Good governance purely is a Western concept rooted in the Western liberal democracy. But it has been widely accepted in the developing world including in Nepal. Good governance generally refers to governing under efficient, effective, impactful, relevant and sustainable political and public institutions—provided that they can achieve the goals of the development. The purpose is also to make the state machinery people-oriented and give the citizens fast, reliable and effective services as per their expectations. The basic values of good governance are to make the public administration of the country citizen-friendly, accountable, transparent, inclusive and participatory by placing the citizens at the center of governance. Governance plays a critical role in development. It focuses on rule of law, corruption control and improving government responsibility and accountability. These features are country-specific because political, social, economic and institutional conditions differ from one country to other. When the United Nations was established in 1945 its concern was mainly about the delivery of public services and increase in economic activity in every member country. In the 1990s, the UN described key elements of good governance as participation, rule of law, consensus-oriented, equity and inclusiveness, effectiveness and efficiency, accountability, transparency and responsiveness.
What the data says
In order to promote good governance, Nepal has enacted several laws. Good Governance (Management and Operation) Act (2006), Right to Information Act (2006) and Local Government Operation Act (2016) are the major ones. The Constitution of Nepal has divided the duties and responsibilities of all three levels of government. Article (232) has made institutional arrangements among the federal, provincial and local levels. In order to make it effective, the Federal, Provincial and Local Level (Coordination and Relations) Act (2020) has been formulated and it is currently under implementation. This act is based on relations, co-operation and co-existence of all three tiers of government. The government has formulated a ten-year strategic plan (2020-2030) with the slogan “strong federalism; fair, sound and accountable public administration ” to make federalism work for all.
However, available indicators show that Nepal is lagging behind in good governance. According to the Transparency International report (2021), Nepal’s position on the Corruption Perception Index is 117th out of 180 countries. Its score is 33 which has remained unchanged for the past many years. According to Legatum Prosperity Index (2021), Nepal is ranked at 114th position out of 167 countries. This report shows the positive change. According to the report, Nepal’s prosperity has enhanced among other countries in the Asia-Pacific region in the past 10 years. The country has been able to move up 17 places from 131st to 114th since. However, there are several avenues on which Nepal has to work for improving good governance indicators.
According to the World Bank’s Government Effectiveness Index in Nepal (1996-2020), the average value for Nepal during this period was -0.8 points with a minimum of -1.05 points in 2015. This is attributed to the devastating earthquakes of 2015 which made the government respond to multiple sector areas but the focus was only on reconstruction. The maximum point was -0.38 in 1996. This was during the time when Nepal was still new to multi-party democracy. This had built greater hopes and aspirations among the wide public-private sector including the government’s commitments in development initiatives.
According to the Cato Institute and the Fraser Institute, in the Seventh Annual Human Freedom Index (HFI), Nepal ranks 84th out of 165 countries. Nepal stands first among the South Asian countries among territories based on 82 distinct indicators of personal, civil, and economic freedoms. According to Heritage Foundation Report (2022), Nepal’s economic freedom score is 49.7 making Nepal the 148th freest country in the world. Nepal is ranked 31st among 39 countries in the Asia–Pacific region, and its overall score is below the regional and world averages. The World Justice Project (WJP) shows that Nepal ranked 70 out of 139 countries on rule of law index.
Challenges of good governance
Several challenges have hindered good governance efforts in Nepal. They include ineffective implementation of existing laws, lack of harmonization on the policy of the state and the practical application of those policies, the politicization of the civil service, mismanagement of the political appointments, and rampant corruption in politics and bureaucracy creating gaps in service delivery to the public.
Accountable political leadership is the key to achieving good governance. Lack of willpower in political leadership and bureaucracy impedes the implementation of the country’s long-term development vision and agenda. The disbursement system in Nepal is somehow politically charged and political parties prefer to grant government schemes to their favorites. This has been proven by several reports on the ground. Political leadership even goes to the extent of rendering oversight mechanisms such as the Commission for the Investigation of the Abuse of Authority (CIAA), Revenue Investigation Department, National Vigilance Center, even the judiciary, dysfunctional. There are also growing concerns about the shrinking civic space in Nepal. Shrinking civic space makes it difficult for people to raise their voices and protest against the wrongdoings of the government.
Nepal has enacted several laws to promote good governance but their implementation has often been slow and ineffective.
Civic space has allowed us to bring out the voices of the voiceless. Public outrage in the rape case of Nirmala Pant, ‘Enough is Enough’ movement which raised voices against the government’s mishandling of Covid-19 response and the protest against the Guthi Bill are some of the successful examples of civic space contributing to raising debate about accountability.
Time to act
Political leadership and the bureaucracy must act to ensure good governance by strengthening the people’s participation and addressing their grievances and concerns. They should also focus on issues of transparency and accountability. While administrative reforms are needed, positive discrimination in government services, management of citizen charter, minimizing the bureaucratic red-tapism, provision of public hearings to address citizens’ concerns can go a long way in helping achieve the good governance goal.
‘Hello Sarkar’ and Janata Sanga Pradhan Mantri (direct telephone conversation between the people and the prime minister) are two notable good governance programs. They need to be effectively implemented. Such initiatives need to be further strengthened.
In theory, people have the right to ask about the key government information under the Right to Information Act but this has not been implemented effectively in practice. As things stand, many bills have been formulated without people’s knowledge.
A country tends to be poor more due to bad governance than due to lack of resources. This is the area the political leadership must address without any delay.
Yogendra Prasad Lamichhane is the Chairman of the Rastriya Adhyan Kendra, a Kathmandu-based think tank.