Good governance is critical for all countries around the world today. When it doesn’t exist, many governments fail to deliver public services effectively; health and education services are often substandard; corruption persists in rich and poor countries alike, choking opportunity and growth. It will be difficult to reduce extreme poverty — let alone end it — without addressing the importance of good governance.
But this is not a hopeless situation. In fact, a new wave of progress on governance suggests we may be on the threshold of a transformational era. Countries are tapping into some of the most powerful forces in the world today to improve services and transparency. These forces include the spread of information technology and its convergence with grassroots movements for transparency, accountability and citizen empowerment. In some places, this convergence is easing the path to better-performing and more accountable governments.
The Philippines is a good example of a country embracing good governance. The President Benigno Aquino has great plans to reduce poverty, create jobs, and ensure that economic growth is inclusive. He see improving governance as a fundamentally important part of their strategy. The government has opened government data and contract information so citizens can see how their tax money is spent. The Foreign Aid Transparency Hub, launched after Typhoon Yolanda, offers a real-time look at pledges made and money delivered for typhoon recovery. Geo-tagging tools monitor assistance for people affected by the typhoon.
Opening budgets to scrutiny
This type of openness is spreading. Now many countries that once withheld information are opening their data and budgets to public scrutiny.
Late last year, the World Bank Group, established the Open Budgets Portal, a repository for budget data worldwide. So far, 13 countries have posted their entire public spending datasets online — including Togo, the first fragile state to do so.
In 2011, World Bank helped Moldova become the first country in central Europe to launch an open data portal and put its expenditures online. Now the public and media can access more than 700 datasets, and are asking for more.
In Nigeria, a startup called Budgit is doing the same thing. Not many Nigerians are interested in the National Budget or other government financial document, they think its too technical, or too much to read, but BudgIT is a creative start-up driven to retell the Nigerian budget and public data in a finer detail across every literacy span with aim to stimulate citizens interests around public data and hence trigger discussions towards better governance. The Nigerian government has come to understand that giving information to the people is actually the right way to go and so they make the budgets available for BudgIT to creatively retell it.
The original epicenter of the Arab Spring, Tunisia, recently passed a new constitution and is developing the first open budget data portal in the Middle East and North Africa. Tunisia has taken steps towards citizen engagement by developing a citizens’ budget and civil society-led platforms such as Marsoum41, to support freedom of information requests, including via mobile.
Using technology to improve services
Countries also are tapping into technology to improve public and private services. Estonia is famous for building an information technology infrastructure that has permitted widespread use of electronic services — everything from filing taxes online to filling doctors’ drug prescriptions.
In La Paz, Bolivia, a citizen feedback system known as OnTrack allows residents of one of the city’s marginalized neighborhoods to send a text message on their mobile phones to provide feedback, make suggestions, or report a problem related to public services.
In Pakistan, government departments in Punjab are using smart phones to collect real-time data on the activities of government field staff — including photos and geo-tags — to help reduce absenteeism and lax performance.
Good governance = good economics
These are just a few examples of the steps countries are taking to improve services and become more transparent. Awareness is growing that good governance is good economics. This perception is backed by research suggesting a strong relationship between effective government institutions and economic growth.
Good governance is vital to ending extreme poverty. With greater transparency and accountability, citizens can enjoy more effective health and education services, and a dynamic private sector can create good jobs to allow millions of people to lift themselves out of poverty.
Clearly, many challenges remain in fighting corruption and promoting good governance.