46. Accountability and Transparency: a Discussion

Bureaucratic Accountability is absolutely important in a democracy. Officials are paid by the State and hence answerable for all their activities. Whatever they do (except in cases where secrecy is necessary in the interests of security of state) they must be answerable to the people. That is they are immediately answserable to the agencies of the people like their Political masters, the Ministers and to courts of Law. They should not exceed their powers and must act according to law. Their actions should be publicly visible, that is to say, transparent. In the light of these observations let us now examine how this accountability and transparency is ensured, It goes without saying hat eternal vigilance is the price of democracy. In a recent case (December 11) involving a scam (1500 crores) Right to Information Activists, fkooded tghe Bangalore City Corporation for opies regarding an enquiry report. So much so, since the copying of the papers was expensive and time consuming, the agency for responding to the requests prepared a CD containing all the relevant papers and it is avalable for just Rs 20/- a copy.

48 thoughts on “46. Accountability and Transparency: a Discussion

  1. 1. Accountability and Transparency
    Transparency and accountability have become vital components of a well functioning democracy. When we say that an institution or government is transparent, it means that the decision making processes are clearly visible to the public and they can engage in the process as well. Accountability means that the government or organization is responsible to its citizens for delivering services in a cost effective and beneficent manner. (More material available in Test 4 Public Administration disk for Pub Ad discussions in class). In the light of this observation briefly explain how Social Media is playing an important role.

    1. The expression Social Media refers to agencies like the Facebook, Tweeting; Lnkedin and even E mail. And as the use of the Internet increases and bandwidth grows, one mat expect them to play a greater role than even the NGOs and the RTI Act. Look at the exponential use of cell phones and texting as a means of instant communication. The Arab Spring was largely the result of Social Media. In India Anna Hazare made excellent use of these agencies particularly e mail to gather hundreds of thousands of people at Jantar Mantar and forced the Government to do something about Lok Pal.. So much so his movement came to be labelled a Five Star Revolution.

  2. 2.Transparency
    Promoting a culture of transparency in government essentially aims at reducing corruption. Civil society has an important role to play in this regard. They are an important medium through which the government can engage a larger section of the public and improve access to information. Following are few mechanisms to promote transparency:
    Making information openly available and accessible to the public through the media and the internet. Examine the Right to Information Act in ensuring this transparency. (Read the notes on the Right to Information Act)

    1. The Right to Information Act enables even an ordinary citizen to demand any information from the Government. And it costs very little to submit an application and government is bound to supply this information. If the concerned official or department fails to do so, one can approach the Information Commission which will demand an explanation for not submitting the information. a time frame is stipulated and stiff fines are imposed. The Information Commission has enabled the Information Activists ( a group of people dedicated to exposing the illegal activities of Government) to obtain all sorts of information. Since a separate question is likely on the RTI Act, you are advised to read up the lesson carefully.

  3. 3. The basic tools for ensuring Accountability and Transparency are Documentation of all public transactions
    Clear demarcation of responsibilities
    Access to information laws
    Accountability
    Encouraging accountability in an institution ensures that resources are utilized efficiently and effectively.
    In this connection examine the need for each Department to maintain and update a web site of its own and post all its orders and activities so that they remain n the Public Domain.

    1. Sir i agree with creation of a website for each department for transparency and accountability which is the best method.
      But i feel there is need for the maintenance and regular updating which the currently the present government websites at state and national level lacking..

    2. Every Department is expected to maintain a Web Site of its own and give due publicity to it. all its activities have to be posted on the website. But very often either the web site is not created or it contains no up to date information. The information is outdated. NGOs and RTI Activists have an important role here. they must demand why details are not provided on the web site. Ultimately it is only a vigilant and socially conscious public that can ensure transparency.

  4. 4. Various types of accountability:
    Social accountability
    Legal accountability
    Financial accountability
    Political accountability
    Give an example for each of these aspects of accountability.

    1. Social Accountability: Government has to explain to the people why a certain anti-social activity persists. Government has to show leadership in legally banning anti- social activity.
      Thus the Devadasi system, or the blatant pursuit of Casteism or attacks on Christian minorities are allowed. And in spite of al its talk sex determination clinics continue to exist. Let us ask why they do so?

    2. Legal Accountability exists when there is a specific law requiring the government to do something or prohibiting something. Thus law prohibits Child Labour, Manual Scavenging, misuse of public amenity sites. But these persist and people can go to court and charge the Government for either violating the law or blinking at the violation. recently many complaints have been filed before the Lok Ayukta against illegal encroachment of lands and action is being initiated.

  5. 5. In any kind of accountability, the service providers are answerable to those who receive the service and to their higher authorities. Citizen Report Cards, Community Score Cards, Social Audits, Participatory Expenditure Tracking, Citizen ‘s Charters, Procurement Monitoring, Public feedback Mechanisms and Performance Measurement are some of the instruments being used for citizen engagement and incorporating accountability into decision making.. How many of these are available in India?

    1. We have at last a Citizen’s Charter before Parliament but it is full of loopholes. Study the Bill on the Citizen;s Charter. In Karnataka the Citizen’s Charter imposes a fie of Rs 15/- on any official not providing a service. ridiculous . We have also the Institution of the PIL which has played a great role in ensuring responsibility and checking illegality. Study the lesson PIL carefully.

  6. 6. Let us have a brief look at the nature of the bureaucracy under British rule
    It was intended to serve the British masters
    Its chief object was to develop trade and commerce in the interests of Britain
    It was required to maintain law and order and collect taxes. The District Head was called Collector (one who collects taxes).
    Its over all attitude was that of a master and Indians were regarded as mere subjects. How far has this attitude changed? Do officials (whether the Street bureaucracy like the police constable or local tax collector or higher bureaucracy) behave as public servants? How may times have you to visit an office either to find the official pretending to be busy or plain absent at his seat. A tout meets you ourtside and offers to get your work done if you can pay something! Yesterday I had an old man at my place who said that he was riding a scooter with his helmet on and yet the traffic constable stopped him and collected a fine of Rs 200/- Was the receipt genuine? I don’t know!~ was the act of the constable correct? What can the old man do?to whom should he complain. I fact it was some such act that made a poor street corner vendor pour petrol on himself and set fire to himself that ignited the Tunisian Revolution or Arab uprising. It is this Street level bureaucracy that Anna wants tp be brought under the Lok Pal. What is your take?

    1. sir,as per the present lokpal which is leaving out lower bureaucracy from it cannot stop this street bureaucracy..but in a longer run if the higher bureaucracy mends the way of action and becomes corruption free then there comes change in street bureaucracy…’when master can’t save himself, then ofcourse his subjects can’t be saved by him’

      1. nullReply to Lohith. The Common man has to deal with the street bureaucracy and rarely does he go to the higher up. He cannot even approach the sub inspector. Look at the corruption in the RTOs office and the Civil supplies department.. To get a birth certifictate or death certificate he has to pay a bribe.

  7. Though the objectives of the Indian state changed, the mindset of the Indian bureaucracy did not change
    The Indian State became a welfare state but the bureaucracy unless prodded would not implement the welfare programmes effectively.
    It was interested primarily in law and order

    Don’t you think that even now it is so? Much of the money allotted to the welfare of the SCs and STs is just not spent or diverted elsewhere.

    1. This is atrocious. Vast sums are unspent. Even the money granted to the MPs under the MPLADS scheme lie unspent. Oyr money s spent at the eleventh hour and this leads to waste and improper planning.

  8. 7. For a long time there was total neglect of local government.
    Though there was no reduction in its responsibilities, its sources of finance were vastly reduced. Its staff was inadequately trained. As a result the villages went from bad to worse
    Urban governments had many responsibilities but practically no funds.
    And as for political parties they are more interested in continuing power or capturing power. There is plain theft of resources in the name of party funds. Study the working of the MNREGP and examine its inadequacies. It is supposed to be the flag ship programme of the UPA Government.

  9. 8. Participation by Civil society in administrative structures is totally absent and is resented as extra constitutional activity.
    Policies and programmes change so quickly that civil servants are left wondering whether it is wise or possible to carry out any policy.
    Good work almost never gets the mention that it deserves, while corruption and questionable dealing almost never gets punished. This causes a deep sense of outrage among the few good workers
    And just when Civil Society is getting into the act, Sibal wants to police the Net. They speak that it is the responsibility of Parliament to make laws but when Parliament is shut down what should the people do? Are they not the masters? Can Parliament claim to be sovereign when it is the people who gave the country its constitution and it is hey who are sovereign?

    1. Remember very carefully that it is the people who are sovereign and not Parliament. Parliament claims itself to be sovereign. It is a wrong notion. It is WE THE PEOPLE who have given to ourselves the Constitution.

      Secondly when Parliament is marked by continuous walk outs and dharnas and sits rarely for just fifty days in the year, how can it behave irresponsibly. When the agent of the people, Parliament does not do its work properly, what should the people do? This is the justification for the Anna Movement.. Politicians say wait for the next elections. I ask have we leased out the country to them for five years? Does the Majority have the tight to do what it likes simply because it has been given power for five years?

  10. HOW TO PROMOTE BUREAUCRATIC ACCOUNTABILITY

    9. Accountability to state and central governments
    Decentralization of Finances . Delegate financial powers and then you can ask the civil servant to explain why things went wrong even though he had adequate financial powers
    Improve mechanisms of oversight including Audit and inspections
    Improve the Capacity building and training role of the State and central government servants.

    What do you think of the suggestion that ward meetings between the people and officials are held regularly and a social audit conducted as to how far the suggestions made at the meeting are implemented.

    1. This is an immediate necessity. Democracy means that the man in the street must have the power to ask questions. Let us have ward Committees in every city and let meetings be held once a month and let all the officials be asked to attend the meetings and answer questions and let us have the right to complain to he higher authorities and even to the courts when things do not go the way people want.

  11. 10. Change the legal framework to make Urban bodies less dependent on the state governments for their existence and proposing mechanisms to make the upward interaction stable and predictable (Including the freedom to borrow from Financial Institutions and urban finance corporations).
    Increase local government participation in state and central schemes .

    But how do we prevent criminals getting into urban local bodies and looting the exchequer? What do we do when elected representatives consider themselves as mini-MLAs and mini MPs and imitate them in looting public money. Local bodies have become training grounds for corrupt leadership.

    1. As an example let us look at the Corporators in Bangalore. They have looted the corporation in collusion with the officials. They shield fraudulent contractors, they wink at sub standards execution of contracts, they help illegal constructions and there are innumerable other acts committed by ted. One of the coroporators Katta subramanya Naidu’s son is just out on bail.

  12. 11. Accountability to Civil society
    We must provide greater role for Civil society including citizens bodies, non-profit sector and the private sector in administrative activities, Thus bureaucrats should be required to seek their cooperation and treat them as advisory bodies.. They should be given powers to seek explanations from the bureaucrats
    In short we must empower the civil society by giving it a substantial part of the decision making with it.
    Use of periodic client satisfaction survey. Civil society must be treated as client and the bureaucrats must find out how far it is satisfied

    1. But care must also be taken to see that NGOs do not act at the behest of vested interests. It has been asked from where the villagers at Koodankulam get their money to prolong their agitation against the Russian built nuclear plant. . Indeed not all NGOs are clean. Foreign governments employ these NGOs to further their interests in India. we must take care.

  13. 12.The role of the elected council must be enlarged.
    Increased role must be given for the Ward committees and other municipal committees.
    More powers should be given to the elected Councils
    Training must be provided for the elected representatives and they should be encouraged to find out for themselves how the bureaucracy functions .
    Ultimately it is social audit that counts. An enlightened citizenry must realize that it their money and their interests that are at stake. I have sent an Excel file to Mr. Vinay which may please be copied, if you have not already received it)

    1. But people should see that the right type of individuals must be elected to the corporations and municipal bodies. Even at the Panchayat level there is corruption and politics. Under such circumstances we may have to throw up our hands and say God save us!

  14. 13.Improving Governance
    Improve the incentive system for employees including a complete overhaul of the conduct rules (Over-regulated without Implementability)
    Device methods of reducing corruption
    Provide for greater transparency
    Privatize certain services which are likely to enhance performance.
    Use of Information technology and computers to improve citizens’ access to information and reduce drudgery for employees.
    Search for innovative approaches in resource mobilization and service delivery.
    Putting in place performance indicators for employees as well as projects undertaken and making evaluation (both positive and negative) an integral part of project management activity.
    Bring about Structural changes in the administrative setup.
    Comment on employment of GPS for maximizing revenue collection. (see blog on smart city)

    1. I would advise you to memorize these points. In the exam yu cn write only around five pages. Hence prepare good summaries. The GPS is an excellent device to note the development of the lay outs in a city. It provides a clear view of which house is where. Soft ware can be developed to find which house pays taxes and how much and check on the map the size of the house. also we ca check which areas have totally escaped paying tax. this way local bodies can get more funds which they are losing out now. The GPS will also enable us to find out encroachments of lakes and forest lands. We have he technology to promote good governance but not the political will.

  15. 14.NEED TO DECENTRALIZE
    For a long time no one thought of decentralization in India. For several years after independence the dominant mood was to make the central government strong
    There was the need to integrate the states and check the forces of divisiveness which were strong
    Also the Bureaucracy was always suspicious of decentralization

    Gradually people realized that the central government was unable to effectively implement development projects.
    It found that the bureaucrats at the capital did not have a total understanding of all the complexities at the ground level.
    They adopted standardized practices and solutions and idid not realize that circumstances varied from region to region.
    It was realized that decentralization provided the best solution as the programs would be implemented more easily at the local level
    Decentralization also increased the accountability of the government in general to the people. If local officials had power, the local population could demand explanations.
    If power was delegated to local officials they could not escape responsibility
    Note that this is a good point for the lesson Centralization.

  16. 15. If the interest groups in the locality are involved, they will certainly hold the bureaucracy accountable
    Better supervision will become possible
    Consult the interest groups regarding transfer of officials. The officials will then certainly work to develop the administration
    But decentralization also requires a mass communications system and higher level of economic development

  17. 16. The urban local bodies have only limited sources of raising revenue Indeed often they have no money to pay salaries and so use the available revenues for paying salaries.
    This in turn fosters financial irregularities and money earmarked for specific projects and external funds are diverted to pay salaries
    Several taxes, which were previously with the urban bodies, have been usurped by the state governments This has led to lower quality of services
    The municipalities deliberately avoid repaying loans and utilize the revenues in an irresponsible fashion, secure in the belief that the state would bail them out in any case. A good point for financial decentralization.

  18. 17.Cases against bureaucrats take a long time to be settled if they are filed in courts. Hence we need tribunals which will settle cases quickly. This will put the fear of god into the hearts of the bureaucrats who will be forced to be more accountable to their actions and not act arbitrarily.

    City councils must be empowered to appoint their own chief executives and these officials must be required to place before Council meetings all the information necessary for making a decision.

    Also Committee meetings must be held more frequently and officials must be required to be present before them

    And an important way to reduce the power of the officials is to privatize some of the services now rendered by the Councils like waste disposal, water supply etc.,

    Democracy has actually become Kleptocracy. Why is the Political Class keeping quiet?

    1. The Political class has subverted democracy by making the bureaucracy co-partners in corruption. See how officials colluded with Raja. Read in Test 12 Criminalization of Politics

  19. 18. There have been increasing trends towards decentralization, as seen by the 73rd and 74th amendments to the constitution of India. As per the amendments the local governments are entrusted with the responsibility of “identifying, formulating, implementing and monitoring” local developmental programs. The states in turn are expected to enact legislation to endow the local governments with financial powers and responsibilities as they deem appropriate. They are also necessitated to appoint a state finance commission to recommend adequate devolution of finances from state governments to local governments. The state governments are also expected to create district planning committees to prepare developmental plans for both rural and urban areas. Note this point for Decentralization; Panchyat Raj and the 73rd and 74th Amendments.

  20. 19.The new amendments have only given the local bodies a constitutional status without placing them on an even keel with the state governments. The subordinate legislation that is required to be passed by states had not been passed by many states for a long time. Though this constitutes breakdown of constitutional machinery, little action could be taken against the erring states due to a weak central government and a fragmented polity. Even in cases where the laws were passed, the local governments gained little by way of financial devolution. In fact, the functional responsibilities placed on them could not possibly be covered by revenues from the sources assigned to them. In the circumstances, state governments have not been able to enforce local governments in carrying out their mandate. This has worked to create an environment of ‘pan unaccountability’, as the local governments readily come up with lack of finances and other capacities as the stock excuse for non performance
    Good point for not only this topic but also for the working of local government and decentralization. Also for the 73rd and 74th Amendments

  21. 20. Audits in municipalities like in Andhra Pradesh are overdue for about 10-15 years. In AP the department is currently taking up audit of accounts of years from 1980 to 1990. There has been little follow up action on these belated audit reports as they are now irrelevant due to changed circumstances. This has resulted in inefficient and corrupt practices going undetected. The belatedness also allows perpetrators of irregularities to get away without retribution, as there is little will to prosecute after a long time gap. In many cases the officials concerned would have retired or would be dead. The process has turned into a cosmetic exercise which is taken up because the local government commissions have nothing better to do and the municipalities need to put the statistical exercise behind them.

    Same comment as for no 19 above.

  22. 21.A responsible mass media could help promote accountability in a big way. For instance, the Money Magazine in the USA rates different cities and publishes the list of ‘Ten Best places to Live in the USA’. Similar rankings by the press could bring pressure on the urban governments to be more accountable. A similar rating of different city governments on criteria of accountability and quality of service could help motivate the official machinery to perform better. This is of course, in addition to the role of the watchdog that the press plays. Can you recall the role played by any newspaper or TV channel in exposing corruption and lack of transparency. apart from exposing the 2G scandal? (Read again the blog on Corrruption in India)

    1. The Media and the HC have played a great role in exposing the corruption in the BBMP. The BBMP has swindled crores of rupees in tenders, storm water drain construction etc.,

  23. Financial Accountability is the major requirement of transparency. The entire 2G spectrum scandal arose because of a lack of this accountability. The CAG constantly points out the financial irregularities of government agencies and huge is the financial watch dog of the State, Tenders must be duly published on the wen site and expenses incurred on various schemes must be made public. Parliament has its own agency , the Public Accounts committee assisted by the CAG to ensure Financial accountability. The Estimates Committee helps in budget formulation and the budget must be passed after careful and thorough discussion. But Parliament in India is so careless that often grants are passed without discussion. Study the lessons Public Accounts Committee, the Estimates Committee and the Blogs on Parliament in India and decline of Legislatures.

  24. Political Accountability refers to the responsibility of the Executive to Parliament. It is ensured through question hour, adjournment motions, debates on various bills and the President;s speech and ultimately through a no confidence motion. The debates are telecast live and people must be educated. by the Activists to realize the extent of irresponsibility prevailing in the government

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