Thursday, April 25, 2024

Convergence and Coordination Imperative for Good Governance


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By Patricia Mukhim

These days the Government of Meghalaya is in a tearing hurry to complete the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) scheme with the promise of bringing water to every doorstep, so that the Central Government can claim credit for it while campaigning for the Lok Sabha polls. Unfortunately, in a State where the Public Works Department (PWD) and the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) don’t seem to be on talking terms with each other and each one is on their separate trip, things have become very disconcerting for the poor “common man/woman” who has to bear the consequences of the ego battle between the two departments. Everywhere you go whether in Shillong city or beyond it there is massive digging work going on. The digging work by the roadside is to lay down pipes for the much- touted JJM. Now after the pipes have been laid it is expected that the PWD would ensure that the dug-out portions are once again tarmacked so that the dust does not rise when a car rides over the exposed sands and stones. The windy season is going to be here soon and we poor mortals who don’t live in VIP colonies will have to eat dust. Our homes too are coated with dust. But why would anyone care? If this is not governance failure then what is? People sitting inside the Secretariat may push any number of files but if they have lost touch with ground realities and only see the side of the road while riding from their homes to the Secretariat and back then governance goes kaput! On other occasions when travelling within the state they drive so fast that they don’t see the scars of bad governance under their vehicles. Besides, they are too busy to pay attention to bad roads. Their vehicles too are very well cushioned to deal with the potholes.
Lack of coordination between Departments looking at public services such as the PHED and PWD results in unnecessary expenditure. I know of several localities where the road has just been repaired and before we know it the PHED has cut right through it to lay down pipes. Could there not have been a sharing of plans so that one Department digs and the other one immediately seals up the dug portion because if that is delayed the road deteriorates further and can cause harm to vehicles and topple down two-wheelers since a dip in the middle of the road, especially at night when it’s dark and there are no streetlights around, can be dangerous. The Government of Meghalaya is fortunate that no one has till date filed a case for accidents and broken bones caused by bad roads. We are a happy go lucky people waiting for the next festival and the next one and we believe everything is alright with the world around us. So why bother?
This attitude of nonchalance about poor delivery from the Government (in other words poor governance) and our collective unwillingness to hold it accountable is what has brought us to where we are today. We have become a people that can be bought during elections and the politicians know this so well that they don’t really care whether the governance system is broken and rotten to the core. The role of political parties is to hold their ministers accountable and ensure that their work results in clear outcomes. But here we find that the only thing that engages political parties is ‘politics.’ They can only spout politics and shamelessly condemn other parties even while they are comfortably ensconced with each other in the government. This must be a Meghalaya speciality. Before elections the coalition partners go hammer and tongs at each other and when the votes are counted and everything is done and dusted they are back in each other’s arms. How often have we been fooled by this seasonal bonhomie and seasonal quarrels. But have we learnt to call the bluff of all these political parties and politicians? No, we are where we were 50 years ago and have only gotten worse with time.
This year the State will turn 52 years old. There will be the usual celebrations. The few privileged who have been included in government schemes as Self Help Groups, entrepreneurs funded by Government and others who have received government patronage will sing hallelujah to the MDA Government. Others will have to crawl back into their hell-holes where even the basic necessities of life are hard to come by. These are the same people who will vote for a person for a mere Rs 2000. Their lives in the hell-hole are dark and dreary. They have children they cannot afford to educate. They earn barely enough from tilling the fields and if they fall sick they are as good as dead for the health system, despite many tall claims, is far from being responsive. Anyone with a serious accident and is taken to the Shillong Civil Hospital will be hugely disappointed because they will be told to take the patient to a private health care centre. I speak this from lived experiences and am not just spilling out words to fill the pages of this newspaper.
Governance is a critical factor for any government provided it pays attention to that word. Good governance is ensuring that the delivery mechanisms at every level are working to their optimum for governance is a system that works through officials at different levels. Any disruption at any level is enough to create chaos. We may have appropriate governance structures but if the overall application of good governance principles are missing we will still fail to deliver. One is not sure if the Government of Meghalaya actually follows the policies it enunciates and has a road map for implementing those policies. Successful policy implementation requires a leadership that possesses a clear vision of the desired outcomes and how to arrive there. May I ask what is the vision of the leader of the State for us the people?
Policies are to be coherent and understandable by the last person in the village. Above all, coordination within the government is important for development in general. Hence the PWD-PHED coordination is critical. If I may suggest, the Minister for PWD and PHED should, in all fairness, be the same person. Both departments are allocated more resources than others. If one Minister is to hold charge of both departments it would be easier to coordinate and for the system to hold the person accountable. In Meghalaya, people/communities have never been taken on board as stakeholders of development. People feel they are not part of the government but apart from it. Hence they look on and won’t even intervene when they know something is wrong. By engaging communities the Government decentralizes and gives some role to the communities too so that they are stakeholders of their roads; their water supply system, their garbage management system etc. Of course engaging the communities means that governance must be transparent.
Good governance requires accountability, which necessitates effective monitoring and evaluation. The Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (supreme audit institution) has been an important factor in tracking progress and ensuring efficient use of resources across all levels of government. Anomalies and gaps in implementation and reckless spending are called out year after year. It’s a different matter that the Government takes those with a pinch of salt. Unfortunately, even MLAs in the Opposition hardly read the annual CAG reports; much less the citizens. So how do we expect to keep the Government on track? Monitoring and evaluation by other public institutions such as the RTI and LokAyukta should have helped but they seem to have defeated the very purpose of their existence.
Looks like God has abandoned this State!


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