Governance and Society: A keynote address University of the Netherlands Antilles
Governance and Society
A keynote address
Ron Gomes Casseres
on the occasion of
the Opening of the Academic Year 2008-2009
University of the Netherlands Antilles
September 5, 2008
Governance and Society
Ron Gomes Casseres
September 5, 2008
We stand on the eve of one of the most important transitions in the history of our Country. Let there be no mistake: what we do and decide today, and especially what we undertake to accomplish tomorrow, will determine the welfare, the happiness and the well-being of our children and grandchildren. Few generations anywhere have been as privileged as ours to participate in the determination of the future of their Country. And few generations seem as intent as ours upon squandering that privilege with pettiness, with irrelevant quarrels and with a lack of consensus on a national direction. Happily, however, it is not too late.
To build that new future successfully will require that we enhance the quality of governance in the public and the private sectors and all across the entire spectrum of politics, NGOs and businesses. It will require as well that we strive to increase social cohesion in our society and that the constructive role played by the social society be strengthened. And we will be able to do all that only if leaders in all sectors and all institutions of our society excel in their leadership and create a new culture of excellence in Curaçao.
That is what I will be talking to you about today, and some of it may sound familiar to some of you. Twenty-five years ago, in December 1983, I stood in front of an audience of businessmen and extolled the merits of committing to excellence and to the intolerance of mediocrity. I spoke then about a lack of direction, and of the need for a development strategy based on a national commitment to excellence and international competitiveness. And I recommended back then that we remove one complete layer of government in Curaçao. Then too we faced a transformation within our Country, which would happen two years later when Aruba stepped out of the Antillean constellation.
Today, 25 years later I remain convinced, perhaps now more than ever, that to excel as a Country we must, each and every one of us, excel in what we do. I am not alone in believing strongly that we must try, each of us personally, to excel in all we do. Right in this same aula, some six months ago, Dutch Prime Minister J. P. Balkenende said: "Ik probeer mensen altijd te motiveren om het beste uit zichzelf te halen. Om te excelleren. Dan ben ik er van overtuigd dat we de toekomst met vertrouwen tegemoet kunnen zien." And two months later, our own Elis Juliana said in an interview: "Laga mediokridat i buska perfekshon. Ta poko di nos hendenan ta buska perfekshon."
Twenty-five years ago none of us would have guessed that today we would be sitting here with over one hundred telephones in this auditorium. The Internet had not yet been rolled out to businesses and consumers twenty-five years ago, and SPAM was only a pink concoction of mysterious meat products. The world of 1983 was ruled by the R's - Ronald Reagan was President of the USA, Rene Römer was Governor of the Netherlands Antilles, and Doble R was on all musical radio waves.
Good Governance and the Civil Society
Twenty-five years ago the concept of ‘good governance' had also not yet been invented. Today, ‘good governance' has become part of our everyday lingo. I personally often have difficulty talking about ‘good governance', as ‘governance' sounds too much like "gobernashon". Let me therefore state emphatically that when I am talking about ‘good governance', I am not equating that only to "bon gobernashon", or even only to the public sector, though that too is included.
There are undoubtedly as many definitions of ‘governance' as there are governance-experts. Personally, I like the definition of a United Nations agency1 which, in the context of developing
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countries, defines ‘governance' as "the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented.)" This definition makes it clear that we can talk about ‘governance' and ‘good governance' in Government, in privately owned companies and private sector organizations, in labor unions, in NGOs, in this very University - in short, in any organization where decisions are made and implemented. That is the context in which I will refer to ‘good governance' tonight.
In studies on governance in democracies and on the inclusion of society and its stakeholders in issues of governance, one concept that since the late 1990's is increasingly encountered is that of the ‘civil society'. The London School of Economics describes the civil society as that part of society that is composed of the totality of voluntary civic and social organizations and institutions, which form the basis of a functioning society, as opposed to the structures of state and commercial institutions.2 Harvard's Robert Putnam has shown that such non-political organizations are vital to democracy. That is because they build social capital, trust and shared values, which help hold society together and facilitate an understanding of the interconnectedness of society and the interests within it. To be effective, however, the civil society must continuously ask itself whether it is representing society as a whole or just narrow interests therein, and whether it is truly "facilitating an understanding of the interconnectedness of society and the interests within it." 3
Studies4, also in developing democracies, have shown that ordinary people in the last twenty years have grown disenchanted with institutions of the state, and this has led to a resurgence of civil society. The civil society is seen as both an instrument to monitor the state and an opportunity for voicing issues related to the priorities and practices of governance, and the civil society typically creates collective pressures for government reform.
Does that perhaps sound similar to trends that we have seen in our own nation ? Clearly, here also, there is widespread dissatisfaction and disenchantment with the way our parliaments function and with the way they monitor and control the executive branch of government. Here our civil society participates in governance when it makes its voice heard through institutions such as the SER, labor unions, NGO platforms, neighborhood and environmental organizations, religious platforms, academia, social institutions and consumer organizations (just to name a few.) It may do so in the press, in the Courts or any other legitimate way. We have seen instances where the civil society has forced government's hand, and perhaps the most noteworthy of these is in the environmental area. In recent months diverse environmental organizations combined forces and used a combination of legal, scientific and publicity instruments to force governments, both here and in Holland, and our society as a whole to face up to their responsibility for our citizens living downwind of the refinery. I suggest to you, however, that this process of civil society creating an element of popular monitoring over our system of governance and complementing parliamentary control is here still a developing one. We have yet to see, for example, varied and different specific interests of the civil society come together as one voice to demand that governments take concrete and significant steps to alleviate poverty in our society, or insist that the cost of health care and the quality of education be effectively tackled at all levels, or even demand better protection for our environment beyond our refinery. That is all, hopefully, still to come.
Civil society matters therefore also in Curaçao, and is a potential participant in our democracy and in enhancing the quality of governance. Civil society participates in governance when it challenges the decision-making process or the implementation of decisions, or demands public accountability through legitimate means. Just as governments influence society, so society can therefore directly and indirectly influence the very quality of decisions that are made.
The same UN agency, which provided the definition of governance that I am using tonight, also cites several characteristics of good governance. One of these characteristics is that good
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governance requires "inclusiveness of society's members so that no stakeholder feels excluded."5
Similarly, a team6 from the World Bank has asked "why otherwise good politicians enact bad policies in countries all over the world, but especially in low-income countries." Their extensive research has shown that it is precisely the constraints, the reduced "room to maneuver", sometimes brought about by society, that are often the reasons that "otherwise good politicians enact bad policies". More importantly, the World Bank researchers found that these constraints are shaped by the degree of social cohesion in a country and the quality of its institutions. Let me repeat: the constraints which are often the reasons that "otherwise good politicians enact bad policies" are shaped by the degree of social cohesion in a country and the quality of its institutions. And with "otherwise good politicians" I certainly do not limit myself only to those in governments or to those who form part of a governing coalition, but equally so to politicians in opposition to the administration.
Let's examine social cohesion in Curaçao. I refer to the UN's criteria for good governance that no stakeholder feel excluded, and quote again that same World Bank research: "Inclusiveness of the country's communities can greatly help build cohesion. On the other hand, countries divided along class and ethnic lines will place severe constraints on the attempts of even the boldest, civic-minded, and well-informed politician ... The strength of (public) institutions itself may be, in part, determined by social cohesion. Social cohesion ... is as important in the Ukraine as it is in the UK, in Canada, as it is in the Netherlands and as it is in Nigeria."
I suggest to you that after the riots of May 1969 we saw a period during which social cohesion in our society was at an all-time low. A number of previously existing inequities and inequalities were appropriately corrected after May 30th, but this lack of, or diminishing, social cohesion also led, in the words of the World Bank study, "otherwise good politicians to enact bad policies". This resulted then in thwarting the balance of powers in our society, and to political discourse and attitudes which led to the undermining of authority - from schools to judicial authorities. It is also in the period that followed May 30th that one can argue the first unwilling steps were taken which would lead 40 years later to the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles. It is arguable that it is precisely the recognition during these early years of the right of self-determination by each island separately, combined with decisions for a far-reaching decentralization to the detriment of the Central Government, which would lead, years and decades later, to the dissolution of that central federal power. "Good politicians enacting bad policies": a low degree of social cohesion constrained the ‘room to maneuver' of our governments in the months and years after May 1969.
We are all still proud today of the Olympic success of Churandy Martina and of our kids at various levels of Little League baseball. As we all know, however, these moments of national pride are regrettably fleeting ones and we are already back to our inability to unite on issues of national importance - including discord on such terribly difficult and complex issues as the Carnival route and the commemoration of Tula. I am dwelling on the relationship between the quality of decision-making in our public sector and the social cohesion in our Country as I believe that in many ways we are facing another period of diminishing social cohesion at the very point in time that decisions have to be made which will affect the very future of our Country, and thus of us all.
In a democracy there will, by definition, be multiple points of view, and that is welcome. From the clash of ideas, the clash of cultures and the clash of theories often come real wisdom. But for that to happen, the clash must be between ideas and principles, and not between emotions or between personalities or between sectors of society. Importantly, principles must be grounded in a fundamental disposition to look for common ground, to be prepared to talk about what divides us. That may result in strong words and hot discussions, but the objective should be to come closer to each other - to build, not to destroy. Today, conflict resolution in our society hearkens back too much to the Sixties and Seventies - demonstrating, intruding, obstructing, even
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violence and destroying instead of reasoning, creating and building. We should all individually condemn such tactics regardless of what corner they are coming from, and the civil society should as one voice stand up to it as well.
The World Bank also found that the quality of decisions and policies enacted by good politicians depends as well on the quality of public institutions. And here, similarly, we would be on the road to undermining good governance if we permit the independence of our public institutions, such as the Raad van Advies, the Algemene Rekenkamer, the Central Bank and soon the Commissie Financieel Toezicht to be unfairly attacked and/or accused of political bias for party-political reasons.
Some of the arguments we have heard and demonstrations we have seen in the past several months on radio talk shows, in the press, on our streets, and even in parliaments seem to have no other objective than to divide our community along ethnic, economic, and even racial lines. This will undoubtedly lead to the weakening of social cohesion in our society, and to the undermining of the independent public institutions on which our democracy depends. Equally damaging to social cohesion in our society are scare tactics and calls for "un lucha di resistensha" when the arguments used to incite fear miss all bases in fact. When fear is advocated, fear of change or fear of loss of autonomy, those who are uneasy will unite, and those who fear uncertainty will follow, but we will do little to create more social cohesion, little to bind our society together, and even less to stimulate those decisions that will create a better society for all. With less social cohesion, the World Bank has shown that "good politicians enact bad policies", bad policies that will affect each and every one of us in the new Curaçao, and that will affect our children and grandchildren. The arguments and actions I just referred to, therefore, are not a clash of ideas that will lead to wisdom, but rather to a future that - due to our own ensuing decisions - will not be as bright as it might otherwise be.
Quality of Governance in the Public Sector
Let me get back to decision-making, or governance, in our society. Why does the quality of governance matter so much ? Is this something that the Calvinistic Dutch are trying to introduce here but that will not work in our culture ? Let me quote another World Bank7 study: "In a cross-section of 150 countries, (there is) new empirical evidence of a strong causal relationship from better governance to better development outcomes, such as higher per capita incomes, lower infant mortality, and higher literacy." I believe that this aspect of good governance, the direct and strong causal relationship between good governance and development and welfare, has been given too little attention here. It is incumbent on all leaders of our society, but especially our politicians, to explain this direct relationship in understandable terms. Doing so will go a long way to greater acceptance by the community of measures that have to be taken in the new Curaçao to stimulate good governance in the public and the semi-public sectors.
Among the six basic concepts that were utilized by the World Bank to measure the quality of governance were the people's voice and political accountability, government effectiveness and the regulatory burden, rule of law and the incidence or the perception of corruption.
I am not going to go into all of these aspects of the quality of governance, as I believe that they are not new to you, having been discussed here on many occasions in all kinds of forums for the past five or so years. I do want to mention four aspects of governance that I believe are not always evident or are often not emphasized enough.
The first of these is that the ability to access and publicize information is a fundamental and crucial requirement for governance to be optimal in a democratic and politically active society. Transparency is important from the perspective of being able to access the data and the information on which governmental decisions are based in order to be able to understand better those decisions; importantly, that access has to be rapid and effective and without excessive bureaucracy. The media will, of course, always be the traditional watchdog for the civil society,
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and that role in turn places an obligation on the media to be of sufficient quality and discipline to execute this important responsibility.
A second aspect that will enhance the quality of governance is for legislative bodies to be truly independent, with strong and direct links to their constituents. In May, Dutch ‘Minister van Staat' Mr. Hans van Mierlo held an excellent presentation in this same auditorium, in which he also described some of the weaknesses of our democratic society, as this relates to the role of the majority and of the opposition in parliament, the independence of parliament from the executive branch, and the linkage of members of parliament to the electorate.8 I strongly recommend that you read that lecture, which you can access on UNA's website, for while it purports to discuss the recent development of democracy in Holland, it mirrors that development in our own Antillean and Curaçao societies.
The third aspect is the importance of the process of developing, presenting and approving government budgets and of accountability through the approval of annual fiscal accounts. There is no question that there has been much recent improvement in both the preparation of budgets and of annual accounts. Too many still attach too little importance, however, to budgets as crucial instruments of policy and of transparency of that policy. Too few attach sufficient importance to annual accounts as instrument of accountability of the executive to parliament. Kausa Komun has long emphasized the importance of budgets and annual accounts to the process of good governance. The Raad van Advies has for years stressed that the process by which budgets are developed and discussed should be addressed and fundamentally changed. I believe we have a singular opportunity today to go one step further. That is to codify in the new Constitution of our Country the process by which budgets and annual accounts are to be developed and approved as an important ingredient of the quality of governance in the new Curaçao.
Finally, the fourth aspect of the quality of governance I want to mention today is corruption, the connection of which to development is clear and direct. Corruption brings with it short term effects whereby "political, bureaucratic, and judicial processes are put up for rent ... and benefits flow to the few". There is also, however, a longer term, much more permanent effect on society. That is, as formulated by the US Agency for International Development, that "corruption can erode the legitimacy of government and undermine democratic values, ...increase uncertainty in the commercial environment and thus depress private investment ..... reduce competition, ..... and create an opening for organized crime networks to influence government decision-making."9 Against corruption, each and every one of us much be watchdogs, and be brutal pit bulls at that.
Quality of Governance in the Non-Public Sector
Governance matters, but not only governance in the public sector: governance in the private sector also matters. Poor governance in the private sector can also affect development, and perhaps there is no better time to discuss this than when the economy does well.
Why "when the economy does well"? Our economy is doing well. Real GDP growth, after several years of lethargic or negative growth, was 3.7% in 2007. Unemployment is down as is youth unemployment, and even with the expected up-tick in inflation, it is still comparatively low. One of the foremost sociologists and political scientists in the USA, Harvard's Theda Skocpol, has shown that revolutions are more likely to occur when conditions are improving, as they are now in Curaçao, not when conditions are deteriorating. This means that not only Government, but also we in the private sector must pay special attention to design policies that protect the most vulnerable members of society, and ensure that indeed our society as a whole benefits from the rising tides. Now is the time for the private sector, both at the level of individual companies and by our private sector organizations, to do so in a pro-active way, by leading the way and providing an example to the rest of society. Now is the time to look rationally at how we can have all members of society benefit from the improved and improving economic conditions of our country - those that are employed but especially the less fortunate among us. Now is the time to
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make everyone experience concretely that "a rising tide lifts all boats", even if now is not the time to legislate arbitrary, ad-hoc or poorly substantiated measures, which risk springing holes in our rising boats. Let us all in the private and the public sectors keep in mind that a society is best judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members, and that is the way we wish the new Curaçao also to be judged.
Financial institutions are fortunate that our Central Bank has had the foresight since 1996, more than 10 years ago, to require enhanced corporate governance of the institutions it supervises. I have no doubt that today we have a stronger financial sector as a result of this early initiative by the BNA. It is noteworthy and positive that this year the Chamber of Commerce and the UNA, through the latter's Academic Chair of Good Governance, have cooperated in the education of corporate supervisory directors on practices of good governance, and in the preparation of a code of conduct of good corporate governance. These are excellent examples of the private sector leading the way and not merely talking about governance in the public sector or government-owned companies. It is imperative that we truly create better governance of our own institutions in the private sector, and it is important that our trade and commercial organizations become as critical of poor governance in private sector companies and organizations as they are of the public or the semi-public sectors.
Governance in the non-governmental sector also entails issues of succession and change of leadership. Here we often fail. Too often businesses do not prepare for transition of leadership, too often leadership in labor unions, trade associations and NGO's remains in the same hands for so long that leaders tend to equate the organization with their own person. Sometimes this is evidence of the lack of foresight of management or directors, or of the lack of democracy within an association or organization. Often it is also a matter of not wanting to pass on leadership, or of feeling threatened by that prospect, some of the same tendencies that we at times accuse politicians in government of. If truly we want to help transform society, those of us outside of the public sector have to realize that this also entails transforming our own organizations, our own traditional thinking and our own traditional ways of dealing with that same society. That too is part of good governance.
A few minutes ago, in talking about the pubic sector and discussions between politicians, I said that "principles must be grounded in a fundamental disposition to look for common ground", and that "the objective should be to come closer to each other." If we in the private sector wish to lead the way and provide an example, how then do we explain the fact that in the international financial sector, we have today not one, but two representative organizations as its principals were not able to reconcile their differing points of view within one association? Or the split-up of the association of tax advisors or of the gas station operators because of irreconcilable views ? I have good friends on both sides of all of these heated discussions, and I respect them greatly, but how do we reconcile these fragmentations with advocating to the public sector to have "strong words and hot discussions, but .... to come closer to each other - to build, not to destroy"? I suggest that in these cases, our private sector is not providing a good example of leadership to the rest of our community.
Leaders, leadership and UNA
Leaders must lead the way in society, regardless of whether they are public servants, form part of our commercial community or the civil society. Earlier this year, Stella van Rijn10 provided an excellent, short definition of the difference between leaders and managers, which also serves to define leadership. "Leaders do the right things, managers do things right", she wrote. Leaders do the right things. But what is "the right thing"? The Leadership Excellence Summit in the USA answers that question by saying that leaders must have an internal compass which is set on the critical ingredients of true leadership, namely ethics, integrity and character. "Authentic leadership is profoundly ethical in nature. Great leaders are persons of integrity and character who are committed to principles and purposes and show empathy and respect."11 Perhaps it is time, next to the many other awards that are extended in our society, to introduce an annual
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Leadership Excellence Award for the individual or institution of high integrity and character and ethical principles, whether in the public, private or NGO sectors, who has succeeded through that leadership in achieving outstanding results. I know that the Curaçao Leadership Forum, led a.o. by Ivan Kuster and Miguel Goede, has been working on such an award, and I can only encourage them to continue to do so.
Leadership can be exerted as well by institutions. One year ago at this same occasion, Job Cohen, mayor of Amsterdam, discussed the importance of knowledge in building a nation. He talked about the importance of knowledge in international competitiveness for the city-states of the world, including both Amsterdam and Curaçao. Cohen quoted economic historian Joel Mokyr of Northwestern University, saying that "veel groei voorkomt in het opnieuw toepassen van eerder beschikbare kennis en niet zozeer uit de toepassing van nieuwe kennis." This is an important assertion for universities in developing countries, such as our own University of the Netherlands Antilles, which seek to function as centers of excellence in their societies. It means that these universities do not necessarily have to be an MIT or a Harvard or a Leiden or Delft, with millions or billions of dollars, euro's or guilders to fund fundamental and pioneering scientific research. It means that we can also dedicate ourselves to providing leadership in applying existing and available knowledge in new and innovative ways to assist the growth and the development of society in city-states such as Curaçao.
Clearly our UNA is an important member of the civil society in Curaçao, and one that brings together many different facets and strata of our community with one concrete goal in mind: to prepare for stronger participation in tomorrow's society. That is why I believe that our UNA can develop into a true leader and center of excellence in our society. There is for instance no reason why we should not create the capability at UNA to assist more broadly in the development of economic and public finance strategies for our country. There is no reason why UNA cannot become the institution that assists in developing a national energy policy for Curaçao. There is no reason why UNA cannot become the one to propose effective strategies to combat poverty and other social ills that ail our society. And certainly UNA can play an important role in researching the influence that governance and our own society have on each other. I suggest to you that UNA, as a center of learning, can become an institution that provides the necessary leadership in applying knowledge in new ways to assist the growth and the development of society. And let me remind you that strengthening institutions such as our UNA will also lead to better governance and to better decision-making.
To do so, however, UNA must resolve some of the problems that plague it. In the past 15 years, I have been involved in some projects that have permitted me to look into the ‘UNA-kitchen' and to experience how UNA ‘works'. While undoubtedly much good comes from UNA, and the tremendous growth of the student population in the past five years more than proves that, I have been repeatedly disappointed to observe and read of the internal strife and the internecine quarrels in our University. Often this is caused by an archaic governance structure that is wholly inappropriate for a center of advanced learning in a developing and small society in the twenty-first century.
UNA must also upgrade itself in other ways. UNA's faculties must increase their own commitment to research, and UNA's educational staff should include more faculties with advanced degrees based on their personal and institutional research, so that they in turn can mentor and guide others to strive successfully for their own PhD's.
No self-respecting university today can rely solely or even mostly on teaching, regardless of the excellence thereof. Research must be part of what challenges our youth in higher education institutions, including at our own UNA, and it must do so in multi-disciplinary ways. I was pleased to read recently that creating a new culture of research is also the policy of UNA's Rector Magnificus Jeanne de Bruijn, and I quote her: "Maar tegelijkertijd wil de UNA zich ook op onderzoek gaan richten. De UNA is altijd sterk geweest als onderwijsinstituut, maar de
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onderzoekskant van ons werk bleef daardoor soms onderbelicht. Meer onderzoek, vooral toegepast onderzoek, is een prioriteit voor de UNA."12
This is, however, a two way street. For UNA to provide true leadership, it is not only necessary for it to enhance the effectiveness of its governance structure and the quality of its faculty and its research, but our society as a whole must in turn provide stronger and more structural support to our University. Studies and research around the world have proven that a direct relationship exists between the level of education in society and that society's welfare and development. In an address to Harvard's Class of 2008, Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, argued that economic inequality and improving economic opportunity can best be addressed by focusing on raising the level of and access to education - from early childhood education to colleges and continuing to adult education.13 It is therefore incumbent on our society and on our leaders in both the public and the private sectors, to see our UNA as both a potential center of excellence and a national resource, and support it, also financially, in reaching these goals.
Yes, society must support UNA also financially. State support for universities is falling rapidly in many countries. In the United Kingdom, for instance, government contribution per student dropped not less than 35% from 1990 to 200614. Around the world, universities are complementing state support and student payments by fundraising to create endowments. Whether we like it or not, that is the reality in the world of universities today, from Harvard to Stanford, and from Oxford to the University of Melbourne.
I have been very encouraged at some recent developments at the UNA to bring it more closely aligned to the goals of society. The recent partnership I just referred to between the UNA's Academic Chair of Good Governance and the Chamber of Commerce in order to enhance the quality of corporate governance is an excellent and welcome one. The alliance between UNA and the Instituto pa Formashon den Enfermeria IFE is a very positive development. Equally positive is the creation of the Bachelor of Education and the Bachelor of Social Work degrees, as both of these are directed towards important and necessary areas in our developing society.
At the same time as we are creating these new directions of study, however, let us not forget to continue to improve and enhance some of the more traditional ones. One I would point to specifically is the development of more professional managers - mind you, managers, not just business administrators or finance graduates. Jack Welch, the retired leader and CEO of General Electric, in a column last May, referred to the "dearth of professional managers in the developing world"15 as one of the red flags around the world for the decade ahead - and so it is also for Curaçao.
One thing leaders have in common is that they try to excel in what they do. General Electric's Jack Welch, for instance, would spin off any business in which GE could not be the best or second best in the world; less than that was simply not acceptable to him as a leader of General Electric. A few moments ago, I referred you to a talk I held twenty-five years ago in which I argued that we should not accept mediocrity and should strive for excellence in all that we undertake. That was long before the term "mitar-mitar" became part of our lingo. Then "Di nos e ta" was used to indicate that we had to use it, drink it, or eat it simply because it was ours, not because it was the best - and not even because it was our best. Today ‘excellence' has become part of the competitive global landscape. Excellence awards, centers of excellence in private companies and in institutions of higher learning, excellence in medical care, excellence in cities-programs, neighborhoods of excellence, and councils on excellence in government have all, since the early Eighties, become ways through which corporations, universities, hospitals, cities, neighborhoods and governments seek to distinguish themselves in the increasingly global race for the welfare of their people.
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Today, being ‘good', ‘competent' or ‘doing your best and trying harder' is simply not good enough. Today, you and I and all of us must excel in what we do if we wish to succeed in this global race. That means many things, and could be the subject of another talk. Let me suffice to say that the pursuit of excellence in our society will obligate us
- to have a vision of the future, and to be able to define that vision in ways that inspire;
- to attract and develop the most talented people for our companies, for our university, for our hospitals, and for public service, even if that means occasionally attracting them from outside of our own immediate circles;
- to encourage initiative, excellence, innovation, creativity, and thinking outside-the-box;
- to establish and use objective benchmarks and norms, to measure performance, and to strive to consistently exceed these;
- to concentrate on those things we can excel in and not to try to be everything to everyone, a ‘jack of all trades';
- and, finally, to produce outstanding results.
Excellence is not a God-given talent we are born with. Excellence requires more than just "a good heart and a good mind"16. Excellence can come about only through hard work, research and study, through sweat and tears and through discipline, through commitment and dedication, and through constantly moving the bar up and the finish line further so that we all, each and every one of us, truly "match our practice with our potential."17
Let me conclude by pulling together some of the strands of this talk.
As we stand on the threshold of a most important transition of our Country, it is up to us to decide whether we squander the opportunities that this presents or whether we utilize this transcendental moment in history to create a better Curaçao for the next generations.
To do so, will require us to enhance across our entire society the quality of our decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented), regardless of whether this is in the public or the non-public sectors. In short, to enhance the quality of governance.
Governance and society are intertwined in many ways. Some of these ways provide opportunities for leadership, while others can interact and result in a negative downward spiral which leads only to less, not greater, welfare. The civil society has an increasingly important role to play in ensuring that the ills and concerns of society are effectively tackled, even when politically it may be easier or more expedient to brush them under the carpet.
Politicians, but also others who are politically or socially active, should keep in mind that the degree of social cohesion in society will influence the quality of decision-making, and that a lack of social cohesion will lead to "otherwise good politicians enacting bad policies" due to a reduced room to maneuver. Social cohesion, however, does not imply uniformity of views or of opinions: it is from the clash of opinions and theories that real wisdom often comes. The diversity of ideas must, however, be disposed to reason, to build and never to destroy, and to look for common ground. That is what we should expect from our leaders - in politics as well as outside of it. On the other hand, tactics and arguments that seek only to destroy and to divide must be condemned in the strongest terms by the civil society as a whole.
Some make the mistake of thinking that good governance is important because Holland demands it or because the Central Bank requires it, or because some do-good intellectual believes it to be important. Not so. Governance matters because there is empirical evidence of a strong causal relationship between better governance and better development outcomes. It is the
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responsibility of all leaders of our society, but especially our politicians, to explain this direct relationship in understandable terms.
Governance matters not only in the public sector or in Government-owned companies, but also in the non-public sectors - in corporations, NGO's, healthcare, education and in institutions of higher learning, as well as in other organizations. Advocates of good governance should therefore not concentrate only on the public or the semi-public sectors. Strengthening good governance in the non-public sectors and in our private institutions will provide an excellent example of leadership to others - and to the public and semi-public sectors.
Good governance requires leadership. Good governance does not always come automatically and instinctively. This is where the leaders of our society come in. Leaders who do the right things have an internal compass set to ethics, integrity and character - and achieve outstanding results in that way. Leaders can be individuals, but leadership can also be exerted by institutions. Our own University of the Netherlands Antilles, as an important member of the civil society, is one such institution which can provide leadership in our society. To do so, however, UNA must also confront some challenges itself in the areas of its own governance and in the relative importance it places on teaching and research. Only then will it become a true center of knowledge excellence and recognized as a national resource in and for our nation.
The state or quality of excelling is not an innate talent, regardless of whether it is in a university's center of excellence, in government, in institutions and companies, or in individuals. Excellence requires vision, discipline, commitment, creativity, and especially hard work. Excellence requires learning from mistakes, and "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again."18
As is the case with good governance and with leadership, excelling in what we undertake is crucial to providing our children and grandchildren the prosperity and the welfare that they deserve in the new Curaçao, and more importantly, that is the potential of our people and our nation. For to be competitive in today's global environment, our new Curacao must be and must have all of that: it must excel in leadership, in public and private sector governance, in education, in health and in environment, in skills and in finance, and especially in attitudes and values.
The bottom line is that if we are serious about utilizing this transcendental moment in history for a better future for our Country, we must strive also for stronger social cohesion and stronger public institutions in order to stimulate better governance. Better governance in public and the non-public sectors will create greater social and economic development, as well as more opportunities for leadership as we move into this new era. More opportunities for leaders to do the right things, and to strive continuously to excel and to reject mediocrity in a new culture of excellence. And, finally, rejecting mediocrity will mean more excellence in the public sector, in the private sector, and in the civil society in order to bring about even better governance and greater welfare for generations to come in a new Curacao.
If all that seems rather utopian and far-fetched, let me end on a personal note by quoting two individuals from whom I draw much inspiration. The first is a leader of the past, and the second is an inspiring leader of the future.
In the late 1960's, Robert Kennedy always ended his speeches, as I do today, by paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw and saying:
"There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why ? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not ?"
Today, it is an inspiring leader of the future, who has continuously and successfully defied long odds, Barack Obama, who says to us all, and not only in respect of the United States of America:
"I am asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change .... I am asking you to believe in yours."
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Yes, we need to stop asking why ? and start asking why not ? We need to stop asking why things are the way they are and start asking why they cannot be as we audaciously hope and dream. And we need to start truly believing, each and every one of us, in our own individual ability to bring about real change. If we all do so, I believe - and I hope you can believe with me - that with a commitment to excellence, to integrity and to ethics, and especially with hard work, we can and we will have a better new Curaçao. We can, and we will. Now, let's all do it.
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1 UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, 2008 2 "What is civil society?" Center for Civil Society, London School of Economics, from Wikipedia, May 2008
3 Robert D. Putnam, "Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy", 1993 4 R. Tandon and R. Mohanty, "Does Civil Society Matter?: Governance in Contemporary India", 2005
5 Other typical characteristics are a fair legal framework to ensure impartiality and protection of human rights through the rule of law; transparency of the process and of information; responsiveness in serving all stakeholders in a reasonable timeframe; accountability, which in turn requires transparency and the rule of law; effectiveness in reaching desired results while making the best use of resources available; participation and consensus orientation.
6 J. Ritzen, W. Easterly, and M. Woolcock, The World Bank, "On ‘Good' Politicians and ‘Bad' Policies: Social Cohesion, Institutions and Growth", 2000
7 Daniel Kaufmann a.o., "Governance Matters", 1999
8 Mr. H.A.F.M.O. Van Mierlo, "Democratie en Deugdzaamheid", UNA, 2008 9 US Agency for International Development, "Democracy and Governance: A Conceptual Framework", 1998
10 Stella van Rijn, "De Rol van Management in de 21ste Eeuw", Coaching Magazine, maart 2008
11 Leadership Excellence Awards, 2007 Leadership Excellence Summit, sponsored by the US Naval Academy and the Harvard Business Review.
12 Prof. Dr. Jeanne de Bruijn, NICIS Institute, May 30, 2008 13 The New York Times, June 5, 2008, "Bernanke Links Education to Economic Equality"
14 Newsweek, August 18, 2008, "A Global Headhunt" 15 Jack & Suzy Welch, "Red Fags for the Decade Ahead", Business Week, May 19, 2008
16 Yap Cheng Hai, Grandmaster of Feng Shui 17 Brian Harbor, "Rising above the Crowd", 1988
18 Educator Thomas H. Palmer, 1840