The Fundamentals of Positive and Effective Reform
What is positive and good reform? A good reform is one that leads to entrenchment of good governance. But the concept of good governance needs further definition. Everywhere people ask for good governance as the desirable form of public leadership. But what is good governance? The United Nation Development Project (UNDP) defines good governance broadly to include transparency and accountability; fiscal responsibility, participation and deliberation; the rule of law and social justice and promotion of social and economic rights and political freedoms.
The bottom line is democracy both as a value and form of governance. There are many definitions of good governance as there are different practices of good governance. There are also many criticisms of good governance. Some people believe that good governance is just another name for social relations of the market economy. In this cynical perspective of ‘good governance’ the system perpetuates the myth of what Professor Macpherson calls ‘Possessive Individualism’. In the same vein, Professor Claude Ake defines good governance as the correlates of market relations. The real deal in that model is the absence of real empowerment and its substitution with hallow participation. But, in spite of these criticisms, there is a global consensus that good governance is the defining character of legitimate governance.
Now what are the requirements for a reform that can lead to good governance defined in a comprehensive sense? First is political leadership. There must a leader or leadership that understands the need for reform and is passionate for reform. There are two conditions buried in the last statement. A leader may understand why his country or society needs a reform but does not have strong passion for reform. Similarly, a leader may have passion for reform but not according to knowledge. The ideal fundamental condition for successful reform is that there exists a leadership that has knowledge of what is wrong and what to do, and is passionate and committed to do the needful.
What does it mean to be passionate for change? Passion is not just talking about reform. It is being prepared to sacrifice, to lose privileges and injure friendship in attempt to uphold reform. The problem with Africa is that most Africans have mouthed sanctimonious platitudes about the imperatives of reforms and have dithered when their personal pecuniary or political interest is involved. We cannot pay lip-service to reform and expect reform to succeed. It is this lack of true passion for change that truncated the effectiveness of President Obasanjo’s reform.
The other component of the proposition is knowledge about the problematic condition that requires reform. This is a tricky aspect of the difficult work of reform. There is so much sloganeering about democracy and democratization. People present democratization as if it is an invariable model. Yes, it is true that the values that underline a democratic society are universal and cross-cultural, yet the institutional manifestation of democracy varies in contexts of time and circumstances. This means that would-be reformers must be painstaking in their analysis of the paralysis that they intend to overcome. In legislative drafting for transformative change, we speak of understanding the nature of the problematic behavior. Oftentimes, would be reformer are pretentious and presumptuous. They just latch on the change lever and start mowing down social structures without first doing the work of understanding the problematic conditions.
In connection with passion and knowledge, it is important to avoid technocratic hubris: the idea that technocrats understand all the issues. We have to avoid the danger of a linear view of reform. Reform is more than technical. The problems we face in reform are not just technical; they are adaptive. They exhibit both a technical and political challenge.
Therefore, their solutions are both technical and political; that is, adaptive. The best way to illustrate the difference between the ‘technical’ and the ‘adaptive’ in reform work is by resorting to clinical practice in medicine. A patient suffering from HIV/AIDS poses both a technical and non-technical. The technical challenge is to run the test and confirm that he or she is HIV positive. The technical challenge is how to communicate the true situation to the patient in such a manner that he or she retains the capacity to fight the disease. This is not a technical issue. It is adaptive. It is a human issue.
So, when reformers are too technical and narrow-minded they miss out on the other important dimensions of life. This is evidenced in the mad rush to privatize all public enterprises without setting out the regulatory framework that makes it possible to have the advertised gains of privatization. This shock therapy creates twin problem for the reformer. First, the expected results of the reform never materialized. Second, the reform mobilizes strong resistance from the people which results in roll-back and reform fatigue. At the end, the reform is fundamentally undermined.
After we have secured a leadership that is both knowledgeable and passionate about reform we need to correctly envision reform. Oftentimes people say that a particular reform is good but the implementation is bad. This could mean two things. It could mean that those who implemented the report were not focused on the report or that the implantation process was not well considered. In a sense, these mean that the vision of change is not clear and coherent. Part of visionary leadership is to design a reform program that factored all the relevant factors and challenges so that it succeeds. Oftentimes, when implementation fails it simply means that the vision was ill-considered.
Now, we have focused on factors of success which depend on the reformers themselves. How about the people? How does their reaction to reform determine the success of reform agenda? It must be said that the real threat to the success of reform is the diffidence of the potential beneficiaries of reform. The great philosopher, Machiavelli wisely observed that reform often fails because whilst the opponents of reform can clearly see what they lose when the reform succeed and therefore resist it stoutly, those who stand to benefit from reform don’t see their gains and therefore do not fight hard in support of reform.
Except citizens and citizen groups understand the need for reform, are passionate about reform and are willing and able to police both the intent and practice of reformers, reform will crash. The demand and supply of reform must be balanced. We must demand reform before reform gets to the policy table of governance. Let’s illustrate with the ongoing electoral reform. If civil society had not been persistent in demanding quality action on electoral reform may be the government may have dropped the ball. As a long as there is a strong political community demanding for electoral reform, reform of the electoral process remains on the policy agenda. So, it is important that the people show tenacity in demanding change.
Another aspect of the citizen’s role in effective reform is their willingness and readiness to scrutinize the reformers in what they do in the name of the reform. It is foolish to assume that the reformers are always working for the people. Sometimes they work for special interests. Sometimes they lack the verve to continue on the side of change. Sometimes they are insincere. So, we should never become indifferent to what champions of reform are doing in our name.
If we want reform to succeed we need the infrastructure of values and morality. The mistake we make about reform is to think reform is all about structures and regimes. Reform is more than designing innovative structures and enacting laws that underwrite change. It includes building strong moral values that support the changes that we desire. Those values are fundamental to overcome the problematic social conditions that constitute underdevelopment.
About Dr Sam Amadi
Dr Sam Amadi, a policy strategist and law and governance expert, is a senior lecturer and head of public law at Baze University, Abuja. He was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies from 2016-2018. He was Chairman and CEO of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) between 2010 and 2015, where he led a team of management and staff through the rigorous task of reforming the Nigerian electricity industry.