Government and Governance in 16 Developing Countries

Working and discussion papers
June 2003
Goran Hyden, Julius Court and Kenneth Mease

A great deal of how citizens perceive an assessment of the regime occurs in the context of how well the government deals with broader societal issues. Is the regime so structured that citizens believe that government cares about their welfare and security, whether individual or collective? As part of a project to undertake comprehensive governance assessments, we focus here on the nature of the rules (formal and informal) that affect the government arena. In this paper, "government" refers to all public officials with overall political responsibility for setting policy and making key appointments to the public service. How rules in this arena are structured influence the developmental direction of society.

This paper presents the findings on the government arena in 16 developing countries. The first key finding of relevance for both researchers and practitioners concerns the need to make a distinction between government and regime. Our study shows that it is possible to get a more detailed appreciation of how government relates to regime and, importantly, that type of regime doesn't really matter that much with regard to key functions that government performs vis-à-vis society. In this arena, governments associated with a variety of regimes (e.g. Jordan, Thailand, Chile and India) score well. Even the communist government of China is viewed as doing quite well with regard to the various key functions assessed in this arena.

A second point is that government generally scores lower on ability to ensure adequate standards of living for its citizens than on ability to provide security for them. Our respondents indicate in their qualitative comments that the political rhetoric of governments is correct but practice differs for two reasons: lack of commitment or lack of resources. The third and final observation concerns the role of the military. We have noted that there is a general sense that the military these days is ready to accept civilian control. This doesn't mean, however, that everything has returned to 'normal'. It is important that the international community through its various agencies continues to pay attention to how the military in developing countries can be further professionalized.