Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Accountability in Public Administration

Democracy does not mean just government elected by people. It also means a government accountable to people. Government servants i.e. the bureaucrats should function in public interest and they have to be accountable for their actions or inactions. Often the procedures of government are covered a in secrecy and confidentiality. This besides the large scale of governmental operations keeps the citizens and the administration. Accountability fills this gulf. Hence the presence of accountability is the life - blood of good democracy and good administration. A democracy is made real and functional only when the people at large have the power to hold the civil servants accountable. Thus accountability that has two dimensions: to hold the power holders "answerable" i.e. they have to give an account of the actions taken by them and "enforceability" i.e. punitive measures for the faults found in the administrative actions.

Accountability in Public Administration

Definition of Accountability

In simple words, accountability may be defined as answerability for one's action or behavior. The system of public services accountability is a web of processes by which an agency or the official required to account for its actions. Both in developed and developing countries the functions of government are such that the bureaucrats hold tremendous powers. Hence there is concern today about how the bureaucracies are using its power.

Accountability has two components: one is "answerability" i.e. giving an account of one's actions and the other is "enforcement" i.e. the capacity of accounting agencies to put sanctions against those who abuse power.

The concept of bureaucratic responsibility is a broader than that of accountability. Fesler and Kettle state that bureaucratic responsibility has two aspects: "accountability" i.e. answerability for the actions and "ethical behavior" i.e. actions in consonance with some moral standards. These components may or may not be compatible with each other. For example, ethical behavior may dictate disobedience of superiors' orders or reporting their unjust actions to still higher authorities such as legislators etc. In a constitutional democratic government bureaucratic responsibility should not just depend on the personal interpretation of duty. It has to be provided a formal and legal basis. The formal, legal and procedural basis of enforcing responsibility is called accountability.


Purposes of Accountability

There can be following purposes of accountability:

  • The first purpose is to curb abuse of bureaucratic power and discretion.

  • The second purpose is to win the confidence of citizens that performance would be according to the pre-determined quality standards.

  • The third purpose is to promote learning in pursuit of continuous public service improvement and governance.

The question of accountability is not a technical question. It does not just mean devising a system in which power is not abused and in which the public service delivery is according to the set standards. The heart of accountability is to bring administration closer to the people. Accoutability aims at democratizing administration, towards making administration transparent & open and towards giving the citizens power to know from those holding public officials how & on what basis they have taken decisions governing them. Thus for making public administrative system accountable following features should be ensured in it:

  • Various laws passed by legislature should work as they are intended to work without minimum delays & waste of resources.

  • The administrative discretion should exercise in a lawful and sensible way.

  • New policies and programmes should be recommended to bring administration further closer to the people.

  • The behavior of public officials should be as to enhance the public confidence in public institutions.


Types of Accountability (From the point of view of location of Accounting Agency)

Accountability can be considered from two perspectives: Accountability within the organisation and accountability to the agencies outside the organisation. The former is called "intra-organisational" accountability and the "extra-organisational" accountability. These forms of accountability are described below:


1. Intra-Organisational Accountability

This form of accountability could be manifested in following ways:

  • Accountability to the superior officers of the department.

  • The head of the Department in democratic countries is accountable to the Minister.

  • The Minister is also accountable to the Prime Minister and the legislature.

  • This form of accountability exists towards the internal hierarchy of the organisation.

2. Extra or Supra Organisation Accountability

In the modern times extra-organisation accountability has acquired great prominence. It may be manifested in the following ways:

  • Overall executive is accountable to the legislature. Executive derives its existence form the legislature only.

  • Judicial accountability is one of the most important dimensions of extra-organisational accountability.

  • Accountability directly to the citizens e.g. through Right to Information Act, Citizens Charter, print & electron media, people's movements etc. Direct accountability to the citizens through the ways mentioned here promotes the concept of participative administration.

Types of Accountability (From the point of view of Process & Results)

Accountability should not be seen in parochial term of only tackling corruption or to ensure abidance with all the rules and regulations. It should be the "driving force" for the administrators to perform and give results. There can be following types of accountability according  to this concept:

1. Fiscal Accountability

It is the most traditional type of accountability which ensures that all the expenditures made are according to the legal sanctions. The legislature controls the purse of the executive in this way. Financial irregularities may be brought to light in the various welfare programmes and signing of contracts etc. when the norms of financial accountability are applied to the executive.

2. Process Accountability

Process Accountability concerns itself with the adherence to the proper procedures and methods while doing the public works e.g. legal tenders & contracts etc. should be provided, no authority should be bypassed while taking actions etc. Thus performance of the tasks is at the core of process accountability.

3. Programme Accountability

The governmental programmes and schemes exist for achieving some socio-economic result. Merely ensuring that the funds and processes are utilized upto the well-established norms does not fulfill the objectives of government.  After all some results have to be achieved. Programme accountability ensures this. It exists for ensuring effectiveness and results. The real objective of programme accountability is to ensure whether the real beneficiaries were identified and whether there was any improvement in the lives of the beneficiaries due to the said programmes and schemes. Programme accountability moves beyond the narrower concept of efficiency to a broader concept of effectiveness.

The above types of accountability based on two criteria mentioned above can also be summed up in the following types of accountability mentioned by Jabbra and Dwivedi:

  1. Organisational or administrative Accountability

  2. Legal Accountability

  3. Professional Accountability - The professional accountability means that public interest should determine the responsibility and accountability of the professionals (such as doctors, engieners, scientists etc.) and not the professional interest or some kind of professional code. It may happen in reality that professional dictums may collide with the public interest but it should be the latter which should guide the behavior of the professionals.

  4. Political Accountability

  5. Moral Accountabilitiy

After studying the concept of Accountability in Public Administration we will now turn our attention to the concept of Control in Public Administration.


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