Political instability equals tentative governance

By Patricia Mukhim

Chief Minister Mukul Sangma is a man in a hurry and for the moment a politician with a purpose. At a high profile workshop recently, the CM harped at length on ‘deficiency’ in governance which he said resulted in waste of public money. Dr Sangma was probably hinting at all the projects in the state that are hanging fire of which the Shillong by-pass remains a national model of poor delivery, absence of interest, connivance at different levels (to hike up land prices by changing alignments), no political will from successive chief ministers and their lack of moral courage to hold anyone accountable. How can you hold anyone accountable if you are yourself a merchant of avarice? Meghalaya is a victim of political instability. So the bureaucrats have never been sure what to do and who to please.

Dr Mukul Sangma seems keen about visibility of development programmes. One had heard him talking of this at several platforms. His contention is that people should see what Government is doing and then only will they believe that something is indeed being ‘done’. Sangma believes that giving hope is important. But hope in what and in whom? Are our politicians worthy of hope? Is the bureaucracy in Meghalaya in tune with people’s needs and their aspirations? Is there a convergence of ideas between the political class and the bureaucracy? Because if the two do not see eye to eye then the latter is quite capable of upstaging the former even while they pretend to be in sync with their political masters.

This is a post global world. It is a world where the market plays an important role. Our governments have learnt some World Bank jargons and repeat them without internalising what the terms imply. Public-Private-Partnership (PPP), empowerment, gender equity and other such terms have wider meaning. Each requires intensive training for implementers. A bureaucrat who had held on to power for so long cannot suddenly turn around and devolve decision making powers to the people. But that is exactly what governance is. It means a participatory, transparent and accountable system that is effective and equitable and promotes the rule of law. Governance happens when people take charge of those programmes and policies that government claims will change their lives. Public-private-partnership means that public institutions team up with private partners to deliver faster and more efficient services. PPP does not mean control by a public institution. It is equal stake-holdership in a project whose objective is to benefit the people. Period.

The less we talk about gender the better. There is no understanding of that term in Meghalaya nor is there a desire to do so. Those in the higher echelons of government as well as other institutions of governance believe that women already own more than half the world here and therefore any further attempt to empower then will dislodge all male opportunists. Hence it is women who have to work at creating space for themselves. They have to push, pull, rave, rant and break the rules of society and the stereotypes and get out there. They have to seize the moment. No one readily empowers anyone. Each person can only empower herself. We have to work at empowering policies and that’s where we have to constantly engage with governments. Its hard work all the way because we have to dismantle all the traditionalists and conventional thinking. The world today survives not on one-dimensional thinking. It is driven by multi-dimensional ideas. Those who live in the past will not survive the challenges of the present.

Coming back to the bureaucracy, is this babudom tuned to 21st century delivery mechanisms. Every system in government or outside is expected to work with the precision of a management expert but with the heart of a development worker. Bureaucrats manage resources which are allocated to their departments. How those resources are deployed requires exceptional skills since it involves human beings. Are those for whom the schemes are engineered, aware of the programmes? Are they active stakeholders/partners or passive recipients of dole? So far it has been the latter model that has operated in Meghalaya. To follow the real development model means hard work. It means capacitating people so they know how to implement the scheme, how to audit it, how to ensure that people who keep the accounts are accountable and how to check misuse of funds and prevent leakage.

Practically speaking, every department should necessarily allocate funds for continued training and mentoring of communities. This is one part of the problem. Today we have so many schemes/ programmes each of which requires that people fit into them. If planning was bottom-up these problems would not have arisen. Suppose people participated in planning their own development model, according to the availability of resources and according to their wisdom, development might have looked a bit different today.

Let me come now to the word development – a word that can have as many meanings as there are economists and political shades. Most tend to equate development with economic growth. The UNDP has a more detailed definition. It says development means to lead long and healthy lives, (health), to be knowledgeable, (education) to have access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living (livelihoods) and to be able to participate in the life of the community ( participatory governance). In the case of the North East the rule of law is also an important component of development. Every aspect of development is linked to the human person. Everything else is economic mumbo-jumbo. Development, therefore, is empowerment; it is about people taking control of their own lives, expressing their own demands and finding their own solutions to their problems. Governments merely have to listen and facilitate.

To me it appears that our governance system and the governments we elect do not believe in the same goals above – Health, Education, Livelihoods/Employment, Participatory Governance, and Human Security. The democracy we practice leverages from ignorance, poverty and by keeping people perpetually dependent. As a result people have become dependent nincompoops who come to their elected representatives for everything from school fees to hospital bills. But who made them so dependent? Who took away their self respect from them? Who pays them money during elections? Who has neglected their health care systems so that they have to run to the city for big and small ailments? Can politicians honestly answer the above questions? So why do they blame their constituents today?

For over 60 years governments both at the centre and states thought they knew best what’s good for people. They planned for them, implemented without them and had dismal results. We achieve development when we can free people from obstacles that affect their ability to develop their own lives and that of their community. The obstacles are lack of access to health and education, lack of access to resources that enable people to find livelihood options, no platform for participation in their own governance and an overall sense of insecurity because of all that they lack. The poor are mortally afraid of getting sick because health care is terribly expensive. Think of a poor person suffering from cancer or a heart ailment. Where will she go for treatment for goodness sakes? Can she afford to go out of the state? In such cases people die more of worry than of the disease.

So how do we change the rules of the game? Toki Blah has already spoken of electoral reforms as one step forward. We need to change the rules of the electoral process – make delivery of services – not money paid during election as the game changer. Paul Lyngdoh spoke of businessman entering politics. That’s already happened in Meghalaya big time. Only people can reverse that trend. But if people are willing to sell their souls for the Gandhi notes during elections then Meghalaya is headed for worse times. So who will be the reformer here? Is there an Aruna Roy or a Bunker Roy who would give up their comfort zones to work with people? Let’s take a head count because change ‘ain’t gonna come easy.’

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