Living Heritage of Sri Lanka

Good governance produces a salutary effect in world politics

by Lional Gulawita - Secretary/Director Finance - Diriya Foundation
The Daily News (Colombo) of Tuesday, 23 December 2003

The world is ill-balanced. To the optimist it is a bed of roses. The pessimist considers the life full of thorns. The realist in his modest view would say that the life is neither full of roses completely nor full of thorns totally. In the meantime, the terrorist is well within the scenario and hangs around for the zero hour with his lethal cargo.

The people's thinking, beliefs, concepts and their condemnation of negative events revolve concurrently to eventually produce diverse responses of passing consent or vigorous disapproval. The democrats and moderates in the world however hold principles of Good Governance as appropriate solution for happier global society in the future.

Sri Lanka is a fertile land for confrontational politics. This gave the island a place in Asia as yet another 'hot spot' for trouble-related misgovernance.

I am not trying to bring into focus the Presidential and general political governance in Sri Lanka or weigh the comparable values of both with the merits of good governing principles. My attempt is to underline the pioneers and promoters of good governance and show how they did or are doing it around world.

Lately, Good Governance has become a term often mentioned in development literature. Donor countries and International Financial institutions expects beneficiaries to believe in the principles of good governance before they finally decide to commit on any line of long term credit or development aid to a country.

The word Good Governance was handed down to us from distant past when absolute monarchs or the kings ruled the world. It is the implementation of decisions for the general good and welfare of the people.

It is not limited to the governance of the State only. It could very well associate with Presidential governance, Parliamentary governance, economic governance, corporate governance, military governance, company governance, NGO governance, civil society governance and the like.

Characteristics - Good Governance

The general characteristics of Good Governance include Participation, Concurrence, Accountability, Transparency, Responsiveness, Efficiency and Effectiveness, Equality and Equatability and Recognition for rule of law.

Participation: is the most important aspect of good governance. It could be direct or representative. Included in here is freedom of expression and association plus an organized civil society.

Concurrence: Good Governance needs peaceful interaction of different parties concerned and decisions taken in the best interest of the people or the target group.

Accountability: The State, civil society, NGO etc should be accountable in governance to the general public or partners in business.

Transparency: The decision taken should be implemented in a manner that conforms to the rule of law. Information should be accessible and liberally available to the people or relevant group.

Responsiveness: The State, Company or NGO should necessarily serve the whole and not part or it.

Efficiency and Effectiveness: Good Governance needs that the activity and processes are carried out efficiently in time for use of the public. Sustainability of natural resources and protection of environment is important in governance.

Equality and Equatability: All people should feel that they are partners in the State or institution for the purpose of their well being, and any of them should not feel himself excluded.

Recognition of rule of law includes that Governance should be impartial and everyone feels himself protected and his human rights safeguarded. Independent judiciary and a police force of repute are also essential requirements. Recognition of human rights and civil liberties of countrymen is an important branch under the rule of law.

Presence of constitutional limits on government power such as periodic elections together with protection of civil rights and independent judiciary paving way for the people to defend rights against injustices are all necessary for the promotion of democratic governance.

This type of accountability on the part of the government is important in evaluation of the level of democratization it is moving ahead with.

The laws should be enforced fairly and equitably by the courts to preserve the rule or law and property rights. The doors should be kept open to the have-nots too, to reach justice against injustice.

Free Elections

The basic and most important ingredient for good governance is free and fair elections. The country's political institutions should be independent, democratic and devoid of prejudice.

These institutions should essentially protect basic human rights such as constitutional guarantees with respect to speech and the press (freedom of expression) and the right to criticize government. Functional democracy must recognize political rights of the individual.

There should be no compulsion or coercion by government or any other force. The elections should be guaranteed by constitutional safeguards and conducted in free and fair manner.

The voters' should have their free and non-obligatory choice in the election of their representatives. Civil societies too have right to keep vigilance on the election process and to conduct their monitoring exercises during, before and after the elections and publicize their reports.

They become salient features of free and fair election practises in a country with good governing principles, leading the way into a qualitative democracy.


Successful government will strive to keep its integrity. To rid of corruption is necessary to reach this status. Adequate laws against corruption and graft are absolutely necessary to maintain an anti-corruption policy.

It is of course the responsibility to keep secrecy and confidentiality on security and matter of peace negotiations. Except for that the people in the country is entitled to know the government policies and how they are being implemented.

Such practises by the government would enable citizens to live in open society utilising their personal and group capacities to improve their economy. George W. Bush stressed:

"Development cannot flourish where people cannot make their voices heard, human rights are not respected, information does not flow, and civil society and the judiciary are weak."

In reality there are few states close to reaching good governance, attainment of which in 100 per cent is practically difficult. Most of the countries stand far apart.

Protection of human rights

Protection and promotion of human rights of the people is a crucially important base for the principles of good governance to be founded upon.

The State sector, NGOs and civil society organisations together assume responsibility in protecting and promoting human rights of the people. Absence of this characteristic in polity will pave way for freedoms and liberties to shatter and foil any attempt to build up good governance.

The human rights ensures the dignity of mankind irrespective of biases.

The concept of human rights is universal and every civilisation and culture has absorbed within itself the expression of basic principles of human rights.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is the foremost and world acclaimed human rights document (1948) ratified by the members of the world body.

UdHR has been strengthened by a series of subsequent international instruments and covenants adopted to translate the declaration as far as possible into legally binding commitment. Some of these instruments include:

  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. (ICESCR)(1966)
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)(1966)
  • Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  • Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (December 10, 1984)
  • Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict (1974)
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. (1979)
  • Declaration of the Rights of the Child. (1959)
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child. (1989)

    In addition to above, United Nations adopted several other standards pertaining to the protection of human rights. They are:

  • The Declaration on the Elimination of all forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on religion and belief. (1981)
  • The Declaration on the Right to Development. (1986)
  • The Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistics Minorities.
  • World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons. (1994)

Conformation to human rights law, international instruments and covenants by governments create a foundation and conducive environment for good governing principles to be established in those countries.

Application in Sri Lanka

Though not legally binding in Sri Lanka, the Covenants strengthen the moral obligation on the part of the authority. Human Rights are primarily individual rights to be protected by the state. All states, which have ratified International Human Rights Instruments and Covenants, are obliged to protect and promote Human Rights of the people in their own countries. The article 30 in UDHR states:

"Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein."

This means that not only the state but also the civil societies, individuals too are obligingly involved in the protection of human rights.


According to the Sri Lanka's Constitution, action can be taken against violation of fundamental rights (human rights enshrined in the Constitution) only if the violater is a state institution or a state officer.

The time bar to file a fundamental rights application in the Supreme Court is woefully limited to 30 days only from the date and violation is known to have been committed. These impediments imposed on victim cause failure to many fundamental applications filed before the Supreme Court.

Many more fundamental rights have to be embodied in the constitution with time extensions in order to give a fairer rights coverage and firmer ground to the people to stand on.


UDHR is like a sovereign giving one's rights on one side and his obligations on the other side of the coin. The people should clearly understand human rights and also their duties to others. It is only then that people could play their multi-faceted role consciously for the benefit of everyone.

Constitutional protection to victims and fixing simultaneous deterrent punishments on those guilty of commitment of offences are necessary to minimise violations.

Proper understanding of human rights is necessary by each individual. It broadens one's mind and enhances impressions on rights of the others irrespective of any personal, communal, social, religious differences etc.

Public Interest Litigation

Civil Societies should be empowered to protect people against rights violations. Civil societies are keen and genuinely concerned in the interest of the people on matters of their rights. Therefore Human Rights Organizations wishing to challenge the offenders of human rights and Environmental Protection laws should be allowed to prosecute violators as in the case of practice in Indian Courts under Public interest litigation.

At the Annual Session of Organization of Professional Association recently in Sri Lanka former Indian Chief Justice P.N. Bagwati clearly explained the significance and purpose of Public Interest Litigation now firmly established in India, as follows.

"When Courts makes an order in a public interest litigation, it does so not in a spirit of confrontation or criticism or with a view to titling the exceptive authority, but for the purpose of drawing the attention of the executive to its failure or inaction in eliminating and eradicating oppression.

exploitation and violation of human rights and ensuring the people the rights and benefits conferred by social legislation and other social and economic rescue programmes and requiring the executive to carry out its constitutional and legal obligations towards the people and particular the have-nots and the handicapped." - Daily News 09.10.2003.

After 1978 Constitution there is no improvement of Human Rights Law in the country. Government has to fill in the yawning gap and bring in legislation on Public Interest Litigation too into the Statute.

Public interest litigation is a noteworthy development on human rights and action against rights violations.

It empowers the people and civil societies to defend citizens against injustices with more facilities than impediments and longer time duration than the existing time-bars.

NGO Governance

2000 NGOs work with the UNO in various projects and pursuits. In a situation of national emergency, NGOs are the first to reach the sites of disaster and render medical assistance, shelter, food etc to the affected persons. The Government sources may need more time to reach a disaster area and their arrangements could take longer time to shape into a workable status.

Information flows through NGO networks to the community faster than it does through official sources. Where it comes to development work, NGOs are efficient, effective and target reaching within the set time allocation. Government officers lag far behind for many of them are much less development-oriented and temperamentally poor in the sense of urgency and effective project management.

NGO potential is substantial and their services could be utilized gainfully in community development in the country. Some understanding is overdue into conscience of rulers to find effective machinery to link government sector with NGOs in development work island-wide for the best interest of the nation. It would also be a substantial democratic principle building exercise for Government to secure participation of civil societies in the development sphere.

Role of United States

Ancient history bears evidence to America's support for principles of good governance. America is a firm believer of political power flowing from the people who are entitled to live in a just, equitable and democratic society. It is also the US point of view that good governance positively promotes fundamental and universal human rights.

United States is committed in her policy to expel ignorance of people, keep corruption away from society, create a renewed respect for the people and encourage them to utilize the opportunities in global economic activity.

In the world today American foreign policy is an influential factor in promoting principles of good governance in developing countries. America does it through development assistance, international cooperative endeavours and dialogue. America supports and encourages them to enact policies and workable structures allowing human dignity and freedom to flourish. Foreign aid

Foreign aid or international transfer of capital, consumer goods or services for the welfare of developing nations was first initialized by United States. President Franklin D Roosevelt launched 'Good Neighbour Policy' and recognized Soviet Union and improved relations with Latin America and also signed reciprocal agreements to lower trade barriers against several other countries United States under the regime of President Harry Truman pioneered and led the way in March 1947 to grant large-scale economic and humanitarian aid for countries under post world war II reconstruction.

The first such grant was to Greece and Turkey, which suffered under Communist military aggression from Yugoslavia. International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank) opened in 1946 is the leading aid agency of the United Nations.

United Nations programme of technical co-operation

The countries in the developing world have been assisted by United Nations Programme of Technical Co-operation to strengthen their governance. This UNO organ had at the outset of its role stressed on the need to domestically implement international standards of human rights in aid recipient countries.

There has been a progressive increases in the quality governance programs on human rights, democracy and rule of law in many developing countries funded by the institution. Untied Nations Programme has also risen in global importance by becoming a catalyst to expand Untied Nations development programming strategies to assist the countries operating on human rights based development.

This rights based approach integrated the norms and standards of international human rights law and practice into development policies and processes. Norms and standards are those contained in international treaties and declarations while principles included participation, non-discrimination, transparency, attention to vulnerability and empowerment.

In the field of promotion of human rights and making the poor aware of human rights and safeguarding them against injustices in the outreach villages is another area of valuable human development work Sweden has undertaken in Sri Lanka. Sweden's contribution in the promotion of democracy, Human Rights and principles of good governance in Sri Lanka has created a good influence in the society.

Urban Governance

1999 UN-Habitat launched a world program on Urban Governance to support "sustainable human settlements development in an urbanising world". The mission of the campaign was to eradicate poverty through improved urban governance.

It aimed to augment the capacity of local governments and other stakeholders and to appreciate the practice of good governance.

It focused the attention on needs of the excluded poor and encouraged the involvement of women in decision making process at all levels, recognising that women are a powerful lever effect for positive change in society towards the principles of UN Habitat urban governance.

World Bank Group

World Bank sources stepped in, to rescue the countries and the private sector seriously affected by East Asia financial crisis in 1967-68. The Bank has been also dealing with restructuring, safety nets to protect the vulnerable and lending adjustments and after the crisis, Banks soft loan facilities amounted to $ 12.8 b for affected East Asian nations.

The World Bank has been playing a major role in assisting the countries to be efficient, transparent and accountable and in that it build up during 1997 four-part strategy to help states to combat corruption and improve public sector reform. In the financial year 1998, 26 countries ridden with corruption applied to World Bank for assistance under development of good governance.

The world Bank is helping even other countries that do not directly apply for combating corruption to contain the menace, which harms the people as follows according to combating corruption to contains the menace, which harms the people as follows according to World Bank.

  • "Corruption hurts the poor, it diverts public services from those who need them most and strangles private sector growth
  • Corruption undermines public support for development assistance by creating an erroneous perception that all assistance is affected by corruption
  • Corruption can impede developing countries access to private capital
  • Bank has a duty to its partner countries to ensure that financial support reaches its intended targets".

The examples of reforms and high level of impact thereon are:

  • Reform policies and strengthen institutions
  • Liberalization of markets, prices and trade and exchange regimes
  • Privatization of state-owned enterprises to make them more responsive and accountable.
  • Service delivery and infrastructure programs to decentralize government and bring services closer to people.

The World Bank has assisted 95 borrower countries for anti-corruption and governance initiatives.

Educational Programs

The World Bank links also embarked on the expansion of on-line educational programs between teachers and students in world. By the year 2000, 1200 secondary schools in 40 developing countries including Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe have been connected with schools in North America, Europe, Japan and Australia.

Debt relief package to Bolivia, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Cote d'voire, Guyana, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique qualified for debt relief in 1999 at a grant of $4.3.b. This package is to be increased to greater number of states in subsequent years.

Critics should perhaps read the Bank news bulletins so that they would be made aware of the World Bank's contribution to raise the poor into a higher standard of living and help the states to adopt people-friendly principles in their governing policy structure.

The Free states adopt principles of good governance with transparency in their democratic rule while Parrly Free states do so in reduced degree. Not Free states are yet to make a study of good governance principles needed for sustained economic development, which could reduce poverty and vulnerability of the poor and build up a fair and just society.

Practice of the principles of good governance in ones own motherland and allow, with economic means, knowledge and training in the field to adopt governing characteristics by developing nations world wide, is an invaluable service by Unted Nations, World Bank and all countries involved in the task.

The statistics are in evidence to prove that the beneficiaries have made use of resources, influence and goodwill of the host to create a salutary effect in the political structure of their countries.