This research project will examine the role of governance in improving public service provision. In particular, it will analyze how increased transparency of the public sector and empowerment of the poor through greater information dissemination and increased awareness of their rights could be used for effective and efficient provision of public services in developing Asia. Institutionalizing a Social Protection Floor' (SPF) is a novel approach for empowering the people. The SPF provides universal access to a minimum level of essential services (such as health, education, housing, water and sanitation, and other services) and social transfers (in cash or in kind, to ensure income security, food security, adequate nutrition, and access to essential services). While Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen's entitlement approach' provides a framework for studying empowerment through the relationship between rights, interpersonal obligations, and individual entitlements, the SPF presents an applicable policy approach towards realizing individuals' human rights to social security and social services.
The issue of governance covers a wide spectrum ranging from political governance (relating to constitutions, political systems, and government structures), economic governance (relating to public policy and allocation of economic resources), and democratic governance (relating to people's representation, and electoral and legislative systems) at the one end to corporate and environmental governance at the other. This project will discuss the wider governance issues before narrowing its focus to economic governance, with a special emphasis on delivery of public services, which is the most potent form of government action to influence development, sustain growth, and reduce poverty.
|Project Rationale and Linkage to Country/Regional Strategy
Years of rapid growth allowed developing Asia to achieve massive strides in poverty reduction. However, it remains home to about two-thirds of the world's poor, with 1.7 billion of its population living on less than $2 a day, and 828 million struggling on less than $1.25 a day. A recent ADB study (Asian Development Outlook 2012) also shows that, despite the region's many successes, inequality in the region is rising, creating a new rich-poor social and economic divide. The earlier belief that growth would trickle down to the poor by creating jobs, producing surplus, and hence improving income distribution has been debunked. Widespread poverty and unequal income distribution necessitate public-sector intervention, a common avenue for which is provision of public services for the poor. Indeed, public spending and service delivery are the most direct means of government activity to influence development. Yet, although Asian governments spend substantial sums on public services, such expenditure often does not reach the poor while misallocations of public funds are widespread and diversion of these funds into private pockets is commonplace. Weak institutions, low level of accountability, and country-specific economic, social, political, and historical dynamics of development influence the quality of public-service delivery.
Publicly-funded schools in the region are often characterized by inadequate infrastructure, teacher absenteeism, lack of text books, and poor sanitation, resulting in low school enrolment, partial attendance and limited participation by girls. Similarly, perennial shortage of basic drugs and qualified medical personnel in public health centers and long distances to hospitals perpetuate high infant and maternal mortality rates, low life expectancy and large private out-of-pocket expenses. Likewise, poor performance of other public services such as power and water supply and subsidized food programs for the poor hinge on governance issues, often referred to as the Achilles heel, a vital weak point that can undermine overall strength of the program. Redistribution policies cannot be effective without good governance. Progressive allocation of benefits from public expenditures requires an accountable government, community participation, strong voice of the people, and competitive markets. Evidence from across the world suggests that good governance and transparent institutions spur investment, incomes, and growth. An effective and transparent government is crucial for sustained growth, enhanced welfare, and poverty reduction. In contrast, weak governance prevents the benefits of public policies from reaching the poor and contributing to growth. .
It is being increasingly recognized that higher transparency through empowerment of the people can improve the provision of public services. Empowerment gives people the rights and freedom to make decisions in matters that affect their lives, to hold others accountable for their promises, and to influence development in their communities or even in a wider region. The civil society, private sector, and media can play important roles in obtaining information, rationale, and explanations for the use of government funds. Transparency and access to information on public expenditures can reduce the capture of public funds by government officials and politicians. In the words of Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, Inequity and power imbalances, adverse employment conditions and the lack of economic opportunities or control over assets are all manifestations of peoples' disempowerment and contribute to their poverty (Maathai, W., 2009, An African future: beyond the culture of dependency , www.opendemocracy.net/article/an-african-future-beyond-the-cultureof-dependency). Good governance is thus a prerequisite for effective public service delivery.
Good governance has been adopted as a policy by governments and development institutions alike. ADB was the first multilateral development bank to adopt a special policy on governance in 1995 (http://www.adb.org/themes/governance/overview). Over the years, supplementary policies like the Anticorruption Policy (1998) were adopted to broaden and strengthen ADB's governance work and a stock-taking exercise was conducted in 2011. ADB's Strategy 2020 identifies governance as a key driver of change. It is one of the three pillars of ADB's Poverty Reduction Strategy.