Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Governance : what the hell is that?


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By Patricia Mukhim

Governance is a sexy word, somewhat like HIV-AIDS. December 1st is observed as World AIDS Day. Every radio channel, electronic media and newspaper was bombarded with the ‘have safe sex” message from celebrities which include Bollywood actors, producers and slick babes like Ekta Kapoor. Studies will reveal that there are more deaths in this country today from Tuberculosis (TB) and that multi-drug resistant TB is on the rise even in Meghalaya and the city of Shillong. But the world will not invest, as yet, on TB. It’s oh so un-sexy as a disease. It affects mostly the poor who have no voice. And who cares for them anyway? Even in this biting cold they sleep on the streets of Delhi and I suspect in the corners of Shillong as well. When they die their bodies remain unclaimed and are buried by the Civil hospital authorities.

Some words get jargonised very quickly. We all take our cue from the United Nations and NGOs are quick to cash in on these sexy jargons. If its ‘Gender’ then there will be several NGOs cashing in on the funds available under this programme head. In recent times the UN has been going hammer and tongs at eliminating Child Labour and trafficking of children. India has had to fall in line and pretend to get active as if child labour is a recent development in this country. Haven’t we had child labourers in the fireworks or the bidi industry for years? So why has child labour suddenly hit our radar? That’s because there’s plenty of funding going around. UN agencies have the habit of peeping into our backyards. And there are funding agencies flushed with funds who want to assuage their consciences by pouring money into the coffers of so-called NGOs. It’s a different matter that the UN or the funding agencies never really do any check on how the funds are used. In fact many of these international funding agencies are happy if a slick brochure is produced to first highlight the extent of the problem in our country and later to show that some intervention has been made and some intended outcomes achieved..

We in the media too are overawed by the work claimed to have been done by these NGOs that we sometimes become their mouthpieces. So if an NGO claims that there are 70 thousand or one lakh kids entering the dark coal pits, we take it like gospel because (a) we are too lazy to do a cross-check and to call the bluff of the NGO (b) we are all so caught up reporting political shenanigans that we swallow up and vomit press releases that come to our desks from the NGOs. Some of them in fact give us releases on a daily basis. (I wonder where they get their daily bread from because we their sources of income are unknown) Now that’s another very interesting thing in Meghalaya. We never question people’s known sources of income lest they think we are intrusive (lorni). So we all go with the flow. Media and NGO enjoy an incestuous and symbiotic relationship. In this age of social networking, smart NGOs uplink their profiles and their so-called ‘work’ on the internet and hey presto they get enquiries from international funding agencies asking them if they would like to carry out a research or an intervention. What an easy way to stay alive in the NGO world! And if you could do a bit of smart talk it so easy to get the Yankees or Brits eating out of your hands.

Not a single NGO till date, except perhaps the Government created ones, really care about talking TB and its pernicious effects. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is yet to declare the ‘Year of TB’ slogan. So there’s no money in Project TB. After all unlike HIV-AIDS which cuts across countries and economic groups, being as it is, a lifestyle condition spread mainly through intravenous drug use and unsafe sex, TB is at the moment very South Asia and Africa centric. TB is still a poor person’s affliction. So the poor and we with the largest number of poor people will have to tackle it ourselves or die of the disease.

But I am digressing from the topic of my article which is about governance – a little understood but much misunderstood word that is bandied around like small change in our purses. Some people blame everything that’s wrong with our day to day lives to governance or the lack of it. But if someone were to challenge and ask me what I mean by “Governance,” I would fumble for words. I would have to search out the World Bank site (on the internet) which gives me a lot of talking points about governance. In fact it is the World Bank and its list of prescriptions (structural adjustment programmes) for poor and indebted countries which first gave the word “Governance” its sex appeal. Jargons when thrown around by the articulate sound very convincing and we tend to lap them up. Now my question is whether I as a common man understand what governance implies.

To be honest I don’t really know what governance means, much less good governance. But I have heard this word thousands of times being used at international, national and local conferences/seminars. My simple understanding is that governance comes from the word govern which means to rule over or exercise control over someone. It fits in so well with our kind of situation where the government chalks out a list of schemes, comes to the villages, asks people to gear themselves to receive the schemes by forming this committee and that committee/ this group and that. There are as many committees as there are schemes. Often there are overlaps and the same people sit on three or four committees. But their participation in the schemes are still suspect because the paper work is so tedious. And we don’t really know who fills up those papers on behalf of the villagers and their committees. And who sends the utilization certificates and how much money is reflected in those!

Then we hear of the word “capacity building,” another jargon that’s overused these days. It simply means making people aware about a scheme so that they know how to respond to it. As we all know, that never really happens because “capacity building,” is not and cannot be scheme-centric. It means educating people on a host of issues. Capacity building is simply an add-on to a scheme in the same way that gender mainstreaming is an add-on and not a cross-cutting theme. The schemes invariably fail because they were never enunciated by the people themselves. Now, that is the crux of the matter. The word ‘governance’ if understood correctly means an administration that is people-centred, meaning that people have to think and know what they need most and ask for it. It means they have to be in charge, not a bureaucrat dictating terms to them. Public money means peoples’ money. They are not beneficiaries but owners of that money and therefore have to make judicious use of it and be accountable to one another through a system of checks and balances. In Meghalaya we are still a long way away from understanding governance. And those who reduce ‘governance’ to the Khasi equivalent of, “ka synshar-khadar” do greater injustice because our village oligarchies are as alienated from the people as is the bureaucracy and political system today. When the Brits said that Khasis used to sit and debate for days about certain issues, they never told us that only some select males from the village actually sat through those deliberations. The poor and the women were actually excluded. That is not ‘governance.’ Not even by a long shot. So those who talk of governance owe us an explanation as to what exactly they mean by it. Incidentally the World Bank says even NGOs have to follow a system of good governance which prima facie means transparency and accountability and last but not least “corruption free.” .

To me the word ‘govern’ is intimidating word Often govern it means to having a sort of vision and a set of steps on how to achieve that vision for taking people forwards


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