‘Soft laws’ and the Ombudsman to strengthen governance in islands.

Good governance is one of the greatest challenges in an island territory or State.

On the plus side, there is proximity and size, which means a level of day-to-day accountability unrivalled in large territories or States: a policy or administrative decision taken by a senior civil servant or a political office-holder could easily result in a public haranguing by affected persons when shopping for groceries at the store. In a small community, one is accountable and ‘scoldable’ in daily life to an extent unimaginable in a big city or country.

On the minus hand, there is the challenge of ensuring independent oversight of policy and administrative decisions in a community where virtually everyone who is anyone knows everyone else. Ties of blood, professional affiliation, friendships or other links sometimes conspire to make it difficult to scrutinise actions and decisions in a truly impartial and objective manner. Further, publicly-funded professional resources are scarce and must be used wisely, so the choice of mechanisms to promote and strengthen good governance is critical.

An in-depth understanding of the concepts of accountability and transparency is essential before embarking on programmes or reforms to promote and strengthen good governance. ‘Soft laws’ and related institutions such as the Ombudsman are an indispensable tool for good governance in island territories and States. But the ‘right’ structure and machinery is absolutely essential to ensure that these institutions and laws work!

This paper explains key concepts of democratic governance and compares two institutions that purport to enhance accountability and democracy in different States to illustrate these points.



Roy Lee