There is no universally accepted definition of Governance when used in political literature. We owe the concept to Plato who was the first to use the Greek word kubernáo, meaning to steer a ship, metaphorically, in the context of steering Men. Over the years, the word has been used generically and the concept has evolved to encompass relationships between stakeholders in a variety of set ups. In the present highly dynamic environment, politically, socially, economically, and culturally, the term means different things in different contexts and the use of an adjective with the word governance has become almost mandatory for it to make any sense at all.
As the ground-clearing progresses, a number of attempts have been made to bring precision and sense to the use of the term.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in its 1997 policy paper, defined governance as “the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It comprises the mechanisms, processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences”. This definition was endorsed by the Secretary-General’s inter-agency sub-task force to promote integrated responses to United Nations conferences and summits. Over the past 10 years, the number of country level programmes on governance supported by the United Nations system has expanded considerably.
In 1993, the World Bank defined governance as the method through which power is exercised in the management of a country’s political, economic and social resources for development. While the World Bank has focused on stabilization and State reforms that overwhelmingly focused on civil service retrenchment and privatization for a long period, the early 1990s saw a change of focus. The Bank came to realize that most of the crises in developing countries are of a governance nature. Hence, the contemporary adjustment package emphasizes governance issues such as transparency, accountability and judicial reform. In this context, the Bank has introduced a new way of looking at governance; good governance.
Good Governance has now become the pet concept for most donor agencies. However, being laden by a subjective prefix makes it fair game for those who use cultural relativism as shield. It is therefore of great import to provide general guidelines as to what would be the acceptable attributes of Good Governance and the UN has identified eight Characteristics which are: participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive, and which follow the rule of law .
The International Centre for Parliamentary Studies takes a developmental approach to Governance as it views Good Governance as being quintessential for economic development and poverty alleviation. The centre recognises the importance of cultural diversity and it is committed to providing support to Governments in their endeavour to promote Good Governance by encouraging Capacity Building in the area of Governance.