At which stage in a nation’s life does the process of governance become subject to scrutiny and intensive analysis? When does a common citizen question the activities and motives of those in power? Why do surges occur in public sentiment on the correctness, accuracy or intent of a governance stricture? Several long answers abound, but perhaps a short one is – when it pinches ordinary lives in many ways, lives that are used to a regular rhythm of public service delivery, even with all its faults of corruption and boorish behavior. At times like these, citizens – denizens of a geographical and national space with specific duties and obligations in return for rights and entitlements – register protest, usually with a view to re-establish familiar norms and patterns of their daily lives. Rarely do these citizens have cause or skill to review the patterns in themselves, to reform the ways of working so that inclusiveness, breadth of reach and quality of service is assured.
At Public Affairs Centre, good governance means not only recording the inconsistencies of governance practice; we address these issues to renew our acquaintance with the design and rollout of these practices. PAC teams persistently and arduously investigate causes and effects of poor governance with a view to gently steer off-road processes towards flowering and fruition. This requires constructive engagement on the basis of real evidence, provided by detailed analyses on the basis of Citizen Report Card findings and supported by coalition building with bureaucrats and citizen groups. In times of unclear priorities, when the ways of government seem to occlude rather than stimulate constructive criticism, the role of structured citizen voice becomes very prominent. As presented in report cards and scorecards, citizen voice focuses on the insights thrown up by the analysis of the evidence. This steers energy towards the resolution of the contradictions shown up by the research, and away from emotion and finger pointing. Citizen report cards also de-personalize important feedback that perhaps could damage reputations, thereby protecting the whistle-blower from other repercussions.
A demand for good governance in uncertain times requires to be backed by solid irrefutable evidence subjected to rigorous analysis, and supported by a degree of community mobilization. PAC’s social accountability tools (report cards, expenditure tracking, charters, social audit, etc.) offer the potential for a systematic critique of poor practice through knowledge creation and sharing with all concerned stakeholders. Therein remains the value in sustaining a meaningful enquiry into good governance practice.