Small states like Manipur need to boost local governance structures and leadership development
In small states like Manipur, there is often a tendency for decision-making to become highly centralized. Even relatively minor issues get escalated to senior levels of the government - such as the Chief Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Chief Secretary, Director General of Police, etc.
This brings about several inefficiencies. Bandwidth at the top levels is limited, and routine decisions take a long time. Implementation of social welfare schemes and development programs can get delayed and the general public and beneficiaries have to wait for a long time before there is any progress. In the business sector too, the bottlenecks that result from centralization tend to slow down entrepreneurial activity and economic growth - permits take longer than needed, policy formulation is long-winded and slowness in resolving tax and subsidy issues means cash flow challenges.
It is important to analyze why this happens and then try and take steps to fix it. Doing so will not only make governance more effective and responsive to the needs of the people but also help speed up GDP growth and job creation.
The main factor that leads to centralization in governance is a lack of strong local institutional structures and poor leadership at lower and middle levels. This is not an insurmountable problem. Today, e-governance and technology make it possible to ensure strong oversight and accountability - these tools have to be properly harnessed to make governance more transparent and predictable at all levels. The other factor - perhaps even more important- is addressing the leadership and skill deficit in local government institutions. This means not only more systematic management and leadership training and development programs at the grassroots levels but also being able to identify and empower leaders at all levels using the robust e-governance framework mentioned earlier. It may also be time to revisit the recruitment and promotion practices followed by local government institutions to render them more meritocratic - though this will be politically challenging given the high dependence on government jobs in a less developed state like Manipur.
Equally, the local governance structures must reflect the gender and ethnic diversity of the population to render them more representative and effective. It is a fact that the higher participation of women in such institutions and leadership positions leads to better outcomes.
At Eta Northeast Women's Network, we are contemplating creating leadership development programs to help create the women leaders that Manipur needs for its future - both in public and private sector roles. A key component of this is to ensure the right mentoring and to track women leaders through different stages of their careers to provide them the support they need to grow their skills in a fast-changing world. We hope that in a small way, this will decrease the need for centralization and help spur more inclusive growth.