Redefining Governance – Part 1
Helen Drayton –Independent Senator, Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago / Former Chairman & Co-Founder Caribbean Procurement Institute
Deep social problems, some of which give rise to crime, have until now eluded successive governments. Only last week, in the results of an Ansa McAl poll, citizens identified crime as more urgent than public corruption and poor leadership. What is ironic is the way public corruption is compartmentalized from other crimes when it is among the worst of crimes, including blood crimes. It may be why the petty thief, or youth caught with a stick of marijuana would end up in jail and not gang leaders or the grime-collar aka white-collar criminals they are linked to in the value chain of public procurement. Their criminal practices pauperize societies. When Government and the Police Service refer to the fight against crime, they usually refer to criminal offences other than public corruption – an outcome of poor and corrupt leadership.
A central issue to this occurrence is how governance is typically viewed by both governments and citizens. It functions as a top-down process, something done to us after we have left the ballot box, typical of autocratic models of governance.
Mrs. Margaret Rose-Goddard, Attorney-at-Law, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Caribbean Procurement Institute, and founder of Disclosure Today gave thought-provoking insights on the subject of governance.
In her presentation at the 4th Caribbean Public Procurement Conference (CPPC) last December, Rose made reference to the Canadian Institute of Governance definition of governance:
“A process which determines who has power, who makes decisions, how other players make their voices heard and how account is rendered.”
That people-focused definition suggests that governance is a process of sharing power – a process owned by the people but, managed by government. Rose also mentioned the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) definition:
“The manner in which power is exercised by governments in the management of a country’s social and economic resources. It is the exercise of power by various levels of government that is effective, honest, equitable, transparent and accountable.”
Rose stated the traditional top-down approach to governance was archaic, as it places responsibility solely on governments to solve societal problems and ignores the responsibility of citizens. Yet, power is in the hands of people, more than ever before, made possible by the rapid advances in information technology.
“We cannot escape the observation that we are currently operating within political governance systems designed over two hundred years ago, based on the technologies of that time…19th-Century governance mechanisms in the 21st century. Despite technological advances in the last century…very little change has been made to our model of representative democracy.”
She recognised it is not a situation unique to Trinidad and Tobago.
“We have over three billion people who, through technology, have become accustomed to having a say at the press of a button but, having no say on some of the most important decisions impacting the quality of their lives.”
Rose referenced the expert-led technocratic approach—a feature of the top-down system of governance.
“People are treated solely as consumers rather than as active citizens, connected to one another, with differing views and levels of influence. There is no meaningful consent with the citizenry, which must come about through involvement and shared responsibility…We need to reimagine government and governance in the digital age…Something must be wrong with the way we govern ourselves globally. We are producing enough food to feed every person on the planet and yet millions are dying every day from starvation because of market access rules. Something must be wrong with the way we govern ourselves when millions are dying every day from preventable diseases because rules relating to intellectual property rights preclude their access to the medical care they need. Something must be wrong with the way we govern ourselves when profit comes before preserving our environment for future generations.”
She posed the question:
“What does this have to do with public procurement? Everything. Because procurement is just another word for buying, another word for trade and these activities occur in the marketplace.”
Like many of us, Rose believes governance must be reframed to recognize bottom-up pressure for inclusion, consultation, and effective participation in public sector decision-making and accountability. The government should be reframed “from problem solver to solution facilitator.”
She further urged;
“It is time for right thinking public sector professionals and suppliers to stop turning a blind eye and a deaf ear, and refusing to stand up in the face of wrongdoing. The private sector must start measuring shareholder value by both social and economic indicators, putting people and planet before profit.”
These are not mutually exclusive goals. Companies that demonstrate care for the social and physical environments are likely to achieve sustained customer goodwill and consequently, profitability.
Wisely, Rose advocates;
“Civil society must find more sophisticated mechanisms to engage with governments, other than fasting, violence, looting, and marching. There is an opportunity for governments to embrace their role as a solution facilitator and networker, and create or support mechanisms and innovations that promote more inclusive and participatory approaches to public sector decision-making.”