ACCOUNTABILITY IS THE KEY TO A VIBRANT DEMOCRACY BY VINOD RAI

Accountability is the obligation, of those holding power, to take responsibility for
their behavior and actions. It becomes even more important when management
of public funds is involved. The government spends a huge amount of money in
creating infrastructure, providing services and running various schemes for the
welfare of its people. A large chunk of the government’s money comes from tax
which is compulsorily collected from its citizens. The government is, therefore,
obligated to work in the interest of its citizens and deliver accountable
governance. It is answerable to public for its policies, decisions and
performance.
However, we need to appreciate that accountability is not the sole responsibility
of government alone. It is a requirement in the corporate sector too. It also
transcends into civil societies, non-governmental organizations and citizen's
groups. However, since government collects moneys from the public and
spends on behalf of the public, such spending does place an element of higher
accountability on government. Such accountability requires that the actions and
decisions taken by public officials are transparent and capable of withstanding
public scrutiny.
In a democracy ultimate power rests with the people. For conduct of their
affairs they elect persons who will represent them and they in turn constitute
official machinery, which is architectured to discharge the policy decisions
undertaken by the elected representatives. However, in a system of separation
of powers and constitutional checks and balances, accountability ensures that
actions and decisions taken by public officials are subject to oversight so as to
guarantee that government initiatives meet their stated objectives and respond
to the needs of the community they are meant to be benefitting. The concept of
accountability involves two distinct stages viz answerability and enforcement.
The former refers to the obligation of the government, its agencies and officials
to provide information about their decisions and actions. It enjoins upon them
to justify these to the institutions of accountability tasked with providing
oversight. Enforcement suggests that the institution responsible for
accountability can sanction the offending party or remedy the contravening
behavior. Accountability is thus important as it ensures that public bodies are
performing to their full potential, providing value for money in the provision of
public services and instills confidence of the community in its government. This

is the basic tenet of a vibrant democracy. Democracy without accountability is
a body without a soul.
The conventional wisdom of good governance is premised on the basic tenet
that democratically elected governments will conduct public affairs with probity
and accountability. However, public perception seems to be that recent actions
of government, which have come in the public domain, indicate that elements of
ethics and integrity seem to be lacking. This has triggered the feeling among
the vast majority of urban citizenry that it is time when the conventional
architecture, along which governments are expected to function, needs to be
tempered such that there is an element of participation by the informed public.
In the present age, governance has assumed such critical proportions that it
appears too important to be left only to the government. The stakeholders in
governance have expanded beyond the executive, legislature and judiciary to
civil society, social organizations, media and the public. Apart from the base
expanding, each new stakeholder has become very vociferous and demanding.
This certainly portends a maturing of Indian democratic forces. How much the
political class and administration has realized this factor and is willing to come
to terms with it, is too early to predict. It is clear that citizens seek a dialogue – a
dialogue in which they can participate in governance and will be calling the
government to account. This is indeed the old order changing, yielding place to
the new. The era of a new, discerning and demanding class of citizen, has
come to stay.The citizen calling the government to account and seeking
transparency in policy formulation is the emergence of the voice which hitherto
was considered to be that of the silent majority. This voice is now seeking to
develop a new moral and ethical frame work which should be put in position to
guide the citizenry and its elected representatives in future to ensure the
accountability of decision makers.
There are very distinct signs of the Urban Indian middle class mobilizing
themselves politically. There are also signs of a tenacious assertion in this
mobilization. This mobilization is debunking yet another myth viz. of the white
collar, urban citizenry unwilling to take to the streets to pursue its cause. This
class of people had confined themselves to living room discussions, TV debates
and maybe, college politics. They took pride in not going to vote, looked down
at caste and regional politics and hence were never sought out by political
parties. But this disparate group is aggregating. It is uniting for a cause. It
seems to feel its strength. What stirred them? May be, corruption at every
government office; a birth certificate, a drivers licence, a hospital bed, a gas
connection.

This urban middle class has grown up respecting the system, institutions and
rule of law. The political establishment seemed to subvert these and hence the
total disharmony between a people and the government they voted unto
themselves. The need for able governance with accountability has never been
so strongly felt as in the present day world. While the developed countries have
to deal with the aftermath of the economic slow-down, the developing countries
have to struggle to ward off economic downturn, create employment
opportunities and meet the growing aspirations of a demanding populace. Only
efficient and effective governance can meet these challenges. It is increasingly
becoming evident that efficiency and effectiveness in governance are not
sustainable without probity, transparency and accountability.
The culture of "the end justifies the means" is becoming an increasingly
convenient cover for behaviour of individuals, groups or governments. But the
implications of this individual or collective conduct, are far reaching. History is
witness to the fact that any dilution of morality has eventually led to
degeneration of societal values, pushing the country into a quagmire from which
it takes ages to emerge. This leads to my proposition before you: should ethics
be applied selectively? If so, who determines the purpose, the justification and
the quantum? When does it stop being convenient, and become inconvenient?
When from individual transgressions, we move on to institutional
transgressions? A basic premise of parliamentary democracy is that an elected
and accountable political executive, with the assistance of an elaborate
bureaucratic structure, would manage public affairs within the restrictions
imposed by the Constitution and Law. However, the reality of complex politics in
every democracy is leading to convenient deviations. A dominant culture of
adjustment has become prevalent, with honesty and integrity being the
casualty.
The most oft repeated statements by public officials over a large number of
misdemeanors which have been reported are, that the law would be allowed to
take its course. It is unfortunate that this is exactly what does not happen and
any numbers of impediments are created in the law taking its course.
Enlightened kings and vibrant democracies have been successful and popular
only because the rule of law was allowed to prevail. This is a very fundamental
requirement if we have to make the government of the people, by the people
and for the people.
(The author is former CAG. He graduated from Hindu College, Delhi. He has a Master
Degree in Economics from Delhi School of Economics and masters Degree in Public
Administration from Harvard University, USA. He chose to study Financial Administration

at Harvard Kennedy School in 1987 while he held the position of District Collector and
Magistrate in the State of Kerala.)

Accountability is thus important as it ensures that public bodies are performing
to their full potential, providing value for money in the provision of public
services and instills confidence of the community in its government. This is the
basic tenet of a vibrant democracy. Democracy without accountability is a body
without a soul.

The need for able governance with accountability has never been so strongly
felt as in the present day world. While the developed countries have to deal with
the aftermath of the economic slow-down, the developing countries have to
struggle to ward off economic downturn, create employment opportunities and
meet the growing aspirations of a demanding populace.

A basic premise of parliamentary democracy is that an elected and accountable
political executive, with the assistance of an elaborate bureaucratic structure,
would manage public affairs within the restrictions imposed by the Constitution
and Law.