Saturday, May 21, 2016

Good Governance & Public Policy

What is Public Policy ? Public policy focuses on the processes by which various types of policies and regulations that affect members of the public are created and enforced. Public Policy deals with public goods delivery – political economy, taxation, law and order, good social and physical infrastructure, including better education and health facilities – and facilitate provision of private goods (cheaper power, flexible labour laws and other subsidies). The guiding principles for better public policy include building people’s ownership and participation in the governance and decisions affecting their lives. Regulation, Redistribution and Equity came to the forefront of policymaking.

Resources be it human, natural or financial are limited in a country and a government must utilize them in the most productive manner can achieve the best possible growth. That is the essence of good governance. The first and foremost requirement of good governance is broadly distributed political rights among citizens and the government accountability and and transparency in public administration. An ideal public service institutions will be decentralized, professional and autonomous management structures.

The theoretical framework however doesn't work smoothly in the real world. Governments in many developing & underdeveloped countries are corrupt and never work in favor of the people. They work for the interests of specific groups. It would be naive to think that governments work for the public all the time. Economics works alongside and interacts with social and political forces framing the policy. Politically motivated decisions, the undisclosed profiteering, the conflicts of interest, the vested interests, & the bad experiments with good intentions can lead to the flawed policy making process. So how the end objective is achieved ?

Policy makers must be open-minded and open-armed to combat such conflicting interests arising due to potentially corrupt motivation. They must have sound knowledge of the local context of a community – its history, politics, social structure, and culture, along with its economics. More the diverse the stakeholders in policy making, the probe in the issue will examine ground realities, re-validate assumptions on which our policies rest, and evaluating  new initiatives. The real impact of policy decisions are measured by three factors:

* Number of beneficiaries covered under the policy
* Number of beneficiaries who experience a positive change with the implementation
* Participation of the people and innovation springing from the outcomes.

Public opinion is varied and contested space, continually shaped and reshaped over time. Popular opinion in India generally overlook corrupt vested interests or don't want to go for long term reform. Hence, Indian state has always insulated public policy from open debate. The bureaucracy in India has never let the control of policy shifts to an autonomous institutions and public has suffered the ill results of lack of knowledge among civil servants. Bureaucracy seldom promotes creativity and, under the cover of neutrality, preserves the advantages of the powerful by dominating the weak. In the government systems, professionals are always crowded out by the imprisoning logic of bureaucracy. As described aptly by Prof Ajay Shah: In the West, leaders choose the direction of public policy. Government is like a car, which goes where the leader directs. But in India, the car is broken, and just turning the steering wheel is ineffective. To do public policy in India, the skill required is that of an engineer and not the driver. It is about opening the hood, understanding what is wrong with the institution, and fixing it.

Each policy must face several test: Are the policies realistic? How will they be implemented? What results will they produce in the long run? Were there more reasonable, less risky, cost effective, user friendly, & more inclusive policy measures that would have yielded as much benefit as the rolled out one ? There is no ultimate policy measure but always a solutions-oriented approach means more innovative outreach and trade-offs in a wiser way. I will be putting more on the non academic and self learned diagnosis of public policy in coming days. Watch this space and hear buzz words like committees, accountability, check and balances, transparency. Have I lost you yet? I will.

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This Blog is meant purely as a personal diary of a rural manager in making. It exists to record information, experiences and opinions about various issues encountered in the line of duty. Any person, institution and organization mentioned here doesn't assume any liability for its contents. This is not a deliberate attempt to defame anyone. And if you have actually read all that is written in the blog and aren't mad at me, then thanks for your time and patience !
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