Ammar BOUHOUCHE*, Professor
of Algiers University (3)
Accountability is a nice word and everybody pays a lip service to this notion of ethical method of work in any public institution. Its lovely meaning comes from the fact that it conveys the image of transparency, democracy and accountability to citizens and trustworthiness.
Furthermore, accountability is appreciated by public authorities and elected officials who claim that office holders will be neutral and public services will be depoliticized (which means reliance on the myth of separated politics from running public administration) is merely a slogan, used to achieve political results in any competition for any appointment in any public institution.
In reality, accountability is easy to define. It means that public services and their workers are answerable to their citizens directly and indirectly for the use of their powers, authority and resources. Very often, the term of accountability is used interchangeably with the meaning of “Good Governance”, transparency, equity, democracy, efficiency, responsiveness and integrity. ()
In reality, such slogans are available accurately in dictionaries and on papers only. It is true that in every country there are institutions, legitimate authorities and universal suffrage. But, the functions of such institutions and executed policies differ from one country to another. Annual reports of TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL show that the range of scales of corruption and misuse of power in public institutions vary from one nation to another. Furthermore, the civil wars are raging, at the moment, in Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, South of Sudan and Libya because of the lack of consensus on policies, absence of liberty and struggle for surviving and overcoming poverty and misery.
For such reasons, the author of this paper, attempts to examine the major issues which are considered to be a handicap for pursuing and executing policies, sharing authority and living together in one nation, in a peaceful manner, regardless of ethnicity, discrimination and ideology.
The questions, needed to be raised here as problematic for this study focus on the following matters:
- What is meant by accountability in the past and the present or what are the traditional techniques and new ones?
- What are the mechanisms of control?
- What the citizens can do about the problems of power rotation and sharing political authority?
- How to enhance the real accountability in the era of change and globalization?
Traditional method of work prevails
As for the first issue, accountability is defined as the condition of having to answer to someone for one’s actions. This approach means that the focus will be on the following issues:
Who is accountable to whom, for what and under what circumstances? ()
The origin of the concept of accountability goes back to the idea of bookkeeping and auditing by the financial administration to establish fair and equitable governance. Gradually, the meaning of accountability changed. Instead of holding the subjects of British rulers to account and pay heavy taxes, it is the authorities themselves which are being held accountable by their citizens. This study shows that the focus of accountability has moved recently from the focus on hierarchy to performance.
Public agencies are scared in our days by the legal accountability more than by their superiors. The courts play an important role in the assessment of misuse of authority and settle issues of conflicts between citizens and administrations.
In developing nations, especially in North Africa, the absence of independent justice or separation of powers has crippled the role of justice to punish corrupted individuals or influential managers who are protected by the laws. It is evident that top officials can not be judged by any court, until the high court gives its approval and permission to sue any Minister or Wali (Governor). This means, in reality, that top managers or personalities in the State are protected by the law and are not accountable to the justice or any other state institution.
Furthermore, the problem of accountability stem from the lack of mechanisms and institutions. State agencies are weak and are not able to render effective services and that’s why the young people try, by all means, to migrate to other states in Europe and search for jobs and medical care. It is a fact that illegal migrants suffer from weak services and feeble institutions which are equipped with obsolete computers and they are not able to enable citizens to find jobs and stay at home. It can be said easily that the illegal migrants from North Africa to Europe are victims of tribal systems, nepotism and indifference. In such cases, accountability does not make sense and problems can not be solved if state institutions are inefficient and incapable to take care of its indigenous people.
There is also a fact that the wealth of any nation is in the hands of states in North Africa which is considered to be the main employer and law maker. In short, the main concern of bureaucracy is to render services to their citizens as good as possible and get, at the end, of each month their salaries, but nobody pays attention to the question of efficiency and effectiveness in public administration. In this case, the notion of accountability is absent on the ground, and general attitudes of employees is to respect their superiors and stay in office.
It is obvious that the western model of spending the money of tax payers requires a parliamentary approval and accountability on performance, is not taken into consideration in developing countries. The wealth of the state in North African states, is spent as the policy makers envisaged and approved in “Finance Law” each year, and there is no real judicial follow up or punishment if the money is abused.
In public administration, nobody can deny the fact that recruitment is based on the principal of loyalty and not on academic principals of merit and quality of leadership. It is a fact that public managers are preoccupied by the ideas of executing policies approved by public authorities and not the evaluation of the performance. Perhaps, it is evident, that the superiors in any agency are not interested in provoking any employee, since they know that accountability has no bearing on efficiency and effectiveness in public services.
Since we are in the era of creative chaos, it is noticed that ideologies, ethnicities and struggle between left wing and conservative clans have negative effects on public services. As a rule of such cleavages, leaders or managers of public agencies are subject to pressure from above to take action, against the opponents of the political regimes or fire them from their positions if they show their intentions to support the political forces hostile to the government. In short, the fear of exclusion from public services has a negative effect on the performance of civil servants.
What is new in public administration is the reliance on judges to take actions against the opponents of the regime. In countries like Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, the new leaders of these countries have passed laws which prevent previous civil servants, who were functionaries in the dismissed regimes, from taking positions in the new administration. They are excluded because the new leaders don’t trust them.
Lack of mechanisms to reinforce accountability
With regard to the second issue of the problematic, this study reveals that the process of examining issues is the stumbling block. It appears that elected officials and political parties do not have a real consensus on policies and they are unable (incapable) of defining the missions of public agencies.
In this sense, the tools of work are vague and the mechanisms of policy execution are out of order. This means, in reality, that there is no chance of electorate to change policies by voting for candidates who advocate changes . on the ground,They are the interest groups or entourage of elected who succeed in influencing the execution of public policies. In the same manner, it is noticed that interest groups often monitor administrative decisions and exercise pressure on managers to speed up the action.
In the era of globalization, there is an urgent need to strengthen state institutions. Their strength is needed, because the credibility of state institutions is required in the eyes of its citizens. Reinforcement of state laws is the key for creating confidence and justice in the society.
The question which needs to be raised here is: how to create consensus on policy issues in a way that institutions can execute policies without any difficulty. In other words, accountability has no meaning if society does not have homogeneous society and united leadership.
This idea of securing, consensus on policies on the high level of decision makers, leads us to the conclusion that the absence of well defined mechanisms to execute policies is the key problem in the Arab societies.
Cleavages between clans or influential groups are the main obstacles for the lack of efficiency and effectiveness in public services in Arab states. Perhaps, it is also the right time to enhance democracy and facilitate the process of decision making, because the problem of legitimacy has created anarchy in the Arab countries. Legitimate rights and self defense are considered to be the main factors for the persistence of continuous antagonism and confrontation in streets.
It is a fact that the western model of democracy isn’t convenient to developing countries because of the absence of economic prosperity and the spread of poverty. As a matter of fact, the struggle between ethnic elites and pressure groups to control the economy and win financial advantages, have resulted in popular revolts in streets, and consequently, have weakened state institutions. The dilemma of developing nations in the Arab world is despotism and exploitation of religion for political gains which means taking over the power and excluding other groups.
This study suggests that social forces are not searching for any specific group to take power, but they are searching for a leader and an economic program which enable them to overcome unemployment and receive monthly revenues for surviving in a state of agitation.
The problem of sharing authority and responsibility
As for the third problematic, this paper deals with the problem of power rotation and sharing political authority in the emerging nations. Unlike the developed and democratic nations, the developing nations suffer from deficiency, traditional culture and the unwillingness to change and improve their living conditions. It is noticed that when the opportunity comes for voting to select the new leaders, citizens of developing countries tend to vote for the same people or veteran chiefs and preserve the dominants groups in power and this is the reason for stagnation, corruption and eventually the spread of violence in streets and public places.
In fact, the absence of accountability and the failure of state bureaucrats to render services up to level or meet the needs of poor people which led to the ouster of political despots in Tunisia, Libya, Iraq, Egypt and Yemen. These leaders who have abused their responsibilities or duties and never their showed willingness to alleviate the grievenesses of their citizens. It is evident that the despots of Arab countries which were overthrown by their people, never accepted the idea of rotation of power and accountability. What is very strange is that the new leaders who replaced the ousted despots have not succeed in improving the social conditions of their citizens because the change has occurred on the level of the top, and no consensus on new policies and strategies have taken place up to now.
How to enhance accountability
The fourth question which I raised in the problematic, it is related to the ways and means to enhance the effective accountability in the era of globalization. It is a fact that the political success of any leadership in any country is the dialogue and reaching consensus on strategic issues. What is needed to be stressed here is the aim of this paper. The target is to focus on new trends in the system of accountability and deal with the problem of foreign intervention in local affairs of each country and national political systems. In other words, the poor performance of local institutions and absence of political will to negotiate and reach consensus on national policies, have induced leaders in developing countries to search for outside support in order to win national approval for their policies and stay in power.
In this study, it is recommended that the success of any nation in developing country to overcome problems of injustice, poverty, security, tranquility and ethnicity, depends on the political will of developing countries to make the following reforms and changes:
- To rely on local leadership and make the people involved in running their local institutions;
- To accept the idea of sharing authority and responsibility and living together, instead of pursuing autocratic rule and egoism in policy-making;
- To create efficient mechanisms which are essential for policy execution and give to law, its objectivity and prevent abuses which result in losing confidence in public institutions;
- To fight corruption and overcome the problem of wealth’s attraction;
- To avoid chaotic work and reliance on followers, instead of professional experts;
- To keep in mind the idea that, globalization and the necessity to compete and work in transparency , are the keys for any success, for surviving in a society of knowledge and democracy;
- To empower the judicial system and give it full authority to protect society from abuses and unfair treatments;
- To liberate news media from the censure and monopoly of information by state, and pressure groups, in order to convey the right information to citizens and make them aware of their rights and duties;
- To convince citizens that democracy does not come from forces outside on tanks, but it comes from cohesiveness of elites inside the country;
10- To keep in mind that the national interest is above any
divergence, antagonism and struggle for power. The common interests require a common battle to strengthen liberty, equity, tranquility and economic prosperity.
In short, accountability in our era of change, has no meaning if citizens do not accept change and adaptability to the new era of globalization and transparency. It is their responsibility to realize that the revolt in streets to change despots does not settle their economic problem. What is needed mostly is to dialogue and create consensus on policies and establish effective mechanisms for the execution of state laws.
It is wrong to assume that, the overthrow of many despots from power in recent years in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt has brought justice, equality and efficiency in public agencies. The study shows that young generations who sought jobs, equality and improvement in their social life, have gained nothing from their revolutions and replacement of former despots by new leaders who did not solve the problems of combating corruption, and make top official accountable to people. In fact, the method of expelling former leaders from power has brought more harm to the new institutions because there was no real perception for future strategies and programs, and there were no solid institutions and mechanisms to make smooth change for the revolutionary Forces.
One has to keep in mind the fact that the mentalities have not changed and desire to keep the traditional system of administrative institutions is a strong as ever. People have got used to traditional practices of reliance on paternal charisma and tribal kinships. What is needed mostly today, is to make the new officials accountable to their citizens and set up rules to impeach them if they fail to carry out their duties according to laws or constitutions. It is unrealistic to assume that one man show will solve the problems of efficiency and effectiveness. There must be a common responsibility and participation of all social forces in the process of decision making, sharing authority and consensus on public policies. The main keys for a positive development. Also, there must be a change in mentalities in the sense that civil society has to accept the idea of power rotation especially in multi ethnic societies. It is a fact that monopoly of power is the main problem of instability in previous years in Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Iraq.
 ) Richard Mulgan, “Accountability: an answer to expanding concept?”, Public administration, Vol 78, #3,
2000, pp 555-573.
 ) Richard Mulgan, “Accountability and Public Administration”, Public Administration, Vol 39, #2(summer),
1996, pp 213-225.