Good governance is the cornerstone of good government, and therefore all the more important as our economies and societies look for ways to build more sustainable and inclusive growth in the wake of the economic and financial crisis.
People need to be sure they can trust their governments, whether local, regional or national to put in place the right rules to help chart a path out of crisis and instil more sustainable patterns for the future.
Many such rules and guidelines have been developed by the OECD both before the crisis and since to help governments deliver good governance and combat corruption in the public sector, covering areas from managing conflict of interest to being open and transparent about how public money was being spent.
But as the crisis has reminded us, having the right rules in place is not enough – the toughest rules in the world are of little use if they are not implemented.
Public procurement is a case in point. On average, the public sector is spending the equivalent of 12% of gross domestic product (GDP) in OECD countries on public works, from hospitals and schools to roads, airports and waterworks. That is a lot of money, and a lot of temptation to corruption, whether bribing to win a contract or using substandard material to make more money from the job.
When times are hard and money is tight, there is all the more pressure to account for every penny spent and to ensure that taxpayers can see that they are getting value for money. Building that trust is all the more challenging at a time when people are blaming their governments more than any other institution for the financial and political crises they endured in 2011, according to the 2012 Annual Global Trust Barometer by Edelman.
The challenge is just as great in the developing world where good governance is the cornerstone for growth and poverty reduction. For all these reasons, OECD hosted in late November 2012 its Global Forum on Public Governance, under the title “Better governance for inclusive growth” and bringing together 63 countries.
Whether in developed or developing countries, citizens have a key role to play in the governance equation, beyond voting for their parliamentarians and local representatives in elections. On average in OECD countries just over half of people – 56% -- say they trust their public institutions. This is more than the approval rate of the government in many countries, but well below the 73% average voter turnout and suggests that many people feel disconnected from their public institutions.
If our system of rules and systems is to deliver results, we all need to be vigilant about its implementation. Governments need to listen to their citizens, but citizens need to make clear to their governments what is important to them. Instruments such as the OECD’s Better Life Index, and national initiatives to develop Well-being or Happiness Indexes in several countries, reflect a recognition that there is more to life than GDP and people’s views of what matters to them need to be taken into account.
Sound, sustainable public finances can only result when there is an agreement between governments, citizens and businesses about what level of services the government should provide (and to whom) and how the public will pay for them, in key areas such as education or health.
But involving citizens in decision-making can only work if people are willing to take part. In the words of former Miss America and politician Bess Myerson “The accomplice to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference”.
Ultimately, governance must be a shared responsibility involving all shareholders if we are to achieve sustainable economies and societies, and achieve better policies for better lives.
“To ensure the effective functioning of governments and the equitable and efficient distribution of public resources we need: functioning parliaments, vigilant audit institutions, efficient courts and a vibrant civil society.”
OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, at the first OECD Global Forum on Public Governance, Paris, 21 November 2012
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