Democ­racy and Elec­tions: Ac­count­abil­ity


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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)

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