Concept of Accountability (UPSC Notes)

Last Updated: May 2023 (Concept of Accountability (UPSC Notes))

Concept of Accountability (UPSC Notes)

This article deals with the topic titled ‘ Concept of Accountability (UPSC Notes) .’ This is part of our series on ‘Ethics’. For more articles, you can click here.

What is Accountability?

Concept of Accountability (UPSC Notes)
  • Accountability has three aspects 
    1. Answerability of the officials for their decisions and actions
    2. Enforceability of rules and laws to punish the officials if they fail to effectively discharge their duty
    3. Grievance redressal mechanism for the ordinary people who suffer due to the absence of accountability.
  • Accountability is required in the case of Public Servants because they have a lot of discretion.

Benefits of Accountability 

  • Checks Abuse of power: It prevents the public services from turning into tyrants as they are held answerable for their deeds and misdeeds. 
  • Checks corruption and fraud
  • Lack of accountability decreases the legitimacy of the government
  • Makes the system more responsive: Owing accountability for their actions motivates public servants to discharge their duty with honesty, integrity and efficiency.
  • Stops arbitrary and unauthorized exercise of authority 
  • Ensures better service delivery

Points against Accountability 

  • Officers spend their time maintaining records or answering RTIs.
  • It makes them status-quoist in their conduct in fear of public scrutiny.

Accountability vs. Responsibility

Quite often, Accountability is misunderstood as Responsibility.

  • Responsibility is an inner concept like your responsibility to do some work. 
  • Accountability is an outer concept like your accountability for some work you have done.

Types of Accountability

There can be two types of Accountability in Governance

#1 Vertical Accountability

Accountability of the government to persons outside the government is ensured by

  1. Elections 
  2. RTI
  3. Media & Social Media
  4. Citizens Charter 
  5. NGO & Pressure Groups

#2 Horizontal Accountability

Accountability of Public Institutions/ Servants to the Government

It can be further of two types

External Accountability of Public Servants outside his wing 
1. Accountability of Minister (Executive) to Parliament (Legislature)
2. Judiciary 
3. CAG
4. CVC
5. NHRC  
Internal Accountability of Public Servant inside his wing/department
1. Accountability to Superiors
2. Internal Audit 
3. Grievance Redressal Mechanisms

Whenever we have to answer how to increase Accountability, we must cover all these angles.

Steps to make Accountability more effective in India 

  • Strengthening RTI Act 
  • Protection of Whistleblowers through legislation. 
  • Strong Lokpal Act 
  • Social Audits by local communities and NGOs can enhance accountability in public service delivery, for instance, in MGNREGA.
  • Using Information and Technology: Like maintaining digital records to increase transparency
  • Citizen’s initiative: e.g. Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) (MKSS, founded in 1990 in Rajasthan, is a social organization working towards increasing accountability in India. MKSS began demanding access to government records in 1994, which led to the creation of the RTI Act in 2005.) 
  • Promoting competition and discouraging monopolistic attitudes among public service sectors. 
  • Need to lay down a statutory Code of Ethics for Civil Services (British Civil Services Code can act as a model.)

Side Topic: Various Examples of Social Accountability

Participatory budgeting In Participatory Budgeting, the citizens directly participate in budget (especially at the local government) formulation and monitoring the execution. Gujarat (Local Governance)
Participatory Planning Beneficiaries of government programs are involved in the planning and design of program components to determine local problems, priorities and solutions. Kerala, Brazil and Bangladesh
Citizen Report Card Participatory surveys that provide quantitative feedback to service providers on the satisfaction levels amongst citizens on the quality of public services Bangalore, Maharashtra (Ukraine and Philippines)
Social Audit Process whereby a government program is audited with the active participation of the program’s intended beneficiaries.  

Success Stories

  1.  People’s Campaign for Decentralized Planning in Kerala: Its success has been attributed to significant financial and functional devolution and the institutional incentives for participation which led to increased representation of hitherto marginalized voices like SCs, STs and women. 
  2. Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) – a Rajasthan-based grassroots organization, employed ‘social audits’ which break the state’s monopoly over official oversight and legitimize citizen inclusion into hitherto exclusive affairs of the state

Various Challenges to Accountability in India

  • Special Expertise: Public administrators are experts in their specific areas. Hence, it is difficult for outside agencies to surpass them in their areas of specialization & question them.  
  • Massive Expansion of Bureaucracy: It is difficult for the political executive to effectively control the bureaucracy due to the massive expansion of bureaucracy.
  • Lack of Coordination:  The number of agencies has also increased – for example, CBI, CVC, Lokayuktas, SVC etc. without effective coordination. Due to their overlapping jurisdiction and lack of coordination, they cannot hold the public servants accountable.
  • Excessive Constitutional Security offered to Public Servants: Article 311 of the Indian Constitution makes it almost impossible to remove a civil servant.
  • Employees’ Unions: The tendency of employees’ unions to resist managerial action against their members even when they have blatantly violated ethical norms reduces the accountability of employees.
  • Disruption by powerful vested interests: Threats and coercion can make communities hesitant to participate directly and speak up in Social Accountability initiatives. 

Information Sharing and Transparency in Government

Information Sharing and Transparency in Government

This article deals with the topic titled ‘ Information Sharing and Transparency in Government .’ This is part of our series on ‘Ethics’. For more articles, you can click here.

What is Transparency in Governance?

Information Sharing and Transparency in Government
  • Transparency = Openness in functioning
  • Transparency in governance means that the criteria, processes and systems of decision-making are openly known to all (in simple words, Transparency in Governance means how governance is being carried out should be known to all).
  • Although transparency is often used interchangeably with access to information, transparency is a wider term with information sharing as one of the tools.  
  • Transparency or Openness has three aspects (PIA)
    • Participative Governance  
    • Information Sharing 
    • Accountability 
Components of Transparency
  • Examples of Transparency
    1. Jharkhand Public Distribution System (PDS)
    2. E-auctions of coal blocks: The process made the auction of coal blocks more transparent and uprooted corruption from the sector to a large extent. 

Benefits of Transparency

  • Helpful in curbing Corruption and Nepotism: Transparency has a deterrent effect on corrupt behaviour as public officials know their actions will be subject to public scrutiny. 
  • Transparency increases the state’s legitimacy as citizens are more likely to trust it when the government is transparent about its decision-making processes and is open about its policies and actions. 
  • Enable a citizen to make well-informed decisions, especially while voting: Transparency helps citizens cast votes based on performance rather than narrow considerations of caste or creed.
  • Efficient utilization of funds: Transparency in governance ensures the efficient utilization of funds and prevents financial misdoings. When financial information is readily available to the public, it becomes easier to identify irregularities or discrepancies in financial statements and transactions.
  • Empowering the Marginalized: It empowers the poor and marginalized sections of society by providing them with the necessary information. For example, access to information can help people living in poverty to learn about job opportunities, government services, and educational programs. It can also help marginalized groups such as women, minorities, and people with disabilities to learn about their legal rights and protections.

Issues with Transparency in India

  1. Red Tapism in bureaucracy undermines transparency
  2. Official Secrets Act of 1923, under which government can classify certain information as official which cant be shared.
  3. Monitoring mechanisms aren’t efficient.
  4. Lack of government’s political will to be transparent
  5. Citizens are not interested enough to ensure transparency in governance
  6. Political parties don’t come under the ambit of RTI 

3 Aspects of Transparency

1. Participative Governance

  • Participative Governance means when citizens themselves participate in governance and decision-making. It entails the participation of people in decision-making at the grass root level through the decentralization of powers to the local self-governing bodies.  
  • Participative governance is one of the means to achieve transparency in governance through the bottom-up approach. 

There are different ways by which participative governance can be achieved. 

1.1 Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) & Urban Local Bodies

  • It is a well-known fact that as the distance from the Power of Center increases, proportionately transparency decreases
  • PRIs and Urban Local Bodies were given constitutional status via the 73rd and 74th Amendments. 
  • Powers have been devolved to Village Panchayats and Gram Sabhas, in which people make decisions themselves. 

1.2 Social Audit

  • Social Audit is the audit through client or beneficiary groups or civil society groups (i.e. stakeholders) to ensure the social accountability of an organization.
  • It was suggested by Ashok Mehta Committee in 1977. After the 73rd Amendment, when Gram Panchayats got Constitutional Status, rural citizens/gram sabha got legitimacy to conduct Social Audits.
  • The Supreme Court has also favoured it. CAG, in 2016, laid down “auditing standards” for Social Audit.
  •  It isn’t just limited to Government companies and schemes. It is equally valid for Private Companies where its stakeholders can conduct audits. E.g., TISCO adopted this technique of Auditing even before independence.

Conventional Audit vs. Social Audit

Conventional Audit Social Audit
Top-down concept of audit Bottom-up concept of audit
Audit done by Government Functionaries Audit done by the beneficiary group and civil society (stakeholders
Audit with economic orientation Audit with  economic as well as social impact consideration

Advantages of Social Audit over Conventional Auditing

  • Increases people’s participation in governance (Participatory Governance)
  • It leads to more transparency and strong accountability. 
  • Social Audit is an audit from the economic and social impact perspective. Hence more effective
  • Infuse effectivity and efficiency in public service delivery (Ghost Beneficiary can be weeded out)
  • Generation and consolidation of Social capital and social enterprise
  • Social Audit becomes crucial after greater devolution of the central fund to PRIs, and ULB on the recommendation of the 14th FC, as CAG’s audit jurisdiction over such entities is nebulous.
  • Social Audits of MGNREGA have played an important role in rooting out corruption from the scheme. 

Challenges in Social Auditing 

  1. It is voluntary & doesn’t enjoy legal backing (although some schemes like MGNREGA have legal backing)
  2. Standardisation problem: Different stakeholders may have varying opinions and expectations, making it difficult to reach a consensus on what constitutes positive social performance.
  3. Time-consuming

1.3 Resident Welfare Associations

Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) in India are local community organizations formed by residents of a particular neighbourhood or housing society to address and manage various issues related to the welfare and development of their locality.

Bhagidari Scheme (of the Delhi Government)

  • The Bhagidari Scheme of the Delhi Government directly involves citizens through RWAs in monthly meetings to mobilize the community to take responsibility for their respective zones and areas. These RWAs are also the first point of contact for state utilities while planning development-related and other changes  

2. Information Sharing

  • Information sharing refers to the exchange of data among various governing bodies, organizations and the general public.
  • Indian Parliament has also institutionalized this right by legislating the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005. (CLICK HERE for more on RTI)
  • Further, parliamentary debates are televised in India, government audit reports are published, and government positions on various policy issues are widely advertised through websites, radio and social media. 
  • Most recently, the government has launched the website to promote Open Data Government (ODG). 

3. Accountability

Accountability has three aspects 

  1. Answerability of the officials for their decisions and actions
  2. Enforceability of rules and laws to punish the officials if they fail to effectively discharge their duty
  3. Grievance redressal mechanism for the ordinary people who suffer due to the absence of accountability.

 (CLICK HERE for more on Accountability)