Accountability of Public Servants

In most countries, public officials exercise varying degrees of power in discharging their functions and responsibilities based on the authority vested in them. To ensure that there is proper and responsible use of this power and authority, all democratic countries have developed systems and procedures of checks and balances. They have also put in place incentive mechanisms to reward good performance. These systems and procedures can broadly be termed as mechanisms that promote accountability. In all democratic countries, civil servants are accountable both to the political executive and to citizens for ensuring responsive, transparent and honest policy implementation and service delivery. But ensuring accountability for performance is not a simple task in government service; there are immense complexities involved in making public officials answerable for outputs and outcomes. Setting performance targets and their measurement is easier in respect of service delivery agencies particularly when the service provided is tangible and thus an easily measured unit but for many public organizations where the output is policy related and therefore, not very concrete, assessment of performance becomes much more complicated. The diffusion of responsibility and authority across different levels in Government and the lack of linkage between authority and accountability also lead to a system where plausible alibis for non-performance abound, particularly for activities that cut across departmental dividing lines or across different functional divisions within departments. The accountability mechanisms in any country are broadly categorized as those that are located within the State and those outside. Accountability of the executive arm of government to Parliament and to the citizens of the country is of course the fundamental feature of a democracy. The final expression of accountability in a democracy is through the medium of periodic elections which is an instrument for punishing and rewarding the Government of the day, and therefore, serves as an ultimate instrument of accountability. An independent judiciary embodies the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers and is another important element in the system of checks and balances that exists in any democratic country. In India, constitutional and statutory bodies such as the office of the Comptroller & Auditor General, the Election Commission, and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) are examples of other oversight mechanisms that are autonomous but lie within the framework of the State. Analysts have categorized these accountability mechanisms into “horizontal” accountability mechanisms which refer to those located within the State as against ‘vertical’ accountability mechanisms which are those outside the State and include the media, civil society and citizens. The Sixth Central Pay Commission observed as follows: The institutional structures of top-down management and isolated managerial efforts have proved inadequate for satisfying performance i.e. delivery of results and outcomes. There is over-reliance on ‘command’ models of administrative effort for service delivery. Citizens and service users are stakeholders and participants not just ‘customers’. This role needs to be institutionalized in the administrative structures linked to the specific organizational service delivery. This participation of stakeholders in the process design and their institutional integration into the decision and delivery framework can be based on a ‘cooperative model’ of consultation and co-production. Institutional norms and practices become habits and routines and have to be consciously analyzed, confronted and substituted with alternate institutionalized practices. Th is perspective of purpose is important also for determining the type of Performance Related Incentive Scheme (PRIS) developed and adopted. The importance of a systems shift from top down monitoring to stakeholder-citizen participation and co-production with transparency and checks is critical for better public service delivery.

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