognition in the past decade and a half. Whether or not there is a direct correlation between good governance and improved human well-being, experience shows that chronic poverty is generally associated with poor governance.
So while the debate on governance rages, it is generally seen as an answer to many, if not all, the problems that beset the country. Yet, there is no commonly agreed definition of governance. It could be good or bad. It could imply anything from corruption, inept administration to poor delivery of public services, depending upon the context. While governance is seen as an important variable to mitigate many problems of the public sector system, the discussion becomes particularly vague and ideological, when identifying the exact reforms that are required in improving the quality of governance. The key issue that prohibits an informed approach to governance reforms relates to the absence of objective and measurable data on the quality of governance, particularly at the sub‐national level. There is an urgent need to develop a credible framework for assessing quality of governance in various States that could possibly provide an agenda for governance reform. This issue of INCLUSION seeks to do just that and it is hoped it will contribute to public debate and raise consciousness, while also helping to identify reform priorities and to monitor their progress.
It is beyond doubt that political strife, corruption and straightforward incompetence are the root causes of State failure in India. On the other hand, in some States we do have evidence that where there is political will, ‘better’ government, or at least a more efficient State, can emerge. In the end, leadership does matter. In the run-up to next year’s general election, may be our politicians need to carefully consider their priorities and then maybe governance will not succumb to the politics of the moment. Let’s not bring good governance to a standstill.