Sunday, August 19, 2018 | ePaper

Democratic governance : Accountability and transparency

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Dr. Md. Shairul Mashreque :
James March and Johan Olsen  turn out to  provoke  conceptualization  of democratic governance in  their seminal essay on "The New Institutionalism" in The American Political Science Review in 1984 and continued in "Rediscovering Institutions", March and Olsen challenge key aspects of standard contemporary thinking. While conventional thought is based primarily on the premises of individualism and self-interest, the authors argue that exchange theories of democracy are incomplete, reflecting only a partial view of history and human action. Going beyond democratic theory, March and Olsen draw on social science to examine how political institutions create and sustain democratic solidarity, identities, capabilities, accounts, and adaptiveness; how they can maintain and elaborate democratic values and beliefs - and how governance might be made honorable, just, and effective. They show how democratic governance is both proactive and reactive - creating interests and power as well as responding to them - and how it shapes not only an understanding of the past and an ability to learn from it, but even history itself. By exploring how governance transcends the creation of coalitions that reflect existing preferences, resources, rights, and rules, the authors reveal how it includes the actual formation of these defining principles of social and political life. Which institutions serve democracy best? March and Olsen do not offer neat answers. Instead, while recognizing the complications involved in fulfilling democratic ideals, they ask how individuals and societies can achieve institutions that can make politics civil, accountable, capable, and transformative. In what is likely to be received as a seminal work, March and Olsen have established a comprehensive framework for discussion and debate that will continue to be read in management, political science, education, psychology, and sociology into the 21st century.'
Democratic governance  bothers much about accountability and transparency. In fact it  thinks what is  good and bad about government and the performance of government on the overall society. Even for effective implementation of public policy on each substantive area the government of the day cannot ignore accountability and transparency.   
The elements of popular  democratic government were advocated by the political thinkers.
 "A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy  or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives." (James Madison, Letter to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822)
"The concentration of power and the subjection of individuals will increase amongst democratic nations . . . in the same proportion as their ignorance." (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 2, 1840)
Democratic governance is based on popular support and control. Democracy  proclaims that  popular governance  is there in public control over administration. According to Wikipedia
Democracy (Greek: ?????????? d?mokratía, literally "rule of the people"), in modern usage, is a system of government in which the citizens exercise power directly or elect representatives from among themselves to form a governing body, such as a Parliament. Democracy is sometimes referred to as "rule of the majority". Democracy is a system of processing conflicts in which outcomes depend on what participants do, but no single force controls what occurs and its outcomes.
The uncertainty of outcomes is inherent in democracy, which makes all forces struggle repeatedly for the realization of their interests, being the devolution of power from a group of people to a set of rules. Western democracy, as distinct from that which existed in pre-modern societies, is generally considered to have originated in city states such as Classical Athens and the Roman Republic, where various schemes and degrees of enfranchisement of the free male population were observed before the form disappeared in the West at the beginning of late antiquity. The English word dates to the 16th century, from the older Middle French and Middle Latin equivalents.
According to political scientist Larry Diamond, democracy consists of four key elements: a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; protection of the human rights of all citizens; a rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.
The term appeared in the 5th century BC, to denote the political systems then existing in Greek city-states, notably Athens, to mean "rule of the people", in contrast to aristocracy (????????????, aristokratía), meaning "rule of an elite". While theoretically these definitions are in opposition, in practice the distinction has been blurred historically. The political system of Classical Athens, for example, granted democratic citizenship to free men and excluded slaves and women from political participation. In virtually all democratic governments throughout ancient and modern history, democratic citizenship consisted of an elite class until full enfranchisement was won for all adult citizens in most modern democracies through the suffrage movements of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Democracy contrasts with forms of government where power is either held by an individual, as in an absolute monarchy, or where power is held by a small number of individuals, as in an oligarchy. Nevertheless, these oppositions, inherited from Greek philosophy, are now ambiguous because contemporary governments have mixed democratic, oligarchic, and monarchic elements. Karl Popper defined democracy in contrast to dictatorship or tyranny, thus focusing on opportunities for the people to control their leaders and to oust them without the need for a revolution.
Public policy becomes public. We mean popular control over governance --  if popular democracy becomes all pervasive. To cite Paul Cairney(2003):
Imagine two very different starting points to consider democracy. One is to say that politics is 'broken' and that we need to rediscover popular democracy. The other is to say that almost all decisions are made,necessarily, by a very small number of people out of the public spotlight - and that no political reform will change this fact. How might we bring those two points closer together? We should start with Schattschneider's The Semi-Sovereign People: A Realist's View of Democracy (in America - first published 1960; I am using the 1975 version).Schattschneider's argument is timeless because he describes (a) a widespread belief in the power of democracy but (b) a disdain for unrealistic expectations about the power of 'the people' and (c) a belief that the more realistic vehicle for democracy - government - contains undemocratic elements.  So, he provides a series of warnings against the assumption that there is a simple way to encourage popular democracy:The beginning of wisdom in democratic theory is to distinguish between the things the people can do and the things the people cannot do. The worst possible disservice that can be done to the democratic cause is to attribute to the people a mystical, magical omnipotence which takes no cognizance of what very large numbers of people cannot do by the sheer weight of numbers. At this point the common definition of democracy has invited us to make fools of ourselves. What 180 million people can do spontaneously, on their own initiative, is not much more than a locomotive can do without rails (1975: 136)For Schattschneider, the key argument is that a political system can be run well if most decisions are made by the government on behalf of the people, with minimal public involvement, and the very small number of important decisions is made with maximal public involvement. So far, so good (if we ignore the very-problematic idea that 'the people' is a real thing and that we can agree on what the most important problems are). The problem is that the political system does not ensure that these issues are the ones most likely to be discussed. On the contrary - a key source of power is to make sure that people pay attention to innocuous issues at the expense of the more important ones. Schattschneider (1975: 2-5) creates a thought experiment to demonstrate that, in any conflict, the audience could be more important than the original participants. The people matter when they pay attention and become mobilized. Think of two fighters surrounded by a massive crowd - its composition, bias towards each fighter and willingness to engage are crucial. The outcome of conflict is determined by the extent to which the audience becomes involved. However, there are far more potential conflicts than any public can pay attention to. Therefore, most are ignored and the people are 'semi-sovereign' - only able to exercise their power in a few areas. This is important because there are systematic imbalances in social systems that may require systematic attention. For example, the pressure group system is not pluralistic; a small proportion of the population - the well-educated and upper class - is active and well represented by groups (1975: 34-5). The pressure system is largely the preserve of the business class seeking to minimize attention to their activities (1975: 30-7). Therefore, Schattschneider (1975: 12; 119) highlights the need for government to intervene:
Democratic government is the greatest single instrument for the socialization of conflict … big business has to be matched by … big democracy.
Yet, of course, the same argument applies - elected officials within the government can only pay attention to a small number of issues; they have to promote a few to the top of their agenda and ignore the rest.  This is where one kind of power becomes important - it is exercised to determine the issues most worthy of government attention. The structures of government, such as legislative procedures controlling debate, reinforce this process by determining which conflicts receive attention and which are ignored:
All forms of political organization have a bias in favour of the exploitation of some kinds of conflict and the suppression of others because organization is the mobilization of bias. Some issues are organized into politics while others are organized out (1975: 69).
While we may have some vague hope that key decisions receive the most attention, we should not expect it to happen naturally. Rather, groups may exercise power to make sure that important issues do not receive attention. Politics is not only about winners and losers, but also a battle in which the winner seeks to isolate its opponent (by keeping the dispute between them and not a wider audience) and the loser seeks to expand the scope of the conflict by encouraging a part of the audience to become involved. Most political behaviour involves this competition to 'socialize' or 'privatize' conflict. The most common example may involve keeping an issue off the government agenda by encouraging policymaker attention to relatively 'safe' issues - more attention to these issues means less attention to, say, the imbalances of power within society. Another example is when groups exercise power to reinforce public attitudes. If the weight of public opinion is against government action, maybe governments will not intervene. The classic example is poverty - if most people believe that it is caused by fecklessness, they will not ask the government to intervene.  In such cases, power and powerlessness may relate to the (in)ability of groups to persuade the public that there is a reason to make policy; a problem to be solved.
If we look at that problem, as I have described it, and conclude that politics is 'broken' we should also accept that it cannot be fixed. Or, to put it more positively, we should consider what can be done in that context rather than hoping that political reforms can be a quick fix.  Let's conclude by thinking of two issues to be addressed. First, can we use existing measures to make sure that 'the people' consider the most important issues? We may not agree on what are the most important problems to solve. Maybe the forthcoming in/out referendums in Scotland (in/ out the UK) and the UK (in/out Europe) are good examples, maybe not. Maybe we could generally agree that 'the economy' is the big one, without agreeing what we should consider (such as encouraging growth and/ or reducing inequality). Who knows?
The second issue is the one that I think is more of a conundrum: how much attention do you think that we should expect 'the people' to pay to the same issue? The thing about public policy is that it involves thousands of decisions, taken hourly or daily when new information arises. We may make one key decision, only to find that we need to make a thousand decisions to inform the substance of that big decision. Do the people just make that big one, or should we expect them to stay involved? Should we expect them to pay attention once per year? Who knows? While this may be starting to sound a bit facetious, it is a serious point that is explored very well by books such as Agendas and Instability. Baumgartner and Jones describe long periods (often several decades) of public inattention to an issue when the assumption is that (a) it received huge attention (b) the problem was 'solved' then (c) the details were left to public and private organisations. This process helps explain why the public (a) seemed to support the use of pesticides and nuclear power in the early postwar era, then (b) seemed dead against those things from the 1970s.
It's at this point in a seminar where I'd say 'oh look at the time' rather than try to produce a 'take home message' from this discussion because I honestly don't know what you'd want to take home. Then I'd point out that Jones and Baumgartner were actually optimistic about the links between public opinion and government action and ask you to work that one out.
Participation is the keynote of democratic  governance. Participation is mental and emotional involvement of persons that encourage them to contribute to group's goals and share responsibility for them. There are three important ideas in this definition-involvement, contribution and responsibility (Davis and Newstrom, 2002).
Almond and Verba (1963) have shown the democratic model of participation defining the concept as the people's involvement in decision-making process as influential citizens. They have conceptualised participation as a significant political resource. These resources are utilised for attaining political goals and motives. He suggests a new model of participation identifying it with the holding of public office as a sort of political resource. He identifiers other variables like political socialisation, institutionalisation and political recruitment.
Participation, as an attribute of social modernisation, denotes mass involvement in institution building activities, increasing consciousness of the masses for community development, information technologies, human rights and legitimate claims on available inputs and logistics. In traditional rural communities participation is narrowly spaced owing to mass ignorance about cosmopolitan values. In transitional villages participation is wide-ranging in the contest of pro-active peasant role in assuming organisational responsibility. Participatory rural goverenace  (PG) has become an acceptable doctrine to pull the backward community to prosperity.
Empowerment of the vulnerable is the hall mark of participatory development. We can safely view target group approach as frontline component of the program for the vulnerable. True this is a disadvantaged focused policy interventions. The idea is to enable the rural poor to involve in participatory development process. There has been institutional concern to activate the vast reservoir of human resources to educate the poor and to enhance their nutritional status. Such concern is a symbol of realization about the inadequacy of the resource of the poor and powerless group of rural population. It is imperative to organize the powerless into an institutional framework through target group approach.      Contd on page 26

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