“The constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government – lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.” – Patrick Henry
THROUGHOUT THE last three or four decades, the storm of democratic movements and reforms has blown around the world, and democratic decentralization has extended globally. In all continents, most governments have embraced decentralization programmes. The United Nations has taken an important role in reconceptualizing governance. In the UNs archetype, governance is defined as “the exercise of political, economic, and administrative authority to manage a nations affairs. It is the complex mechanisms, processes, relationships and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interest, exercise their rights and obligations and mediate their differences”. (Reconceptualizing Governance, Discussion Paper No. 2. New York: UNDP). In the 21st century democracy goes beyond the rule of law and the protection of human rights and it means more than good governance and the effective management of public resources.
Descriptions of democracy differ and evolve time to time. Democracy is about the use of power and the management of conflict. It requires a set of political institutions and processes based on the principle of popular control over public decisions and decision makers, and equality of respect and voice between citizens in the exercise of that control. Moreover, the quality of democracy vary according to how well the institutions allow for these two principles to be given practical expression, which can be done through processes of participation, representation, accountability, transparency and responsiveness to the citizens. Such practice implies a culture of participation, in which media, an active civil society, competing political particles and other mechanisms allow all citizens to acquire political voice.
A better informed and active community, who can put pressure on national institutions to be accountable and responsive to citizens need and priorities, is a fundamental component of a functioning democracy. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is now able to support democracy and human rights by facilitating and intensifying citizens social mobilization. In developed countries the search for better governance was driven primarily by the concern that governments were ineffective, expensive, inflexible, and insufficiently responsive to the needs of citizens. Even though all these impediments, governments have, in varying degrees, enthusiastically responded to the adoption of ICT in both bringing the government to the people and in cutting the costs and time frame of service delivery. Recent world-wide crisis events have drawn new attention to the role of information and communication technology (ICT) to play warning and rejoinder activities. In developed countries two decades ago only a handful of governments offered services via the internet but now there is hardly any government that does not have some form of internet connectivity to service delivery.
ICT has also led to the accomplishment of other enviable objectives. First, there is greater pressure on government to become more transparent and ICT provides them with an easy way of doing that. More and more governments are making information, accounts, White Papers, government reports, and parliamentary discussions available on-line to keep citizens informed. In developed countries, the government posts the expense reports of elected officials for public analysis and inspection. In India, ICT has provided an accidental but easy way of exposing government corruption. ICT is also being used ingeniously and beneficially to engage citizens in government discussion. On the other side, citizens have also set up websites/blogs to inform people and organize public opinion regarding specific issues and successfully brought pressures on governments to modify their policies.
In democracy, the State is the servant of the people. It executes many functions essential for the wellbeing and development of its citizens and provides an array of essential services. ICT makes it possible for government and citizens to connect each other and to introduce government transparency and accountability, thus giving citizens the ability to participate in a way that makes representative democracy more effective and accessible. In the 21st century and in the age of information technology government must be efficient, effective, participative, honest, transparent, professional, responsive, and collaborative if they desire to achieve the goals of socially equitable economic growth and sustainable human development. The Government of Pakistan must not only play a critical role in the development of the on-line world but also need to incorporate and adapt policies and technologies that will expand participatory democracy.