Secretary-General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

at the ASEAN-EC Regional Symposium

Bandar Seri Begawan, 28 November 2005

1. I would like to thank the organisers for this kind invitation to me to address this year’s ASEAN-EC Regional Symposium.

The concept and practice of governance

2. Governance has recently become a buzzword both in government and corporate policy-making circles. The media is also very interested in the concept and has given wide publicity to it. To put it simply, in my opinion, governance is the process and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised.

3. Various international organizations have now included the quality of governance in assessing a country’s capability or even seriousness in national development.

4. For example, the Asian Development Bank has included the promotion of governance as one of the three pillars of its single-minded vision of an Asia-Pacific region free of poverty. The two other pillars are pro-poor economic growth and social development.

5. For its part, the World Bank has been carrying out governance diagnostic surveys and capability building programmes amongst its borrowers. It has identified six dimensions or indicators of governance as follows: (a) voice and accountability; (b) political stability and absence of violence; (c) government effectiveness; (d) regulatory quality; (e) rule of law; and (f) control of corruption. These are aggregate indicators of governance based on several hundred individual variables measuring perceptions of governance.

6. Even the International Monetary Fund uses good governance approach in its surveillance over macroeconomic policies, namely, the transparency of government accounts, the effectiveness of public resource management, and the stability and transparency of the economic and regulatory environment for business.

7. A broader notion of governance has been adopted by the United Nations Development Programme, which transcends the state and includes the private sector and civil society. All three are considered critical for sustaining human development. The state creates a conducive political and legal environment. The private sector generates jobs and income. The civil society mobilizes and facilitates political and social interactions.

8. In its broader sense, governance is not just about the capacity of the public and private sectors in making decisions and managing resources efficiently, but also in empowering and respecting institutions and processes that govern political, economic and social interactions.

9. The working assumption of such increasing interest in governance is that poor governance is linked to the vicious cycle of underdevelopment and poverty. Emphasis on governance provides institutional mapping of strengths and weaknesses, measures the costs and impact of mis-governance, and identifies priority areas for reform and capacity building.

Governance and ASEAN

10. How do we apply the practice of good governance in ASEAN?

11. At the outset, I have to acknowledge that ASEAN does not use explicitly the terminology of good governance in its multi-dimensional and varied activities and programmes. However, it instinctively either practices the key elements of governance mentioned above or encourage the individual ASEAN Member Countries to pursue them in the course of carrying out their commitments in ASEAN. Common sense makes us do so.

12. Consensus-building and consultations are hallmarks of ASEAN decision-making. For example, in the case of promoting regional economic integration, ASEAN has been working closely with the private sector through mechanisms such as the ASEAN Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the ASEAN Business Forum and specialized or sectoral groups such as the ASEAN Federation of Mining Associations and the ASEAN Ship Owners Association, among others.

13. The road towards an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is as much a community building exercise as it is a set of economic goals and activities. As envisioned, the AEC would include cooperative activities that would help bridge the development gap between the founding and younger members of ASEAN through the Initiative for ASEAN Integration or IAI. This policy direction is inspired by our ‘prosper thy neighbor’ principle.

14. Rules-based decision-making is taking roots in ASEAN. Ministerial meetings become more and more business-like because many of their agreements need to be legislated nationally. This is the case, for instance, of the phased tariff reduction under the Common Effective Preferential Tariff scheme of the ASEAN Free Trade Area or AFTA. Current efforts in making the decisions and resolutions of the ASEAN dispute settlement mechanism legally binding is another case in point. We have even started the process of drafting an ASEAN Charter to enhance ASEAN’s legal personality.

15. ASEAN is committed to promoting harmonious relations amongst its Member Countries and beyond. ASEAN’s political and security cooperation has been underpinned by the twin principles of (a) settlement of difference or disputes by peaceful means and (b) renunciation of threat or use of force. Furthermore, under the Bali Concord II of 7 October 2003, ASEAN has resolved to promote and achieve common standard of political norms towards “building a democratic, tolerant, participatory and transparent community in Southeast Asia.” This community building endeavor should provide balance to the equally important principle of respecting national sovereignty and identity.

16. The future of ASEAN depends on the support of its constituencies in the region and its partners abroad. With its limited resources and reach, ASEAN could only be a catalyst to inspire, enable, and mobilize these constituencies to play their different but complementary roles towards ASEAN’s common interest. ASEAN leverages on its strategic position in the region to initiate policies or activities that have multiplier effect on the ground.

17. In this regard, ASEAN maintains its relations with some individual non-government organizations as well as some regional networks, such as the Working Group on Human Rights Mechanism and the ASEAN Peoples’ Assembly (APA). It has been an ASEAN practice to reach out to relevant NGOs either in the course of formulating or implementing some of our regional programmes, particularly in the social development sector. The formulation of the ASEAN Work Programme on HIV and AIDS and the 2001 ASEAN Summit Declaration on HIV and AIDS was very much a case of bottom-up and multi-sectoral approach. It involved the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS and five other major NGO networks in the region.

18. ASEAN is cognizant of the opportunities and challenges associated with globalization and interdependence. As the region becomes more integrated, it is not only the opportunities that are multiplied, but also the instability and dislocations associated with this process. Thus, our efforts to engage in economic competition are complemented with measures to mitigating the socio-economic impact of the polarization effect between the competitive and less than competitive economies. In this regard, ASEAN established a task force on
social safety nets following the 1997 financial crisis. Its work has now been taken over by the more permanent Senior Officials on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication.

19. Without giving a voice to the many partners involved in ASEAN’s agenda and priorities and without a systematic and open accounting of the resources and policies needed, ASEAN would not be able to achieve the desired outcome of its plans and programmes. The rule of law and effective regulations are essential to realizing the objectives of the AEC and other goals of ASEAN community building. There is an acceptance of such attributes of good governance. The challenge is in controlling the tendency to reap easy and quick profits.

20. Let me add an element to complete the essentials of what I consider good governance should be. I believe that a leader should have a vision or that an organization should have a strategic focus for everyone to rally behind. An efficient and representative organization should have a purpose towards which those organizational attributes should be employed.

21. Any preoccupation in promoting good governance, therefore, should look beyond improving institutions and processes, but should include the development of human resources as an integral component.

22. ASEAN must train and nurture technocrats to ensure that our corporate, national and regional objectives are achieved in the most cost-effective and innovative ways. At the same time, it is necessary to spot, attract and nurture leaders to help them prepare and take over the responsibility of direction-setting for their organizations and our region.

23. This leads me to my concluding remarks.


24. In 1992, a distinguished group of men and women established a thinkgroup which called itself the Commission on Global Governance. The Commission, chaired by Ingvar Carlsson and Shridath Ramphal, former Prime Minister of Sweden and Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, respectively, submitted its report to the Secretary-General of the United Nations in October 1994.

25. After outlining some very profound proposals ranging from redefining the meaning and processes of international security, better management of economic interdependence, reforming the Bretton Woods institutions and the United Nations and strengthening the rule of law worldwide, the Commission concluded as follows:

“Whatever the dimensions of global governance, however renewed and enlarged its machinery, whatever values give it content, the quality of global governance depends ultimately on leadership. It needs leadership that is proactive, not simply reactive, that is inspired, not simply functional, that looks to the longer term and future generations for whom the present is held in trust.”

26. ASEAN has a built-in advantage in the sense that it is driven by the collective leadership of our heads of state and government. We should continue to translate the challenge of our diversity into the wisdom of many. We owe it to our people to provide visionary leadership toward achieving our common aspirations and realizing them in the best possible way.

27. Thank you and I wish the ASEAN-EC Regional Symposium every success.