The primacy of good governance for Modi

June 2, 2014

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

At his second cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a 10-point programme that set out a comprehensive agenda for his ministers. The agenda is a good cocktail of short-term needs and long-term objectives.

The underlying message, however, is of good governance. That is what Modi has been harping on during his election campaign and which he sincerely believes is the secret of his success in Gujarat.

There are many issues the UPA government had left hanging in its second term. It could not get a hold on food inflation that, for the most part in the last three years, remained above 10 percent and forced the Reserve Bank of India to raise the repo rate to 8 percent.

Equally important, the investment cycle has to be resumed in spite of the damage done by the land acquisition legislation. The more imminent danger is of monsoon failure and, consequently, of a shortfall in rice production in south India. These are critical issues and would have to be addressed.

Modi, however, used the cabinet meeting to underline the importance of good governance and the way it can be implemented. He impressed on the ministers the need to build confidence in bureaucracy, create a mechanism for speeding up inter-ministerial issues, stability and sustainability in government policies, transparency in governance, and time-bound implementation of projects.

What are the essential ingredients of good governance?

First, the importance of bureaucracy in decision-making needs to be accepted. In the UPA’s second term, successive scams nearly paralyzed the government because senior officials were not sure whether they would have political support. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram did try to dispel apprehensions but with the Central Bureau of Investigation breathing down their necks, the bureaucrats hesitated.

Second, Modi knows only too well what delays files in ministers’ offices. The last Ministry of Environment and Forests was possibly the most notorious. When the minister finally resigned, she had files that had rested in her house for more than a year. Even the cabinet committee on investment could not expedite the implementation of projects.

Third, transparency is critical and the best option is most cases is an e-auction. This can be the single most important method of preventing corruption.

Fourth, the government must implement its own projects in time and prevent cost overruns.

Subsequently, the prime minster clarified that he does not prefer GoMs (Group of Ministers) or EGoMs (Empowered Group of Ministers), a mechanism used by the UPA that merely helped postpone decisions. The ministers in Modi’s government will have to take their own decisions, which will keep them on their toes.

Resources are limited and a government that utilizes them in the most productive manner can achieve the best possible growth. That is the essence of good governance, to which Modi has given high priority. It worked in Gujarat and there is no reason why it should not work just as efficiently at the centre.

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