Size and Good Governance


"Good governance" has become one of the most widely used concepts in the contemporary political lexicon, replacing traditional ideas such as "law and order", "political order", "stability", "peace and good government", "civic culture" and other such terms previously favoured by philosophers and political commentators, What in fact does the term t': mean? Clearly, the way the term is being used suggests that it means something more than "democracy", howsoever that term may be defined.  It is democracy in its broadest sense, plus good political, financial and administrative management.  It also assumes a high level of transparency and morality in public affairs.

One of the questions that must be addressed is whether the concept means the same thing in all societies or whether it varies from society to society and depends for its meaning on the specificities of each society. There is also the issue of whether good governance is the same in small societies, such as those in the Caribbean, as it does in the larger democracies of Western Europe and the United States (U.S.). In sum, is there one model of good governance against which all performances can be judged? A related question is whether there is anything peculiar to small states which makes them hospitable or inhospitable environments for "good governance".



"Before an attempt is made to answer these questions, it is important to note that the concept of "smallness" as it relates to states is subject to a variety of definitions. Some definitions advert to geographical space, others to demographic data such as size and the spatial distribution of the population, while others use determinants such as the size, scope, diversity, complexity and viability of the economy, the structure of elite clusterings, or the spatial distribution of political power grids within the social system. Professor Charles Taylor  (1971: 188) has wisely noted that:

There are many ways to identify the micro-states of the world.  The use of any single variable however is too narrow in its conception.  Moreover, one’s arbitrary judgment probably plays a greater role in the determination of a cut-off point when only one variable is used than when several are involved. Nevertheless, in either case, the decision as to where to separate "micros" and "macros" is not automatic, but must rely on the theoretical criteria of the researcher.

In his study of micro-states, using the criteria of geographic size, population and Gross National Product (GNP), Taylor identified 74 territories as "micro-territories". His (1971: 183-202) criteria include a physical size of 142,822 sq. km, a population of 2,928,000 and an aggregate GNP of U.S.$1,583 million. Another scholar, Paul Streeten (1993: 197), considers any state with less than 10 million inhabitants to be "small" and those with less than 5 million to be "very small". Clearly, the concept of "smallness" is elastic.

Economists often use the concept of viability, resource sufficiency and size of national income to classify societies, often with the line drawn at the capacity of the society's economy to sustain a "decent" standard of living for its inhabitants. Some have used per capita income to measure viability. Others have argued that the use of this criterion presents more difficulties, than it solves given that raw per capita figures may tell us little about the distribution of income, the economic well being of the citizenry, the sustainability of existent welfare systems and the adaptability of the economy in the context of a rapidly changing world economic system. 


Patrick Emmanuel has observed that the value system of a society shapes its consumption habits. As such, a society with a value system that stresses high mass consumption of modern goods and artifacts may be unviable, whereas others with different values might manage very well. According to Emmanuel (1976: 3), "a society in which a people's view of a 'decent standard of living' cannot be realized by the existing economic forces is on the road to economic non-viability. If the society can refashion its values to bring them more in line with its economic potential, then economic non-viability may be reversed."


This reversal of values may be difficult to achieve in societies, such as those in the Caribbean, that are heavily impacted by family networks and electronic communication systems which link their inhabitants to Europe and America. West Indians, to a certain degree, have adopted the patterns of behaviour and life styles of these Western countries as their reference points. Emmanuel argues (1976) that, "given the dominance of metropolitan values", this prescription involves "lowering the standard of living" Consequently, no political leader functioning under the prevailing Westminster System could dare to advocate for, far less implement, so electorally unattractive a goal. The conclusion therefore is that the colonial value system is incompatible with the economic foundations of small societies, thus resulting in what might be termed "artificial non-viability".

Dependence tends to be a characteristic of small states. Being small, the community has a tendency to believe that it is insufficient and vulnerable in areas that matter. As such, it feels compelled to depend on outside forces to help it determine what is valid and worthwhile and what is not This often translates into a belief that what is foreign is invariably good, and what is indigenous is not. One by-product of this is a disposition to mimic that which is found in the 'developed' systems, even when human and material resources are inadequate and unable to sustain the socially constructed needs.

Sociologists and anthropologists also use the notion of the nature and quality of role relationships in their discussions of the concept of size. They observe that small societies are characterized by the predominance of primary relationships over those that are secondary.  In such societies, critical decision making roles are invariably performed by a limited number of individuals. Thus, there is a tendency to lean towards role diffuseness rather than role specificity. Within this context, interpersonal and intergroup relationships are intense, and relationships of anonymity and impartiality are exceptions rather than rules.


While smallness may facilitate social cohesion and the harmonious mediation of conflicting interests, it often serves to intensify individual and group rivalry which can in turn fragment and paralyze a community and its basic institutions. Group, family or clan rivalry affects perceptions of issues and thus positions are taken -not in terms of the merits of the matter -but on how they impact on group positions. As Charles Farrugia (1993: 223) observes:

In extreme cases, divisions in closely integrated societies lead to serious community rivalry or even civil strife. In most cases, this extremity is not reached, but the effects on the social, economic and political structure of the small state can still be far-reaching. For example, rivalry between sectors in small communities leads to open or subtle boycotts by one group against a rival group's ideas or projects, regardless of how good or useful they may be. As a result, only a fraction of the available talent is utilized and only a section of the population benefits. Furthermore, rivalry leads to duplication of efforts and costs and a wastage of the limited human and material resources available.

There is also a tendency to personalize issues. Matters of policy are not viewed in terms of their generalized impact but in terms of their effect on key personalities and primary relationships within the system. Policy options are therefore not assessed in terms of whether they are 'rational,' administratively implementable or adequate to the problems for which they are designed to address, but in terms of how they affect notables in the system.


Legislative and bureaucratic institutions tend to function differently in small states. Opposition parliamentarians and the elite in the Commonwealth Caribbean are of the view that one of the most effective ways of securing good governance in general, and financial accountability and transparency in particular, is to have the legislature exercise greater control of the executive through the creation of an elaborate system of standing parliamentary committees such as those in England. Those who hold such a view note that the balance of power in political systems is progressively shifting to the executive, to the point where the system of parliamentary democracy is seriously under threat. This is particularly so in small states. For example, the Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate of Trinidad and Tobago recently complained that the "ability of the Parliament to control public finance or to monitor the implementation of the budget simply does not exist" (Trinidad Guardian, April 7, 1993).