Democracy and Elections: Accountability
Accountability is making sure that all decisions and activities of public servants and officials are watched so that the government does what it claims to do to and provides for the needs of the community. Broadly speaking, accountability is when a person and their work can be examined and guided and their activities justified. Parliament is considered a key institution in how accountability works. Citizens and civil society groups can seek the support of their elected representatives to take up their concerns and get something done about them if they feel the government hasn’t done its job properly. Also through public hearings, committee investigations and people’s petitions and demands, parliament can give a voice and a way for citizens and civic groups to question politicians. Parliament (legislature) and the judiciary (courts) act as constitutional checks on the power of the executive (civil service). The parliament holds the executive politically accountable, whilst the judiciary holds the executive legally accountable. They have the task of holding each other in check because parliament is a political institution, while the judiciary can only deal with legal matters. Together they can watch what is being done by the government and keep it accountable to what they have told the people they were going to do when the parliament got elected. They may also be helped by other institutions, such as the auditor general’s office, anti-corruption commissions, ombudsman’s office and human rights commissions. These offices are designed to be independent of the civil service. Ordinary people and their organisations can also take part in demanding government does what it is supposed to do. Their efforts can be started or supported by the State or citizens or both. For example, a Member of Parliament can raise the concerns of the people who ask him or her for help by questioning a government Minister during Question Time in Parliament or by asking for information directly from a government ministry or department. Government institutions as well as the private sector and civil society organisations must be accountable to the public and to their institutional stakeholders. In general, organisations and institutions are responsible to the people who will be affected by their decisions or actions. Accountability and the ways to make it work must be available to everyone at various levels of society. Municipal councils where they exist must be held accountable to ratepayers and the people it serves. Money and resources must be for everyone’s good and not for the gain of a particular person or group. Your local church, advisory council, village development committee, school board, volunteer group or social club should also be accountable to the people they serve or represent.. Individual members must be able to hold executives accountable and responsible for decisions made and actions taken. An important way of being accountable to citizens is by not interfering with their right to organise themselves. Democratic and accountable leadership offers better chances of steering a country towards good governance, stability, peace and prosperity. Start by demanding that lower levels of leadership do things fairly and correctly so that it becomes a part of the way things are always done. Make sure your women’s club, parents and teachers association, church groups, community associations, advisory councils, village development committees and other groups practice accountability. Make sure you are accountable too in your own home by allowing others to question your decisions and actions. Hopefully you will find reason and logic without being defensive and unreasonable. All in all, by practicing being accountable at these levels and parts of society, you will contribute to accountability at the national level, leading to a better and prosperous Fiji.
(This article is adapted from civic education materials prepared by UNDP’s National Initiative on Civic Education 2008-2010)