The most appropriate role of the government to help lift their people out of poverty is to provide an enabling environment. This role includes the removal of physical, legal, financial, socio-cultural and political barriers to basic services for all, in particular for the poor and disadvantaged groups.
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s (UNESCAP’s) study,Access to Basic Services:The Importance of Good Governance, argues that this is precisely what is needed to achieve their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and eradicate extreme poverty. The UNESCAP study does a nice job of investigating the importance of good governance and how countries with good governance in place have more effective systems to help their most vulnerable citizens. I would like to share a bit of the report with you.
The report discusses services that include primary and secondary education, primary and reproductive health care, HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment, and adequate water and sanitation. The study also points out the need to attend to the additional challenges that women face. Women are more vulnerable to poverty than men due to factors such as incomplete education, illiteracy, early marriage and childbearing, lack of access to employment, lower wages, lack of rights in divorce and lack of property rights.
The provision of effective and efficient services requires good governance. Good governance refers to a set of just processes by which decisions affecting public affairs are reached and implemented. Good governance ensures that all, including the poor and other disadvantaged groups, are included and have the means (a) to influence the direction of development as far as it affects their lives, (b) to make contributions to development and have these recognized, and (c) to share in the benefits of development that improve their lives and livelihoods.
The authors present the case that good governance is essential to ensure that strategies for basic service provisions and poverty reduction are effective and sustainable. Good governance involves nine principles:
- Transparency: the degree to which the rules, standards and procedures for decision-making are open, clear, verifiable and predictable.
- Participation: the opportunity for people affected by the decision to influence the process of decision making directly or indirectly.
- Inclusiveness and equity: the principle that no one can be excluded from the process of development on the basis of gender, race, religion, etc.
- Efficiency: a measure of how economically resources are used to produce the intended results.
- Effectiveness: a measure of the extent to which the intervention achieves its objectives.
- Subsidiary: the principle that decision-making takes place at the level most appropriate for the issue (usually the lowest level possible).
- Adherence to the rule of law: the principle that every member of a society, even a ruler, must follow the law.
- Accountability: the responsibility of a decision- maker to explain and justify the decisions it made and implemented, and the results these produced.
- Sustainability: The likelihood that the positive effects of an intervention will persist for an extended period after the intervention as such ends.
Barriers range from limited access to legal, financial, health and education services, lack of political power The authors also present a number of strategies for removing these and other barriers, including broadening the range of service providers to include the formal and informal private sector, civil society organizations and traditional institutions. Efforts should work to empower the poor and provide more efficient and equitable service provision, allowing the most vulnerable to find their own solutions that respond to their needs.
Poverty reduction requires strategies to help the poor overcome a range of physical, financial, legal and socio-cultural barriers. Good governance helps to ensure that all people have adequate access to basic services – a necessity if we are to achieve the MDGs and reduce and eventually eradicate poverty.
It is important to remember that relatively simple changes can make a major difference, but those changes must be developed in concert with good governance and designed to overcome the challenges that communities face, even as they differ from one community to another.
Questions for consideration
Can the cotton industry help the development of governance frameworks or create a culture of engagement with some of the most disadvantaged cotton communities?