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Politics central to successful public administration says Commonwealth official

25 June 2012
Political will to translate development into real, co-ordinated action crucial for very small island states.

Development is a political process, and politics is central to successful public administration which involves processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate interests, exercise rights, meet obligations and mediate differences. Max Everest-Phillips, Director of the Governance and Institutional Development Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat, said this at the opening of a two-day conference on Governance and Development in the Smallest of Small Island States in Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines, on 25 June 2012.

The event is aimed at examining the strengths and weaknesses of governance in the smallest island states of the Caribbean which are defined as having a population of less than half a million. This includes Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines. The goal is to explore practical solutions to improve governance to promote sustainable political stability and economic growth.

Mr Everest-Phillips stressed the importance of effective governance to facilitate favourable development outcomes and to support the process by which the legitimacy of the state can be strengthened. This, he said, can be done by improving the political-administrative interface, including the impact of the constitution and political process on political stability, consensus-building and sustainable national vision for development.

“Some small states enjoy social cohesion and the harmonious mediation of conflicting interests, while others suffer intense individual and group rivalries which fragment and paralyse the community and its governance institutions," explained Mr Everest-Phillips. “In public administration, smallness is often associated with many negative consequences such as over-extended personnel, limited capacities, shortage of management skills, and limited innovation and entrepreneurship. However, the potential advantages of very small island states can be overlooked. They can often be more responsive to change and more flexible in policy-making.”

Mr Everest-Phillips said effective public administration can be moulded to suit national concepts of good governance by creating a best fit rather than a best practice model in identifying practical solutions to issues and challenges of national development. Strengthening the supreme audit institutions and public accounts committees is one way to enhance public administration, he added. He stated that the role of the opposition in oversight is also vital in promoting good governance and accountability.