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  • Lamlela Plaatjie (South Africa)

Navigating effective governance

Complex governance challenges are inherent to any system of governance, irrespective of the status of national development. Depending on the conceptual framework, the term “governance” can refer to either a process, a system, a concept, or an iteration of all these dimensions. For the purpose of this article, governance is referred to as a system of interaction between the national government and civil society to design and implement effective policies. The national government is defined as formal state institutions that enact and enforce public policies, whereas civil society refers to all non-state actors with bargaining power. Strong public institutions are the building block for effective governance as they determine policy functions and outcomes through vested power. The political economy paradigm highlights the central role of political drivers in the distribution of power and resources. Power dynamics between the national government and civil society influence the legitimacy of policies and their outcomes.

Strong institutions are identifiable by the 4Cs: competence, commitment, coordination, and cooperation. The enablers of these conditions include clearly defined institutional functions, reduced power asymmetries through institutional capacity building, and the role of the law in enhancing contestability and incentives. Effective institutions perform their functions while upholding integrity, accountability, exceptional levels of compliance, high productivity, and efficiency. The core functions of public institutions are policy design and planning; decision-making; efficient resource management; service delivery; facilitating civic engagement; monitoring and evaluation of policy interventions. While capacity expansion in public institutions is important, the intention for expanding capacity is equally as important. Deepening institutional capacity should be intended to balance power asymmetries, as imbalances of PowerPoint to misaligned governance. In order to achieve an effective rule of law, it is imperative to establish the roles of the law. In effect, what is the purpose of national legislation? The response to this question determines the regulatory frameworks and legal provisions that are prioritized by the government, enabling national codes of conduct to dictate institutional behavior.

When the aforementioned enabling conditions are met, state institutions are expected to display the 4Cs at the highest scale. A competent government is led by capable leaders and technically capable public servants who engage civil society; they respond to public issues by effectively and efficiently mobilizing resources. Commitment refers to consistent institutional support toward desired policy outcomes and ensuring the rule of law is maintained. Measuring sociopolitical and economic stability can be used to provide evidence of government commitment. Highly consistent institutional support improves the credibility of institutions and has the ability to increase willingness for cooperation and accountability. More trustworthy institutions motivate voluntary compliance. The level of coordination amongst government institutions demonstrates the ability for complementary action, leading to better outcomes for all. Well-coordinated institutions are favorable in attracting investments and stimulating innovation. Inter-sectoral policy coordination requires effective communication systems that will result in well-aligned and coherent cross-sectoral policies. Policy effectiveness can be used as an indicator for the measurement of effective governance.

The provision of public goods requires cooperation amongst state and non-state actors, often relying on reward and penalty mechanisms to achieve jointly desired outcomes. Willingness to cooperate is driven by individual needs, which induces the risk of opportunistic behavior. This threatens inclusion and equity, creating fertile conditions for corruption, state capture, and clientelism. The legitimacy of decision-making processes is antagonized and undermined, moreover, the mismanagement of resources also diverts from more productive uses and allocation of resources. Social media has provided public platforms for collective action, social movements, and citizen empowerment, prompting civil society to vocalize their needs and demands in democratic contexts. By holding the government accountable, it makes the transformation and reform of public institutions possible. Furthermore, this encourages the redistribution of bargaining power. Public institutions have the responsibility to act with transparency in the highest interest of the public and should remain accountable through the rule of law.

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