Positive politics

Most of the stories about governance that hit the headlines in the media are about poor governance and governance failings. Good governance doesn't often seem to be so newsworthy!

However, in recent years, the consensus of international opinion has moved from accepting that a certain amount of corruption and poor decision making as inevitable, to a very positive and definite decision that corruption is unacceptable. For instance, Principle 10 of the United Nations Global Compact (initiated in 1999) states that "Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery".

Nevertheless, it is still possible to find far too many examples of poor governance in the road sector of many countries. Politicians, like the media, don't seem too concerned about the need to improve governance. Perhaps the reason for this is that politicians don't feel sufficiently accountable for good governance, most of the time doing the wrong thing doesn't seem to cause many problems.

On the other hand, politics is competitive, and all politicians are looking for new ways to distinguish themselves from other politicians. Why shouldn't good governance be a distinguishing factor?

What would happen if there was a better understanding of how the money normally lost through corruption and bad decisions could actually provide much better roads? What about if a politician decided to use his or her public visibility to explain this to everyone, would this further their political career against their opposition?

This would be "Positive politics" - political power to positively improve the value for money and service provided by the road network, rather than the negative and wasteful effects of politics which are regrettably so frequently identified by informed external observers.

Unfortunately, in most countries this scenario probably wouldn't work at the moment. Politics is very fickle. Something which seems to be a major political issue one day is forgotten a few days later when another scandal or topical event catches public attention instead.

Positive politics needs an environment of awareness and understanding, and this needs to be developed over a period of several years, with an effective long term campaign of educating road stakeholders coordinated with developing transparency in making the right information available to the public. "Understanding roads" needs to be become part of children's education. Schoolchildren should notice and ask "why?" when the drains are blocked or the camber of a road isn't right. The media should know enough to make headlines of when a contractor isn't being called to account for obvious bad construction, and should regularly analysing whether the public is seeing value for money, and whether the choice of projects is based more on politicians' personal interests that the country's economic needs.

The climate of public and business opinion needs to shift to a situation where the politician who works out how to get roads maintained and improved more rapidly and more cost effectively, and can demonstrate this with supporting evidence, gets instant public acclaim and political support. Everyone likes to be associated with success, and "getting the roads right" needs to become an achievable political ambition!

Please e-mail us any case study examples that you know about

Good ideas can often be quite easy to understand and to implement. Through this website we aim to give everyone access to opportunities to improve their own country's roads.