Democracy and Self-Development
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Democracy and Self-Development

"Development engineering is less about formulas and more about integrity. If an administrator is sensitive to the problems of the public, he can find innovative solutions within the given resources". Rigzin Samphel, young Indian Administrator in one of the large federal states, with large poor communities.

Churchill's famous dictum: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time". From a House of Commons speech.

The timing of this famous remark is significant. Churchill won WW-II, but in the election that followed, he was defeated. It was good that the British people realised that he was not the man to organize the peace.

Impact of Globalization

The twin engine of "globalization" and economic liberalisation supported and strengthened by the explosion, as it were, and rapid strides in the information and communication areas, have exposed all the countries, be they democracy, authoritarian, totalitarian or whatever, for all their strengths and weaknesses.

Societies and communities solely embedded in ancient culture and tradition, or those nations considered as advanced and so called modern, all of them are finding themselves in a peculiar situation. Where there was zero competition, homogeneity and enclosed markets of goods and services insulated from external forces, we are now exposed to waves of changes from the way we eat, dress, spend our leisure and live to the extent how we relate to each other in the face of new values.

The competition is a "given" phenomenon today, and we need to understand and grow to handle ourselves in a culture of competition in a positive way toward achieving progress all around. For this to happen our children have to be taught of self-worth.

When one's self-worth includes respect for one's parents, family and members of the society, and respect for one's culture, and when there is an enlightened leadership in the family, local community, society, and country at large, then there will be a fertile ground to grow human values and the "competition" becomes cooperation, collaboration and common endeavour to achieve common good in a win-win environment.

However, when the meaning of self-worth becomes accumulation of more money, material wealth and other forms of possessions, the competition leads to conflict with all its downside effects in the form of lack of respect, lack of tolerance, lack of accommodation and finally end up in total destruction of all values, including the human race as such.

For individual self-worth and democracy (freedom of space and choice) to survive as mutually supportive twins of peace and prosperity, there should develop a culture of "giving", culture of caring and sharing. These need not be in the areas of material possession alone, it should embrace sympathetic ear and helping hand to someone in pain; it can include words of appreciation, encouragement, empathy and so on.

Nobody grows without paying the price for growth. We grow big by caring, the act of caring. Not just individuals, but corporate groups and governments at the national, sub-national and local levels have to care and involve and inspire others in the caring programme. Make people both recipients and contributors in the cooperative growth endeavour; training of young minds by operationalizing such ideas and philosophy should become a part of the mainstream education.

Similar culture of cooperation and consideration can be encouraged to spread and grow from the micro level of self-development to the macro level of national governance.

Thanks to some of the international developmental agencies like World Bank and UN Development Programme, several studies and models have been developed and evaluations of some of these models to a certain extent have been done with many useful compendium of workable models and solutions in what we can call as democratic governance.

There are as many models and forms of democracy being adopted by as many democratic and semi-democratic countries on this world. It is imperative, however, that the fundamentals – participation in governance and some kind of equity and justice – have got to be in place in good measure to make any kind of democratic system function and capable of reaching out to the majority of the population with maximum democratic dividends with minimum leakage.

Through the Global Programme on Capacity Development for Democratic Governance Assessments and Measurements, UNDP seeks to assist developing countries produce disaggregated and non-ranking governance indicators to enable national stakeholders to better monitor performance in democratic governance reforms. The aim of the Programme, co-ordinated by the Oslo Governance Centre, is to develop the capacities of government, the national statistics office and civil society in the collection, maintenance and analysis of governance related data and to assist the development of an inclusive and consultative framework for the systematic assessment and monitoring of democratic governance goals and targets expressed in national development plans. The Global Programme from 2008 to 2011 is a continuation of the work that formed part of the Governance Indicators Project from 2004 to 2007.

What is PDG?

The Partnership for Democratic Governance (PDG) is a multilateral group of like-minded countries and organisations whose goal is to assist states in post-conflict and fragile situations to build their governance capacity and improve service delivery to their citizens.

A hub for knowledge and a clearing house for best practices, the PDG assists developing countries to get a "governance kick start" in key sectors where the provision of interim international and regional personnel makes good sense. These sectors can include procurement, customs, immigration, justice, audit, taxation and public financial management.

The PDG builds upon and supports ongoing work at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and elsewhere on fragile states, aid effectiveness and state-building. In order to assist in carrying out these functions, an Advisory Unit has been established within the OECD.

Some of the characteristics of the PDG Operating Model are:

  • A unique combination of members' work on South-South and triangular co-operation, the OECD's expertise in knowledge-based products and UNDP's hands-on, country-level experience;
  • A demand-driven initiative that responds to specific developing country requests and is consistent with the OECD Development Assistance Committee's (DAC) good practice on aid effectiveness, governance, capacity development and state-building;
  • A flexible and incremental approach that gives priority to requests for assistance with easily transferable technical skills, where the results of such assistance can be achieved with interim qualified personnel and monitored by civil society; and
  • Increasing developing countries' ownership in setting priorities, terms of contracts, exit strategies and accountability mechanisms. At the same time, project funding and personal risks are shared among a range of partners.

Those involved in the local self-governance, self-help groups, etc. and interested in learning more on such developmental models may get in touch with the Oslo Governance Centre in the following address or through the Internet.

United Nations Development Programme
UNDP Oslo Governance Centre
Borgatta 2B
N-0650 Oslo, Norway

The other side of Democracy

As I look around, the situation in some of the new democracies is not encouraging. It reminds me of the US Ambassador George Keenan's metaphor of contrasting democracy with dinosaur. In his memoirs he writes:

"But I sometimes wonder whether in this respect a democracy is not uncomfortably similar to one of those prehistoric monsters with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin: he lies there in his comfortable primeval mud and pays little attention to his environment; he is slow to wrath – in fact, you practically have to whack his tail off to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed; but, once he grasps this, he lays about him with such a blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat as well."

The lessons from the Indian democracy of 60+ years are only too obvious to ignore. Though the system appears to have all essential ingredients like people's mandate, governance by people's elected representatives, separation of powers between legislative, executive and judiciary, they all in reality remain fudged, mortgaged and truncated for the sake of those who are "lucky" (read: engineered) to occupy the seat(s) of power.

When it comes to transparency and accountability, lesser said the better. There are big open gaps between principle and practice, and there is a big room for improvement, but camouflaged to appear as open as the "Right to Information Act" can guarantee! There are systems within systems each trying to undermine the integrity, authority and accountability of the other.

For example, there are over hundred different government-sponsored schemes with a total annual budget running into many billions of dollars to help rural poor and marginalised groups in areas of agriculture, irrigation, education and health care. Yet, try and visit any of the disadvantaged rural areas in the north, middle or east of the country.

Reaching there would be the first problem because of the absence of proper roads and connectivity. The government itself admits that probably only about 10-15%  of funds allocated for rural development and empowerment of rural population actually reach them for any effect. The recent UNDP study in association with the Oxford University says that there are more people living in eight Indian states below poverty line (meaning their per capita earning is just USD 2 or less per day) than the population of 26 sub-Saharan countries together.

There is a big political gap between authority some of those in power enjoy and the responsibility for delivery of services. The sacredness of separation of powers is almost disappearing with most of the "executive" (bureaucracy and law enforcement arms) getting politicised, and  even the judiciary already getting tempted to enjoy its slice of sleaze and pelf with near total immunity.

United Nations of Today – Wrong Model?

Also, there is an organisation founded more than 60 years ago and called "government of governments", that is the United Nations, to perform as a model of good governance for all the member states by practising all the good principles of democratic system of functioning. Alas! What has happened and has been happening seems opposite. See what the USG Inga-Britt Ahlenius of Sweden had to say a few days ago before completing her assignment as the head of the Internal Oversight services. She starts as:

"I am grateful and honoured for the opportunity to serve the United Nations".

And she concludes:

"…I am concerned that we are in a process of decline and reduced relevance of the Organisation. In short – we seem to be seen less and less as a relevant partner in the resolution of world problems….. This is as sad as it is serious".

Who is accountable for this mess? Can Mr. Ban Ki-Moon and his coterie escape their responsibility?

Hope of Democracy

Yet, yet, the hope of success of democracy in India, and elsewhere too, should be brighter than before, thanks to globalization and media and all other forms of communication explosion.

There has been a welcome growth in the prosperity level of millions of people who in turn demand better health care, educational system and rational environment management. Responsible media and communication tools lay bare the absence of strategic guidance and leadership at various levels, and make those responsible accountable for failures. Legislative support actions in the form of Right to Information and Right to Education, however weak and tweaked as they appear now, are bound to enhance the public awareness in the citizens' roles, responsibilities and rights. As the genuine democracy spreads there will be more congruity between responsibility and authority, never mind the models of governance, be it the socialistic-capitalism, capitalistic-socialism or any other mixture. The key to the success of the 21st century lies just not on the models, but the way we humans are able to manage this planet in a caring and sharing spirit, and to narrow the gaps between the haves and have-nots and finally determined to eliminate inequities in all forms.

My prognosis for this fast-food world would be that by 2020 we will have the answer!

A couch potato watching the world go by, or a self-disciplined and self-developed body of systems, capable of ensuring human growth and progress as much evolutionary as they remain all inclusive.

V. Muthuswami, Chennai
UN Retiree Activist Group striving for justice in UN.

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