GT22D - POLITICS IN THE CARIBBEAN
In the past ten years the term ‘good governance’ has become an important and popularly used political concept. It combines the ideas of democratization, effective government and development and has been particularly directed at post-colonial developing states and the newly democratizing formerly communist states of eastern Europe. It is among these states that the institutions and purposes of good governance seem most applicable.
Good governance means democratic government that promotes effective public institutions, competitive markets and civil society towards achieving such crucial objectives as human development, equity, and sustainable development. It aims at reforming the state in order to overcome such problems as bureaucracy, corruption, the concentration of power and ineffective public service institutions.
This is a useful purpose for states such as Caribbean states that had hardly pursued meaningful state and constitutional reforms after Independence and so have state systems that still reflect colonial and authoritarian organisation and the thinking of an earlier era. Good governance aims to reform state systems so that they are more effective under contemporary domestic and world conditions.
Good Governance, Democracy and Development.
The United Nations and its agencies as well as the Commonwealth Group of Countries have adopted the concept of good governance. The United Nation’s Development Programme (UNDP) for example, supports governance programmes such as activities that promote free and fair elections, freedom of association and participation, an independent judiciary, bureaucratic accountability, freedom of information, effective and efficient public sector management, decentralization of decision-making and resource management, and government interaction with the organisations of civil society.
The UNDP’s goal of sustainable human development is achievable by means of good governance which requires expanding people’s choices and allowing them to participate in the decisions affecting their lives. It demands systems of government that encourage people’s involvement in decision-making and which stimulate economic growth and ensure that the benefits of that growth reach all segments of society.
Good governance is therefore more than and goes beyond democracy. By insisting on an effective state, the concept recognises that a state might be democratic but not effective; by insisting on people’s participation in national life it recognises that occasional elections, even if free and fair, do not allow for meaningful and regular participation in the creation and implementation of policies; and by insisting that the benefits of growth be shared it recognises that democracy by itself does not produce economic and social equality.
The idea of good governance is that both democracy and development are values in their own right but each also supports the other. For instance, democracy will not survive if it is not accompanied by development. Not only will the poor lose faith in democracy if the gap between rich and poor continuously widens but where there is poverty wasteful and undemocratic means such as patronage will be used to secure political support.
An efficient and democratic state will also promote development. Where state procedures are transparent for example, investors will have more confidence in investing because they will be able to ensure that their business with the state, such as processing documents, is not subject to favouritism and that they can pursue their business according to the law and in a speedy way.
For this reason, the World Bank promotes public sector reforms to make states more transparent, effective, efficient, accountable and equitable in their dealings. At the same time, developing countries at the UN are suspicious of the market oriented policies of the World Bank and seek to ensure that good governance entails human development as well. It is out of these different perspectives that the concept has evolved.
Good Governance and the State.
The World Bank’s Report of 1997 is an important statement of what good governance entails. Crucial in this is the role of the state. It recommends two basic strategies:
- establish a foundation of law; - maintain a business-friendly policy environment and macroeconomic stability; - invest in people, basic social services and infrastructure; - protect the vulnerable through poverty alleviation; - protect the environment.
- check arbitrary state actions; - attack entrenched corruption; - subject state institutions to greater competition to increase their efficiency; - improve pay and incentives to enhance the performance of state institutions; - open the state to greater participation through decentralisation in order to bring the state closer to the people and make it more responsive.
The Caribbean State.
Trevor Farell believes that the Caribbean state has failed in its tasks of good governance, at least up to the mid-1980's. He identified the problems as:
What is necessary is to reform the state to match the new requirements and standards of democracy, globalism, the market and civil society, and to modernize the state to bring it into the post-colonial order.
Factors Undermining Good Governance.
A World Bank report had said that investors perceived Latin America and the Caribbean to be suffering from the poor quality of their public bureaucracies, the credibility of governments, the reliability of their judiciaries and the guarantees that people expect for their personal security. Selwyn Ryan calls for refashioning and re-engineering Caribbean states to achieve good governance and democratic renewal. He identifies the main problems of the present state systems as:
“The unfortunate aspect of the Westminster model of Governance is that it has encouraged a “to the victors the spoils” mentality. It has ensured that at any time almost half the population of any given Caribbean society is marginalised and alienated from participation in the development of their society. It can also be reasonably argued that there has...been too destructive a competition for political office; too heavy a concentration of power in the hands of ruling elites, an un-healthy preservation of anti-development party and tribal divisions, a focus on short-term partisan political concerns rather than long-term strategic objectives, efficient patronage and spoils systems which work against sound and progressive government. Alienation, cynicism and marginalisation have been the results, all leading to a perpetuation of underdevelopment.”
Owen Arthur points out that in a political union, countries would pool their resources and be able to act more effectively and afford collectively what each could not, acting separately. They would be better able to afford the costs of international representation, the rising costs of health and education services, the collective management of the environment, of responding to disasters, operating the judiciary and planning for development.
Arthur said, "The Caribbean will eventually have to move to a single unified governance because the societies will simply sag under the enormous, unprofitable weight of supporting individual systems..."
Ryan gives examples of what parties accuse each other of doing:
- In Trinidad: Firing Trinidadian chief executives and other officers from state boards for reasons of race; making partisan appointments to Public Services Commissions and Judicial Services Commissions; discriminating in favour of one racial group in the state sector generally; violating the system for the tender of contracts to favour friends and political supporters; using the resources of state companies for political campaigning.
- In Guyana: The ruling party has been accused of ethnic cleansing in the bureaucracy so that one race replaces another but this removes professionally trained staff in ministries and agencies; giving out jobs and contracts to its supporters, whether they were competent or not leading to incompetence and corruption; using the state media to promote the ruling party; politicise state services such as the Customs service so that certain races were given more favourable treatment in matters of customs than others and the services that the state controls, such as electricity, broadcasting, university education and the Armed Forces.
Barbados: While Barbados does not share the same degree of political interference in the functions of the state, the problem is not absent. Courtney Blackman notes that when governments lose elections, new governments too often remove career public servants, professional managers of public enterprises, permanent secretaries are “sent on leave”, board members and managers of statutory corporations are dismissed and even the governing boards of secondary schools. These changes affect good governance because they disrupt continuity, organisational morale and the principle of neutrality.
- Corruption. While there is a perception of high rates of corruption in the Caribbean there are no recent studies that make for a good comparison. Transparency International samples a number of countries and its last report placed Jamaica about half-way on a list of about 80 countries. No other Caribbean country was in the survey. Caribbean countries also point to foreign firms as a corrupting influence. Foreign investors, they charge, offer bribes to obtain investment deals.
- Crime and theft. Crime rates have increased throughout the region in recent years. In the mid-90's the World Bank reported that Jamaica’s high crime rate was its main deterrent to investments. Jamaican officials also report the problem of white collar crime such as fraud in the private sector. In fact, the former Commissioner of Police, Trevor Macmillian had said that Jamaica’s private sector was as corrupt as the public sector and white collar crime cost the country more than poor people’s crime did.
- Bureaucracy. The extent of bureaucracy was measured by the percentage of firms reporting having to spend more than 15 percent of their time negotiating with public officials. In the former communist countries of Europe, 52% of firms reported thus. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and Africa 38% of firms did. This is taken as a sign of red tape, slow or confusing rules that businessmen are faced with and which all amount to too much bureaucracy.
Good governance in the Caribbean suffers from many problems: administrative stress and overload due to limited resources; time consuming judicial processes and a corrupted justice system; the costs of small size and political fragmentation; the divisiveness of the Westminster model; a socio-cultural order of crime and theft, corruption and lawlessness; and political interference with the integrity of the public service. These problems undermine both democracy and development.
Reform of Governance.
Is anything being done? The Caribbean state is modernising and becoming more responsive. The process of reforming governance, however, still has a long way to go. In Jamaica, important new initiatives have come on stream:
At present signs of more open and responsive can be seen in:
- The Street People Enquiry; - The Walker Report on the Salaries of Public Sector Executives; - The Senate Investigation into the financial crisis; - The Orane report on waste, the Moses Report on better budgeting, and the Nettleford Report on Governance. - The Michael Gayle special investigation.
These investigations have been done at the initiative of the government, the opposition (salaries) and civil society (street people).
The success of implementing and sustaining reforms towards good governance, according to the Commonwealth group of Countries lies in the extent of support for economic development. As the Commonwealth says of poorer countries, "as long as their economies remain fragile and exposed, their fledgling democracies will be under threat."
Bearing this in mind, the Commonwealth calls for a programme for the developing countries that will sustain economic and social development, debt relief and support for international trade, technical assistance and the development of human resources. It has taken particular note of the problems of small states.
Reforming the state is an important step towards good governance. Yet, as Owen Arthur and others point out, one needs to look at the Westminster model of politics and the divisive and alienating aspects of party competition and the winner-take-all distribution of power. In other words, one has to pursue constitutional reform.
Making the state more effective is not enough. The private sector has been entrusted as the ‘engine of growth’ and therefore it needs to enter the era of corporate governance. It needs to practice more public, social and civic responsibility towards workers and stakeholders; reduce its own waste and corruption; become more self-reliant and less clientilistic where it depends on the state for subsidies, bail-outs and privileged market positions.
Trade unions have to end their old class-based adversarialism and make their members more productive. They need to move beyond merely bargaining for wages and into training and stakeholder schemes and partnerships with communities, government and private sector.
Society as a whole must change its culture - its old habits and the old ways of doing things. All figures of authority - teachers, policemen, lawyers, parents - must accept the new paradigm of accountability and responsiveness. Its members must participate. Parliamentary committees and public commissions complain that enough persons do not appear before or make submissions to these bodies.
The state alone cannot change everything.