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Unbundling governance: what is the role of the World Bank?

Guenter Heidenhof's picture
Also available in: Français | العربية
People often ask me what exactly the World Bank means when it uses the term “governance.” Many think the governance agenda is associated mainly with activities to fight fraud and corruption. That is true, but only partially. In our view, fraud and corruption are visible consequences – symptoms if you like – of breakdowns in government systems and institutions.

Ideally, countries should have strong institutions that are responsive to citizens’ needs and deliver public services. Ideally, countries should have transparent processes and regulations that benefit all citizens and the entire private sector, not only a small elite. Ideally, governments should have the capacity to ensure that public money is well spent and that policies are implemented.  In sum then, these principles amount to governance and of well and consistently applied you might call this "good governance."

In our view, all countries should strive to abide by these basic principles, no matter what form government itself takes.  All too often, countries do not live up to these standards; institutions are weak and not functioning, government procedures are diffuse or arbitrarily applied, and the capacity of the public sector to deliver services to the population is limited.  Consequences of these “breakdowns” in the governance system are mismanagement, fraud and corruption. 

To address these problems we suggest dealing with the root causes, meaning that we support governments to strengthen public institutions, to develop transparent procedures and to build capacity in the public sector to implement government policies.  These reforms are meant to ensure that governments and public officials are accountable for their actions and that public monies are well spent.   They also intend to ensure that the governments are responsive to the voice and concerns of the citizens; in our view, public debate about socio-economic issues and challenges is clearly good thing. 

This is why the World Bank is promoting a pro-active access-to-information policy that ensures that important socio-economic information is publicly available.  The development and implementation of policies on the basis of strong dialogue and interaction with the citizenry contribute to building a strong social contract between the government and the people. And that path gets you to good governance.

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