CUSTODIANS OF GOVERNMENT SECRETS OR CUSTODIANS OF
THE PEOPLE’S MANDATE ?
Democracy at its simplest means people having an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. It is government of the people, by the people for the people. Chambers dictionary defines democracy as the form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people collectively, and is administered by them or by officers appointed by them, the common people; a state of society characterized by the recognition of equality of rights and privileges for all people, political, social or legal equality.
Government can be defined as a collective body of elected and appointed institutions empowered to legislate and adjudicate for the good of society, while governance is conceptualized as the processes and systems by which a government manages the resources of a society to address socio-economic and political challenges in the polity. Thus, a government is elected or appointed to provide good, effective and efficient governance. According to Daniel Kaufmann, governance embodies “the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised for the common good.”A good governance system is defined by its relationship to some key prerequisites, including Accountability, Transparency, Participation, and Predictability.
►Accountability: In a democracy, elected and appointed government officials, from the president down to the office messenger in a local government council, must be accountable for their actions and policies. They must provide answers for their activities to the general population. It is imperative that the population demands this from all government officials at all levels of the political system. They must demand regular meetings with their respective elected officials at the constituency level.
►Transparency: Simply put, transparency is the easy and unrestricted access of government information by the population. The general public must have access to information on government policies and programmes. It is vital that ministers and bureaucrats ensure the unedited dissemination of such information as demanded by the general public, excluding information pertaining to a nation’s security.
► Participation: This is a very important component of the elements of governance. It is imperative that citizens participate at all levels of their government’s decision making process. Their participation does not end with merely casting their votes on Election Day. They must insist and ensure that their votes are counted. For effective participation in public policy, it is essential for citizens to organize themselves into credible interest groups (professional associations, academic unions, students’ unions, labour unions, non-governmental organizations, etc) that constantly review government policies, articulate the positions of the general population, and engage elected officials in public debates regarding the rationale and impact of their policies and programmes on the population.
► Predictability: A democratic polity is governed by laws and regulations anchored on the Constitution of the country. Therefore, it is imperative that the application of these be fair and consistent, and thus predictable, within the boundaries of the Constitution. Any arbitrary application of the laws and regulations would vitiate the Constitution and inhibit good governance.
The above elements presuppose an educated, politically conscious, enlightened and an actively proactive population. Where the population is ill equipped to engage in any of the above, it is a certainty that the rudiments of good governance will readily be compromised by the government of the day. This situation buttresses the view that a society gets the government that it deserves.
In a political system, particularly in a multi party democratic system, political parties are established to articulate contending interests of the population. In his celebrated book entitled Politics: Who Gets What, When, How, published in 1936, Harold Lasswell opined that politics is a process engaged by elected officials to determine “who gets what, when, where, and how.” This formulation subsequently influenced the widely held notion of politics in the West as a contest for power for the distribution of resources in the polity. Thus, politics is a process of resolving societal conflicts that arise when determining who gets what, when and how.
Effective policy formulation requires a solid policy making environment. The process and quality of policy formulation and implementation are critical elements in determining the level of engagement of the population and measuring the quality of governance of the society. The environment for policy formulation must be democratic and in a matured democratic environment where the above identified elements of governance are at play. By a matured democratic environment is meant one where citizens are actively engaged in the political process, and where elected officials are responsive to the elements of governance. Policy formulation in such an environment elicits the active participation of various citizen’s groups, professional organizations, etc., at every stage of policy debate in the country’s parliament.
Democratic systems are particularly responsive because development priorities are identified by decision-makers who both have intimate knowledge of local affairs and are engaged in open-minded, two-way communication with their electorate. Knowledge about local affairs is seen as a prerequisite for responsive policies. Governments allocate scarce resources to programs and services through the budget process. As a result, it is one of the most important activities undertaken by governments. As the focal point for key resource decisions, the budget process is a powerful tool. The quality of decisions resulting from the budget process and the level of their acceptance depends on the characteristics of the budget process that is used. A budget process that is well-integrated with other activities of government, such as the planning and management functions, will provide better financial and program decisions and lead to improved governmental operations. A process that effectively involves all stakeholders----elected officials, governmental administrators, employees and their representatives, citizen groups, and business leaders----and reflects their needs and priorities will serve as a positive force in maintaining good public relations and enhancing citizens’ and other stakeholders’ overall impression of government.
A good budget process is far more than the preparation of a legal document that appropriates funds for a series of line items. Good budgeting is a broadly defined process that has political, managerial, planning, communication, and financial dimensions. A good budget process is characterized by several essential features. A good budget process:
· Incorporates a long-term perspective, · Establishes linkages to broad organizational goals, · Focuses budget decisions on results and outcomes,
· Involves and promotes effective communication with stakeholders, and · Provide incentives to government, management and employees.
A company is not likely to remain in business if it does not stay in touch with its customers. While governments that are not in touch and do not have involved citizens may remain in business, the results are often not pleasant for the citizens or the government. Apathy is a serious illness of government. It is in the best interests of government to have involved ‘‘stakeholders.’’ The term ‘‘stakeholder’’ refers to anyone affected by or has a stake in government. This term includes, but is not limited to: citizens, customers, elected officials, management, employees and their representatives (whether unions or other agents), businesses, other governments, and the media. It is vital that the budget process include all stakeholders. The budget process should accomplish the following:
· Involve stakeholders, · Identify stakeholder issues and concerns, · Obtain stakeholder support for the overall budgeting process, · Achieve stakeholder acceptance of decisions related to goals, services, and resource utilization,
· Report to stakeholders on services and resource utilization, and serve generally to enhance the stakeholders’ view of government.
Regular and frequent reporting is necessary to provide accountability, educate and inform stakeholders, and improve their confidence in the government. Communication and involvement is an essential component of every aspect of the budget process.
A government should develop mechanisms to identify stakeholder concerns, needs, and priorities. The limited resources of a government should be directed in a manner consistent with the concerns, needs, and priorities of stakeholders; hence, a government must be aware of those concerns, needs, and priorities. This practice provides for a series of mechanisms like public hearings, surveys, meetings of leading citizens and citizen interest groups, government strategic planning processes to promote stakeholder participation in discussing and communicating values and issues that are of concern to them. Interaction with stakeholders is encouraged as a means to identify their needs, concerns, and priorities and to inform them about issues affecting the government, including available resources. This practice also is related to practices that assess stakeholder satisfaction with programs and services and progress toward achieving goals. A government should prepare and present a recommended comprehensive program and financial plan (the ‘‘budget’’) for review by stakeholders and consideration for adoption by the governing body.
When a government is accountable, it means that it is answerable to its citizens and is therefore also responding to their needs. In most countries, the legislature is constitutionally mandated as the institution through which governments are held to account to the electorate. In doing so, the legislature can use several means, including the questioning of senior government officials including ministers/commissioners, the review and confirmation of executive appointments, impeachment and/or the power to dismiss the government, question period, the establishment of parliamentary committees and the formation of commissions of inquiry. The accountability mechanisms available to any one legislature depends upon the constitutional provisions regarding the specific powers of the legislature, the institutional arrangements between the different branches of government and the division of authority between national, regional and local government. Legislative oversight is nowhere more important than over the budget. The role of the legislature in most countries is to scrutinize and authorize revenues and expenditures, and to ensure that the budget is properly implemented.%