Good Governance: Rule of Law, Transparency, and Accountability

Good Governance: Rule of Law, Transparency, and Accountability

Good Governance: Rule of Law, Transparency, and Accountability

Good governance involves far more than the power of the state or the strength of political will. The rule of law, transparency, and accountability are not merely technical questions of administrative procedure or institutional design. They are outcomes of democratizing processes driven not only by committed leadership, but also by the participation of, and contention among, groups and interests in society—processes that are most effective
when sustained and restrained by legitimate, effective institutions. Never have these concerns been linked to more momentous opportunities. In the
Fall of 2002 the 191 Member States of the United Nations committed themselves to eight Millennium Development Goals: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development. As daunting as these goals are in technical and resource terms, they are no less challenging to Member States’ abilities to mobilize people and resources, to make and implement difficult policy choices, and to involve their citizens in initiatives that will shape their futures.

Good governance: legitimate, accountable, and effective ways of obtaining and using public power and resources in the pursuit of widely-accepted social goals

Rule of law: the exercise of state power using, and guided by, published written standards that embody widely-supported social values, avoid particular ism, and enjoy broad-based public support

Transparency: official business conducted in such a way that substantive and procedural information is available to, and broadly understandable by, people and groups in society, subject to reasonable limits protecting security and privacy

Accountability: procedures requiring officials and those who seek to influence them to follow established rules defining acceptable processes and outcomes, and to demonstrate that they have followed those procedures. While the language and some of the ideas in these definitions draw upon the
Anglo-Saxon tradition, the fundamental concerns they embody—justice and the search for a good life—are universal concerns. These values must be pursued and protected in different ways in various societies. They are interdependent as well: accountability requires transparency, both function best where laws are sound and widely supported, and the equitable enforcement of those laws raises major questions of accountability and transparency—to cite just a few interconnections. Upholding these values requires a delicate but durable balance between self-interest and cooperation: citizens and officials must see good governance not only as an ideal, but also as improving their own lives.

Rule of Law: Where rule of law is strong, people uphold the law not out of fear but because they have a stake in its effectiveness. Virtually any state, after all, can enact laws; corrupt and repressive regimes can legislate at will. Genuine rule of law,

  1. by contrast, requires the cooperation of state and society, and is an outcome of complex and deeply rooted social processes.
  2. Wrongdoers face not only legal penalties, but also social sanctions such as criticism in the news media, popular disapproval, and punishments
    from professional and trade associations. An approach that relies solely upon detection and punishment may work for a time, but will do little to integrate laws and policies with social values, or to create broader and deeper support for the system.

Transparency: Transparency too rests on a partnership: officials must make information available, and there must be people and groups with reasons and opportunities to put information to use. Chief among those are an independent judiciary and a free, competitive, responsible press, but an active civil society is critical too. Rules and procedures must be open to scrutiny and comprehensible: a transparent government
makes it clear what is being done, how and why actions take place, who is involved, and by what standards decisions are made. Then, it demonstrates that it has abided by those standards. Transparency requires significant resources, may slow down administrative
procedures, and may offer more advantages to the well-organized and influential interests than to others. It also has necessary limits: legitimate issues of security and the privacy rights of citizens form two such boundaries. But without it, “good governance” has little

Accountability: Accountability is partly a matter of institutional design: formal checks and balances can and should be built into any constitutional architecture. But accountability requires political energy too: people, interest groups, civil society, the courts, the press, and opposition parties must insist that those who govern follow legitimate mandates and explain their actions. The same is true within governments: horizontal accountability (Schedler, Diamond, and Plattner, 1999) depends upon the ability of one part of government to find out—and, where necessary, to stop or correct—
what other sectors are doing. Those demanding accountability must be confident that they can do so safely, that officials will respond honestly, and that social needs and demands are taken seriously.


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