Accountability: Meaning & Concept

Accountability is a mechanism designed to ensure that the affairs or the entities are conducted with due regard to the interests of those who are interested in the affairs of the entity.

Accountability guarantees actions and decisions taken by public officials regarding government initiatives and respond to the needs of the community, thereby contributing to better governance and poverty reduction. It also means their decisions and actions are subject to oversight so as to guarantee that their stated objectives are met.

Accountability vis-a-vis Good Governance

The Good governance recognizes accountability in terms of

  • Improving the delivery of public services,
  • Measuring performance and
  • Providing incentives to achieve targets and sanctions in case of non­-performance.
  • Accountability is not to be viewed only in terms of democratic control and integrity of operations but also in terms of performance.

Accountability is embedded in the public service system in India via a series of reforms such as

  • Financial Management Initiative
  • creation of Executive Agencies
  • Citizen’s Charter
  • Public Service Agreement
  • Transformation of bureaucratic structure.

Several countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada and USA have embraced the philosophy of accountability and brought significant improvement in public service delivery and efficiency. USA has enacted a Government Result and Performance Act 1993.

Features of Accountability

The basic characteristics of Accountability can be summarized as follows:

  • Definition of goals of the institution and powers, functions and resources committed thereto
  • Planning, directing, supervision and control of activities/operations
  • Recording of transactions
  • Audit by an independent authority
  • Final disposal of the accountability responsibility

Importance of accountability for Public Officials

Accountability is important in evaluating the on-going effectiveness of public officials or bodies ensures that they are performing to their full potential, providing value for money, instilling confidence in the government and being responsive to the community.

Bureaucracy is a social institution, and its members, do not shrink from exercising this power in their own favour, unconcerned about, or to the detriment of, the people whom they profess to serve. No government, of whatever complexion, can evade the need for accountability.

In a democracy, accountability inevitably assumes a pre-eminent position as it derives its legitimacy from the people at large.

Accountability is at the heart of every government, what the nature of that accountability, and how it is articulated, however, depends upon the kind of polity a country has.

The greater the need for accountability, the greater is the difficulty of its enforcement. Bureaucracy tends to monopolize within itself awesome power, which is not necessarily used for the citizen’s welfare.

Accountability is important in good governance to keep the public servants tuned to the right perspective, including goals; society needs to have at its disposal definite ways of holding the servants accountable.

Facets of accountability

Accountability in India has two facets, separate but interrelated.

  • The first is political, where the executive is accountable to Parliament, which has many devices and Instrumentalities for keeping tabs on the executive.
  • The second facet is primarily administrative, where the (political) executive holds the civil servants accountable for how they carry out their responsibilities.
Executive’s accountability to Parliament

The executive’s accountability to Parliament is total and unabridged, which the latter reasserts in many ways and on many occasions. In calling the executive to account, Parliament has at its command numerous tools and opportunities, such as

  • Parliamentary questions
  • Adjournment motions
  • Vote of no-confidence
  • Discussion on demands for grants
  • Calling attention notice
  • Half-an-hour discussion
  • Zero-hour discussion, etc.
Accountability of Civil Servants

All civil servants working in a ministry are accountable to the minister. As the minister is responsible to the legislature for actions and inaction of the civil servants, the latter must obviously be held accountable to him. The civil servants must know well their minister’s mind and seek faithfully to project it in what they do. At the same time, they must observe, in all their official transactions with citizens, due process of law and laws of natural justice.