Government systems

Governance can take many different forms depending on the economic, cultural and traditional political norms of a country and the behaviour of the legislature and legislators. To understand democratic political behaviour is to understand that parliamentarians are “single-minded seekers of re-election”. Their goals are to improve the welfare of their constituents in the shortest possible time frame in order to ensure their reelection. This emphasises the need for robust governance systems to capture the benefits and avoid the dangers of such short-term interests. Legislators can only deal with limited information and they deal with this by specialising in a particular and limited area; in other domains they take their cues from other sources of information (agencies, colleagues, networks, committee reports, etc) that they have learned to trust. One of the key elements of governance is to create a framework (institutional and administrative) within which strangers or people with different interests can peacefully discuss and agree to co-operate and coordinate their actions.

The theoretical bases of governance with regard to water are a subset of theories of collective behaviour. Unfortunately, no one simple theory explains every situation. There is often a marked difference between the philosophical Continental European and Latin American approaches and the pragmatic US-Anglo Saxon schools of thought. There are also systems of social rights and responsibilities that remain traditional and uncodified, and are not necessarily less strong because they are manifested in cultural expectations rather than written rules. A social perception of equitable sharing is important to governance. The notion of flexibility and equitable sharing is, however, alien to many countries whose governance systems are rigid and do not allow for ‘reasonableness’. Adaptive capability is often not present and without enforceable sanctions, poor governance systems favour the strong. This makes it very difficult and even dangerous to translate practices based on flexibility and pragmatism into many developing country governance environments.

(Rogers & Hall 2003)