Accountability is a consequence of the implicit social compact between citizens and their delegated representatives and agents. Social accountability is a new buzzword for the development partners around the world in order to understand accountability that is based on civic engagement. Social accountability is regarded as demand side of good governance, which involves ordinary citizens and civil society organisations who contribute directly or indirectly in gaining accountability from their elected representatives and leaders.
Social accountability has great potential to participate in poverty reduction through more-pro-poor policy design, improved service delivery, and empowerment. It also has important gender implications and is systematically lessened at every level of government in almost every country all over the world. Social accountability is strictly allied to rights-based approaches to development. The responsibility of government representatives to be answerable to citizens derives from views of citizens and wider set of human rights.
Social accountability is being progressively renowned by state and non-state institutions as a means of improving democratic governance and service delivery. Social accountability mechanisms, including participatory budgeting, public expenditure tracking, citizen report cards, community score cards, social audit, citizen charters, public hearings, community radio, citizens’ juries, etc, perform a dominant role in improving governance and deepening democracy. These mechanisms have proved predominantly useful in the framework of decentralisation, facilitating to build up links between citizens and local-level governments and supporting local authorities and service-providers to become more responsive and effective.
Moreover, these are regarded as powerful tools against corruption. It can contribute to improved governance, increased development, effectiveness through better service delivery and empowerment. In general, the objective of these mechanisms is to promote transparency and accountability in the service delivery process. These mechanisms act as an empowerment tool for the citizens and enhance the level of commitment within government, particularly the assurance of the political leadership and government.
According to the World Bank, few aspects are critical to any social accountability. Firstly, prospects for information flowing, discussion and negotiation from local government to citizens. Secondly, the capability to seek government accountability among citizens and civil society. Thirdly, taking initiative of citizen engagement in supporting transparency, open information sharing, outlooks, abilities and accountability. Lastly, a facilitating environment within the policy, legal and regulatory spheres for improved civic engagement.
Nowadays, there is rising awareness and evidence about the impression of transparency and accountability for citizen to relish operative service delivery. These connections have been broadly owned by different international and national stakeholders addressing the role of operational institutions in promoting economic growth. Economy is regarded as the pillar of a country’s infrastructure. When the economy turns corrupt, it leads to redundancy, extremism, poor governance, increasing debts and a host of other evils. Pakistan has the lowest tax-to-GDP ratio across the region and a taxation system that is characterised as unfair and inequitable. According to NAB, the amount of tax evasion is equal to Rs7 billion per day. The major culprit is corruption that comes at a heady cost of an expected Rs12 billion per day.
At this time, this is an eye-opening situation for all of us. The public institutions have constantly shown signs of ineffectiveness, lack of progress and corruption at the core because top positions were stuffed with corrupt and ineffective people and these institutions were reduced into political nurseries. The leaders’ incapability can be expressed with corruption, lack of effective service delivery, inefficiency, over-employment and the government’s open ignorance towards restructuring and revival of institutions.
What needs to be done?
To address these flaws in governance, anti-corruption mechanisms need to be put in place to thwart, lessen and fight corruption practices. There is a need to revamp the whole accountability landscape right from regional anti-corruption systems to the department of the Auditor General of Pakistan.
The most important concerns with accountability structures in the country are the gaps in the systems and procedures. In Pakistan, accountability processes are complex and non-standardised and they are intended according to the needs of each department not for the public. The foremost task for social accountability is the unstable law and order situation all over the country, fragmented government priorities, diversity of programs by federal and provincial governments, weaknesses in supply chain of service delivery, political appointments in education and health departments, cultural norms thwarting women participation, lack of local-level research on drivers of social accountability, trouble in carrying out impact assessments of preliminary social accountability initiatives, and weak continuation of current initiatives and absence of donor synchronisation on projects which in turn threatening maintenance of present initiatives. The demand-side of accountability cannot attain sustainability until and unless there is a responsive supply-side to support with.
Local government is the most significant element for the establishment of social accountability framework in the country. It is necessary to create a merit-based civil service. The main objective of this strategy is to decouple political activities from civil service positions because civil services need to adopt hiring practices of most corporate human resource departments which frequently aim to hire experts as opposed to politically affiliated individuals.
Furthermore, CSOs and the media are good at monitoring development projects. There requirement for increasing citizen participation, negotiation, budget tracking, reporting systems in public policy-making, participatory budgeting, public expenditure tracking, citizens’ monitoring and evaluation of public service delivery vehicles as well as advocacy campaigns. On the other hand, for amended financial management and regulation, it is well to structure and systematically build grassroot social accountability that would boost the existing ones.
In the end, Citizen Report Cards are progressively being used as tools for civic engagement to demand good governance. For this, they depend on strong media and external support. At the operational level, there are restrictions relating to different services or regions based on user perceptions on account of varying expectations. An effective combination of citizen, political and bureaucratic action, CRCs could be the ultimate catalyst for mobilising demand for accountability, transformation, and for moving ordinary people mainly poor from coping to voice and shouting to counting.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.