Hoor Asrar talks about a of Pursuing accountability relevant matter
The Pursuing accountability recent change of chairman NAB indicates that in the current scenario, accountability has become a crucial concept in both public administration and democratic theory. This practice has now penetrated the public psyche in Pakistan but in quite a convoluted sense and the result is that the process is now equated with witch-hunting further polarising the polity to the detriment of the country. Its meaning is contested but the general definition that obligation to answer for the performance of duties would fit most versions. In this context, accountability is a relationship between two parties—the person or organisation answering or being held to account and the person or organisation to whom the account is owed. The principal question in this respect is about ascertaining that who is responsible to whom. Taking this query further it is required to be determined that for what is the subject under focus is accountable for and how would the process proceed. Gaining widespread traction in 1980s after the introduction of New Public Management (NPM) and rapid rise of accountability can be traced to its adoption by public choice theory and by management theory, which in turn greatly influenced democratic theory and public administration.
The current application of accountability pertains to politics, international relations, democracy, constitutional law and public management and each of these areas has developed their own parallel theories of accountability. The need and purpose of the exercise is beyond doubt though there may be differences over as some versions confine accountability to the initial informing and discussing stages, omitting the requirement for any rectification. In effect, they equate accountability with transparency, another popular term with which accountability is frequently linked. Certainly, in complex modern systems of public accountability, some accountability mechanisms, such as parliamentary inquiry or media investigation, can provide transparency but transparency on its own, with no prospect of correction or other adverse consequences, falls short of full accountability.
In its core sense, accountability is essentially retrospective or ex post, in that it is concerned with information and explanation about past actions of the subject held accountable. Discussion about future actions is, therefore, not, strictly speaking, an exercise in accountability. However, in a continuing relationship between the accountable subject ex post can overlap with ex ante as happens in election campaigns when incumbent representatives not only defend their past actions but also outline their future plans. Such usage, while understandable because of the obligations of democratic governments to engage in continuing discussion with their citizens, extends accountability beyond its normal focus of answering for past actions. Similarly, government consultation with stakeholders about future policy certainly helps keep politicians and bureaucrats in touch with relevant sections of public opinion but it does not necessarily imply accountability in the strict sense of accounting for previous decisions.
Accountability is also sometimes taken beyond its retrospective core when it is equated with institutional devices for limiting or constraining power. For instance, constitutional checks and balances, such as separation of powers are sometimes described as mechanisms of accountability because they limit the legal power of governments and prevent them from abusing the rights of citizen. Such constraints may certainly involve accountability mechanisms, when a government oversteps its legal powers and is called to account by the courts. However, constitutional laws and regulations themselves are essentially prospective in focus, seeking to limit and control future actions of governments. The mere fact that laws and regulation constrain the power of governments need not in itself imply that they are instruments of accountability.
Accountability, as the obligation to answer for the performance of duties, generally implies a relationship between two or more parties, in which one party is subject to external scrutiny from others. The popularity of accountability has seen it extended in a similar fashion including not only external scrutiny but also the internal capacity for considered and conscientious action usually described as acting responsibly. For instance, where members of caring professions, such as social workers and health professionals, have a strong vocational commitment to serving the interests of the community, this concern is sometimes identified as in itself constituting accountability to the community, regardless of whether members of the community actually have any rights of scrutiny or complaint. In this context what is observed is that where professional standards or values are publicly articulated, voluntary adherence to such standards can be seen as a form of accountability without any requirement to report externally or without external any mechanism for others to demand compliance.
The accountability has become internalised and the question of whether an internalised sense of service should be accepted as a form of accountability recalls the perennial debate over the relative merits of professional discretion compared with external scrutiny as a means of securing public service in the public interest. However, the emotive pull of accountability, like that of democracy makes supporters of professional discretion unwilling to accept what would amount to an accountability deficit. Instead, they prefer to see themselves as embracing a special form of accountability. Accountability, as the obligation to answer to external scrutiny, derives its main justification from its contribution to responsiveness, understood as the readiness of institutions and officials to respond to the needs and interests of those whom they serve. In public administration, for instance, responsiveness, the alignment between official action and public preferences, is the goal to which the accountability of governments is a key means.
However, accountability procedures of external scrutiny, such as review and audit, are not the only mechanisms for making governments responsive as changing the organisational culture of a public agency toward a greater client focus and concern for service quality can make the agency more responsive to the public but need not involve additional accountability procedures of scrutiny or inquiry. Yet many in such an agency would typically claim that it had become both more responsive and more accountable, in effect identifying accountability with responsiveness. Accountability as normally understood, is a voice mechanism, allowing dissatisfied members of the public to complain and to seek information and rectification from an organisation. The emotive force of the accountability leads sympathetic observers to classify such responsiveness as instances of accountability.
In modern democratic societies, reputational effects are often the result of media publicity and scrutiny. There are good grounds for seeing the media as agents of accountability, holding public figures and organisations up to scrutiny. As with transparency, however, such accountability without rectification is inchoate and incomplete. Accountability is a chameleon-like concept that readily takes on new, additional senses from the different contexts in which it is used. Because external scrutiny and sanctions, the core of accountability, are so central to checking abuses of power and to the processes of representative democracy, the term itself is easily extended to other mechanisms and processes that secure the same overall objectives, including legal and regulatory constraints, market competition and public service professionalism and commitment to the public interest. To expect agreement on a single concept of accountability is unrealistic but at least analysts of accountability could become more aware of the well-established variations in usage and more willing to place their own versions within that larger conceptual context. TW