Freedom from Fear. Governing Better

UN Chronicle, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Freedom from Fear. Governing Better


"Certain practices clearly do not constitute good governance on any definition. If a succession of military dictators in a resource-rich country in a poor part of the world siphon off as much as $27 billion of the public's money, economic performance and the poor are likely to suffer. Those responsible for such abuses, and the international banks that eagerly transfer their funds to safe havens, must be held accountable. Other forms of institutionalized corruption are far less extreme but may, nevertheless, limit economic growth and result in low levels of support for the poor.

IN THE MINDS OF SOME, "governance" when applied to the international realm still conjures up images of world government, of centralized bureaucratic behemoths trampling on the rights of people and states. Nothing is less desirable.

WEAK STATES are one of the main impediments to effective governance today, at national and international levels alike. Notwithstanding the institutional turmoil that is often associated with globalization, there is no other entity in sight that competes with or can substitute for the state.

YET NO LEGAL PRINCIPLE--not even sovereignty--can ever be invoked to excuse crimes against humanity. And where such crimes occur and peaceful attempts to halt them have been exhausted, the international community has a moral duty to act. The fact that we cannot protect people everywhere is no reason for doing nothing when we can.

ARMED INTERVENTION must always remain the option of last resort, but in the face of mass murder it is an option that cannot be relinquished. Nothing is more inimical to pro-growth, anti-poverty objectives than armed conflict.

COUNTRIES THAT HAVE ACHIEVED higher growth are those that have successfully integrated into the global economy and attracted foreign investment. But, as the economic benefits of education and skills increase, so does income inequality between those people who have them and those who do not. This is true both within and among countries.

POOR COUNTRIES, especially those with significant inequality between ethnic and religious communities, are far more likely to be embroiled in conflicts than rich ones. Most such conflicts are internal; they almost invariably create problems for neighbours or generate a need for humanitarian assistance.

POOR COUNTRIES often lack the capacity and resources to implement environmentally-sound policies. This undermines the sustainability of their people's meager existence, and makes the effects of their poverty even worse.

IT IS NOW WIDELY ACCEPTED that economic success depends on the quality of governance a country enjoys. Good governance comprises the rule of law, effective state institutions, transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs, respect for human rights, and the participation of all citizens in the decisions that affect their lives.

A FAIR AND TRANSPARENT public expenditure and taxation system is a key ingredient. Revenues must be used wisely to make sound investments in physical and social infrastructure for all. Excessive regulation, by contrast, impedes economic performance and slows growth.

What We The Peoples Can Do

Help strengthen the capacity of states to govern, not undermine them further.

Recognize the very notion of centralizing hierarchies is itself an anachronism in our fluid, highly dynamic and extensively networked world-an outmoded remnant of nineteenth century mindsets. …

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