Why good governance, may not be always good governance

March 27, 2009

mes29391As Singapore prepares to celebrate 50 years of “good governance” – it may be a good idea to just spend sometime asking ourselves whether Kishore is justified to adopt a “we have arrived” tone?


But before diving there – let’s just consider what is good governance? And is it really the magic bullet that can slay the bad and the seed the good in one go? Well, first of all you need to realize that good governance – has absolutely nothing to do with it’s dictionary meaning – it’s abit like dial a girl – it’s 10% effort and 90% imagination – so it’s a bag term that really defies pin point definition – I don’t doubt some people can rip out a bullet point list and tell you what it is – the problem is like all abstractions, it inspires the same problem with what’s often striven so hard for – it’s fails to pin down the nub.


If had to plumb for a definition of good governance it would be simply this – the need to establish accountability within government systems to reduce the abuse of power. Through – rule of law and not rule by law and.


The distinction is subtle and fine – so work in through your head, take your time, as the rest of this essay will not make sense – if it’s not crystal.


When the idea of good governance is applied judiciously – it works! For example if you look at the US system although it is radically divided over issues of how best to pursue the best end or means – none of them, no matter how fractious threatens the stability and legitimacy of the system – Americans may vilify one another as bigoted or morally depraved, but they know they will not be put up against a wall if their party loses a election or run out of the country on trumped up charges. Result: good governance shows that the cohesion of American society is stronger than its divisions – good wins over bad.


The problem with good governance as an idea, concept or even school of thought is when its given perfunctory treatment – that’s to say form takes precedence over function – where people aren’t so sure, if they cross the line, maybe they will get kicked out or bankrupted or have some part of their privacy revealed to their greater detriment – when that happens; good governance as an idea becomes not only a means to express contempt for the rule of law; but it also degenerates into a farce.


Why’s that?


Simple – good governance can really cut both ways – and this dichotomy bears out only too clearly when we peruse through the history of good governance; don’t be surprised, if instead of seeding the good, it even kills it dead and instead rubber stamps a whole lot of undesirable practices.


Don’t believe me, then consider this: why did the US invade Iraq? Good governance. Why is Najib Abdullah clamping down on the opposition just up North? Good governance. Why did China block Youtube? Good governance. Why did the Thai elites kick out Thaksin and declare martial law? Yes, you guessed it.


Yes, as we can see the appellation of good governance can sometimes be closer to the mark of the devil – closer even to the whole idea of perdition than salvation, if you really cared to drill deeper as our internet liaison officer Singaporedaddy put it so aptly in this entry: Inherent structural weaknesses in the PAP system of governance is sowing the seeds of Singapore’s failure (Part 1)




Singaporedaddy on Fri, 27th Mar 2009 2:13 pm 


Good governance is really a double edged sword – the problem with good governance is its not always good all the time and all too often, it can be used to condone less than desirable practices and policies. This unfortunately is one area Kishore did not see the wisdom to talk about in great length – all he really does is say, we have good governance and off he goes like a train (presumably straight down a cliff)

So let us all be clear; good governance is a double edged sword – it can cut both ways; can even be used to sanction genocide and ethnic cleansing along with building a few death camps.

The U.S. for example regularly uses the idea of good governance to impose their will and designs on other countries – why did Bush invade Iraq? Good governance – at times they use the UN – sometimes they use the IMF, including the fund’s policy on good governance, as a way of furthering narrowly conceived U.S. foreign policy interests.

So I think it pays to read up further on this whole idea of good governance. Things are not so simple; you just dont say you have good governance and everyone believes you and off you go – life is not so simple.




And that pretty much sums up the dissonance that accompanies the whole idea of the principle of good governance – the problem boils down to one word – it’s too broadly endorsed, and all too often it bestows the power to determine what is “good,” along with probably the whole idea of what’s “governable” to ONLY a select few – and the idea has to remain problematic. As it’s a darn good way to legitimize everything from power grabs, invasions to perhaps the dubious role of insisting that you should raise your hands up even to go for urination breaks.


And this brings into sharp focus the disconnect  –  new demands are emerging against the backdrop of the whole idea of what is good governance in internet age.


Unfortunately, when we talk about good governance alongside the internet –  it’s a bit like putting a horse drawn carriage in an eight lane expressway – government has been slow and bovine to capitalize on this new reality – they haven’t really articulated the set pieces which makes up the whole idea of good governance to reflect the reality of this new age – they still have their old hats rivetted on.


And this raises some disturbing questions – like how can government even begin to reap the benefits of a network approach to good governance when they don’t even see the wisdom of engaging citizens and civil society organisations in shaping and implementing public policy?


Where does the idea citizens as partners feature against this new definition of the term good governance?


The idea wouldn’t be so disconcerting – if you didn’t know in some countries, such as Scandinavia, Finland, France and Japan, governments have already set the e-ball in motion in earnest – they’re required to consult with citizens to assess the impact of new policies. Here the idea of good governance goes beyond just informing in advance; they’re leveraging on the notion: if governments want people to invest their time in consultation, they must account for the use of that input in policymaking and explain their decisions – its not enough to ape the form without the content.


How does that compare with our current system? Is there any room for improvement? Could the revision to the films act and the whole idea of appointing AIMs have been better planned to include more people – was the opportunity to strengthen the relationship between a government and its citizens squandered or reaped meaningfully?


Why do so many people continue to criticize the government for being remote from the people? Not listening enough and not seeking participation? Aping the form and going through the motions instead of genuinely recruiting the interest of those who seem more interested in tuning out to officialdom?


These are of course hard hitting questions that all have the effect of throwing cold water on the whole idea of celebrating 50 years of good governance – I think, I’ve give it a miss and go cycling instead – the road it seems goes right on and on and we are definitely not there yet.


Darkness 2009


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