For those of us who work within the UN family, Governance cannot be an abstract, intellectual concept, but must be at the heart of our daily work. The instinctive desire to participate somehow in influencing how our lives might unfold is embedded deep within each individual. No-one who has participated in the first free elections in a young democracy can doubt that there is something far more profound than mere political allegiance which impels economically poor, technically unsophisticated men and women to walk for kilometre after kilometre, often through the night and often in searing heat, to be there as dawn breaks, ready to cast their votes. For UNDP, putting governance at the heart of our strategy, is to acknowledge and to embrace a vital facet of the human experience.

UNDP has always been concerned with the human condition and we have invariably sought to seek out and to build on those things which are peculiarly human. That is why we speak of capacity building, that is why we argue for sustainability in our work. Of course, the basic needs of food, health and shelter are necessary - and often urgent - but once these are being met, the individual's greatest satisfactions are found in love and friendship, culture and education, all of which mark the human being's uniqueness, and none of which can be enjoyed without that measure of freedom and choice which comes by courtesy of good governance.

Also, within the overarching work of international organisations, the UNDP's emphasis on governance is the legitimate mirror image of those whose brief is to assist economic viability. Economics is a poor taskmaster but a vital servant. Without the necessary financial resources our ideas are castles in the air, shimmering no doubt, but nevertheless lacking substance; but without the human values that are at the forefront of UNDP's vision, economic reforms become an end in themselves, rather than the necessary means to the worthy ends.

I am conscious that it is not enough to speak in such purple prose, and that more substance is needed, but we are sometimes in danger of being so pre-occupied with the practicalities that we miss the vision.

So, now, we can turn to the details! And immediately we must appreciate that good governance will always lie just ahead of us. We may make much progress towards its attainment but the day will never arrive when we can relax, basking in the knowledge that we have perfected it. Circumstances change; events dictate policies; leaders come and go; and our perceptions of good governance will change with them.

This is not a recipe for capricious or wayward reform. Far from it. The framework of good governance that we strive for is the best possible guarantee of stability in the midst of a changing society. Without the basic structures of good governance, men and women are likely to be blown along by every passing wind of enticing change. Indeed, in a very real sense, the marks of good governance are essential to all political change, to ensure predictability of policy over a government's period of mandate, and to provide a stable and secure foundation on which civil society can build.

Good governance is also vital to draw forth the best aspects of human behaviour. Recent years have seen a resurgence of those lethal nationalistic and xenophobic tendencies which disturb deeply our desire to believe in human progress. Each of us, to one extent or another, is a mixture of selfishness and altruism, and a secure, stable and convivial society can help to inhibit the one and encourage the other. It is not a coincidence, for example, that every example of 'ethnic cleansing' has taken place in an absence of anything approaching good governance.

I want briefly to mention a number of marks of good governance:

A democratic mindset, in which democracy permeates all aspects of society. In Western Europe and North America I guess that most people vote in an election every week - for the trade union, for the Church Council, for political party nominations, for the housing association committee, the parent-teachers' association, and so on. Democracy is part of everyday life, and the public elections for parliament or president are part of that pattern, rather than being unusual. By contrast, in young democracies, most NGOs lack internal democracy and voting is confined to an outing every few years at public elections.

The possibility of alternance. Through their votes the electors consent to be governed for the period of the government's mandate, and then there must be possibility of change, if the voters so decide, through an adequate electoral system. It presupposes a formal opposition - which in any case is important for the performance of government - with the potential of coming into office. It also requires armed forces and a civil service committed to serving the powers-that-be.

A philosophic basis to political parties. If parties are based on tribes, ethnic groups, regions, or religions, then the electoral campaign will change no-one's vote, and may legitimise dangerous ethnic divisions. If they are based on charismatic leaders they are by definition ephemeral, and dangerous in massaging the susceptible ego of the leader. To produce a coherent, long-term policy, a party needs to have a broad view of society.

A secular state, though not necessarily a secular society. A person's religious beliefs are individual to him or to her and, in the strict sense, a state cannot have a belief. Religion, by definition, involves a faith which extends beyond rationality, whereas politics has to be based on reason and logic. Even if a majority in a country profess a faith, the task of governance is to provide for all whether they subscribe to a religion or not.

A civilian state, in which the armed forces have a proper measure of influence by the quality of their advice, by their loyal support for the democratic state, and by their involvement in the wider society.

A legal state, founded on legal structures which are clearly judiciable, to which the individual has access, and which are presided over by respected and impeccable judges.

An open society, where pluralism is valued and encouraged, in which an open economy thrives, and in which a free press can operate.

Finally, drawing all these strings together, is the need to support and to enjoy a dynamic democratic process, in which ends do not justify means, and in which the process itself is important. Good governance is an art, and those who are its most successful practitioners are those who realise that, unlike other artists, for whom the finished artefact is more important than the materials, they are working with people, the most precious commodity of all, who are more important than any mould into which tyrants may try to force them.

13 October 1999