Accountability is Necessary For Success - Government Essay

Accountability is Necessary For Success - Government Essay
In this paper a correct delivery system is only understood with the accountability of the actors who are responsible of providing services to the public. Accountability is a
necessary condition for a successful public delivery.

Enabling agencies and delivery agencies have responsibility towards each other and to users’ needs. In this essay two different relationships are identified in the delivery system’s framework, between government and administration and between the members of the administration themselves. The market also appears as another provider of services.

The literature stresses the lack of accountability and communication links between state and providers, which have negative effects on the services offered to users, whose “voices” are not always listened to. The answer to this situation is a reform of the institutional relationships marked especially by the creation of alternative organisms, which would assume state’s functions in order to fill its public delivery gaps, and which would implement the participation of the users in the decision-making sphere.

1. Accountability of institutions.

Since the last decades of the 19th century the state has had the role of service delivery, that was consolidated after the Second World War with the creation of the Welfare State. This service delivery carried out through the tools of bureaucracy has been quite successful but also has failed in some countries in the form of capitalism, communism and democracy, which are all different ways of interpreting how the state should deliver public services. An state without bureaucracy may be an “ideal” for many people, but a society needs to be organized in some way to avoid situations of chaos. At the moment, the only feasible way known is through bureaucracy.

All societies need the accountability of the actors responsible for delivering public services to the users. Lack of accountability is very often the reason why the delivery system fails in some countries. In the words of Day and Klein (1987) “it is precisely the day-by-day accountability, in which the rulers explain and justify their actions directly to the ruled, which distinguishes a democratic society from an elective tyranny”. They added that “who says democracy, it is tempting to say, also says accountability”. They identify an obligation of the rulers to explain and justify their public conduct.

The World Bank (2004) identifies five common features in the accountability relationships among the actors of the delivery service which go beyond the mere responsibility of justifying the state’s actions but involves all the stages in the delivery process: delegating, financing, performing, informing and enforcing. These accountability features are explained by this organization, for instance, through relationships such as those between employer and employee, sellers and buyers and government and citizens. An example is when citizens of a town choose a group of people who are designated with power to act (delegation) and to establish tax and budgets (finance), as well as to supply citizens with the necessary services (performance). Voters will assess the executive’s performance taking into account the experience and the information that they have received and which will be useful to improve and enforce a better performance where necessary (enforcement). Another example of accountability relationship can be seen in a company where the employer employs people who are paid (finance) for doing a job (delegation). The performance of the workers gives the employer useful information in order to enforce and improve the quality of the employees work (enforcement).

The weakness in any of these aspects of accountability means the failure of the public delivery chain. In order to fill the gap of the traditional bureaucratic system new organisms have been created to take over some of the state’s roles (NGO’s, users associations,...) and some institutional actions have been put in practice, such as privatization, decentralization, participatory methods or contracting external agencies. At the moment, none of them have led to a perfect delivery system.

Relationships between enabling and delivery agencies.

In the chain of the delivery system three different actors can be found: the state (policy makers), providers (organizations, front-line workers) and users (individual or coalitions). All the agencies in charge of providing health, education, security, water supply and social security are included as providers.

Source: The World Bank (2004)
Under the framework of the enabling agencies and delivery agencies they can be found the relationships between providers and the state, among providers themselves and between the state and the market. The first set of relationships consists of agreements established between policymakers and delivery organizations. The World Bank (2004) calls these relationships as “compacts”, as they are not always considered enforceable as a contract -even if it is a form of compact. Instead, it is a long-route relationship between both actors (organizations-state) in which the government is accountable to provide delivery agencies with the necessary resources and means to undertake their job. In other words, policymakers delegate power to administrations responsible for delivering public services to users through public service agreements.

The second set of relationships is an internal one among members of the delivery agency. Frontline-workers need to be given with the training and tools by managers to carry out their job. They have to be able to identify the user’s needs and develop a bottom-up relationship with them. A good co-ordination among the members of the delivery agencies is an essential requisite to achieve the objectives established by policymakers, and especially in order to answer users’ demands. Thus, frontline workers need to have very well-designed instructions, financial and technical capability and motivation to undertake their task with professional autonomy and initiative (World Bank, 2004).

Moreover, sometimes, the enabling system lacks the necessary information about the provider’s needs. Absence of communication between state and providers is a common feature in the delivery chain, resulting in a failure in the whole delivery system. Policymakers should be better informed about the user’s needs and this should be reflected on the instructions that they give to the providers. The long route public service may be one of the causes of the missing information required for a more effective delivery system.

The relationship between enabling and delivering agencies should change according to the users’ different needs. Hobley and Shield (2000) argue that one of the most common feature of the present public sector is its rigidity to adapt itself to new public demands. It is due, perhaps, to the lack of communication and co-ordination between policymakers and providers and also, among organizations managers and frontline-workers. Without clear objectives it is very difficult to improve the organizations’ activities and to innovate. Some states have been successful in delivering services, but the problem is when it is intended an improvement of its the quality services.

For the World Bank (2004) in systems that lack accountability public service jobs are given as political favors which create relationships of political obligation. Managers and frontline-workers perform according private interests instead to the general citizens’ interest. It is very difficult to control the job of providers due to the million of interactions that every day take place in the public delivery scope, but on the other hand, stricter control may affect the performance of providers as the may feel frustrate under stronger pressure.

Another constraint to the relationships of accountability is the multiple pressures under which providers work. They have to answer to the needs and interests of different segments of population. It requires different resources and enough staff which some administrators have not been provided with.

The market, as another service provider, requires strong relationships with the state to offer quality services. The state is able to provide the market with adequate right conditions to make it successful (infrastructures, regulation, etc.) and the market may also provide the state with valuable information about the user’s needs. Market organizations are autonomous, which involves the management of the frontline providers in a more efficient way than public organizations do. Also, competitiveness makes them adopt innovations in the delivery of services. The problem is that the market responds exclusively to the needs of the customers with purchasing power instead of the satisfaction of individual objectives, without having into account the necessity of an universal access (World Bank, 2004).

Delivering to users.

According to Cornwell and Gaventa (2001) a lot of attention is being today paid to increase the responsibility and accountability of “institutions and policies through changes in institutional design and on enabling structures for good governance”. For these authors a public delivery system only will work correctly with a responsive state which covers the needs of the public and with a civil society able to express the needs of users and to demand transparency from the enabling and providers agencies.

Camay and Gordon (2004) suggested that users and government should have reciprocal obligations to fulfil, in order to make their relationships effective and the public service delivery successful. They argue that both have to be transparent and accountable with their actions and to be prepared to negotiate the potential conflict and inequalities resulted by resource allocation. They add that civil society has to ensure that governments respect the rule of law when delivering services, to make sure that it is done under equity frameworks. They think that governments should also respect the autonomy and individuality of civil society and enable political and social space for their participation. More fluent communication processes should take place between both actors, so that users would be able to inform the government what services they think are realistic and feasible, according to their experience. They conclude saying that the state should then be focused in delivering these services of priority to people.

The abuse of power from policymakers leads to the public to claim alternative mechanisms –other than elections- to make governments accountable (World Bank, 2004). Thus, throughout the history, have been developed different ways to allow citizens to participate in the decision-making process, like ways of exercising their voice through consultation (plebiscites, citizens juries, participatory evaluation and technical assessment) designed to inform the government and to influence in the delivery system. According to the European Commission (2004) the fact that users can influence the decision that affects their lives is clearly an important indicator of the health of the democratic political process and therefore of institutional relationships. So this influence would depend basically on two factors: openness of political institutions to people’s voice and the capacity of people themselves to articulate their requirements. An example of this is during the Spanish dictatorships, when Francos’ government eliminated all kind of citizens organizations to silence their “voice”.

When the relationship between the enabling system and the delivery system does not work correctly it has a significant effect on the users and on the relationships that they may develop with providers and the state. When the state is not accountable to their citizens they find it difficult to translate their experience and knowledge about the service delivery into public power, in order to claim a better public performance. Moreover, especially in developing countries, the chances of poor people of improving their living standard are very little. An example of performance failure between the agencies responsible for delivering services can be seen during the Green Revolution. Small farmers of developing countries found many bureaucratic obstacles from institutions when asking for the tools in order to adopt a new farm system based on new technologies. It was due basically to the lack of co-ordination between these agencies, which stopped farmers to access on time to the new technologies and compete in equal terms in the market. Therefore, they remained in clear disadvantage regarding to those with closest relationships with the government (Shepherd, 1998).

The deception with the enabling agencies due to cases of corruption, lack of accountability to the users’ needs and the absence of communication between policymakers and providers have led the citizens to think about alternative ways in which they may play a more active part in the decision-making processes. Examples of this are process of decentralization or devolution or the creation of NGO’s. According to Edwards et all. (1999) the tasks assumed by NGO’s are to fill the gap left by the public service (complementing), acting as representative of people’s interests (reforming) and as watchdogs of the state (opposing the state). Civil society therefore assumes more and more state’s functions

An improvement of the service delivery requires the reform of the whole institutional relationship system and of the inadequate institution arrangements. According to the World Bank (2004) given the failure of the traditional long way model of service provision, the alternative is to relay more in the short way, which involves a more direct contact between enabling system and users. An example of this is the case of doctors willing a reform of the British National Health system giving more direct control and power to users through the payment of a basic insurance plan defined by law.

Institutional reform requires not only the change of the relationship between providers and the state, but also between delivery agencies and users. Civil servants have to provide the public with a more professional service which would take into account the needs of people in most disadvantage positions and whose voice is not often head. To achieve a better front-line work will not be possible if there is not previously more clear objectives and commitment from the state with the public.


All members of the delivery chain should be accountable to each other in order to achieve the common interests in the society. At the moment there is no society in the world which enjoys a perfectly balanced public delivery process, even if some of them have achieved good level of democracy and equity in the provision of services. When the state is not accountable in the specification of objectives and instructions to the manager administrators they will not be able to provide the frontline-workers with the information and tools necessary for a correct delivery. Also, citizens need to be able to express their voice to demand a better role from the state. It is a vicious circle than only will be possible to break with a reform of the institutional arrangements.

Common institutional reforms that have taken place in some countries are decentralization and devolution of the state’s power whose efficiency is still being questioned by the public. Other important change in the scope of the delivery system is the emerge of civil organizations aimed at increasing the voice of the citizens and at failing the gap left by governments. The role of these organizations is also questioned by the public even if they have contributed, in some cases, to improve the conditions of people in most disadvantaged conditions, especially in the Third World.

The market also plays an important role as a provider of services but most of time performs according to particular interests. Due to it, the market does not represent an alternative for the public service, especially for these people without purchasing power. The market would be an alternative only if takes more in consideration universal access to the service that it delivers.

In conclusion, a total reform of the institutional relationship is very difficult to achieve due to the complexity of the societies and the difficulty of conveying the interests and needs of all different population segments.



Day, P. and Klein, R., 1987. Accountabilities. Five Public Services. London & New York: Tavistock Publications.

Hobley, M. and Shields, D., 2000. Overseas Development Institute (ODI). The Reality of Trying to Transform Structures and Processes: Forestry in Rural Livelihoods. Working Paper 132.

Sepherd, A. (1998). Sustainable Rural Development. London & New & New York: MacMillam Press LTD. & St. Martin Press, INC.


Camay, P. and Gordon, A., 2004. Some Basic Principles for Meeting the Challenges of Civil Society. Government Relations. CORE, Johannesburg.
(Viewed in March 2004)

Cornwall, A. and Gaventa, J., 2001. Bridging the Gap: Citizenship, Participation and Accountability. PLA Notes 40.
(Viewed in March 2004)

Edwards, M. et all., 1999. Global Policy Forum. NGOs in a Global Future. Conference Backgroung Paper. Birmingham.
(Viewed in March 2004)

European Commission, 2004. Democracy and Human Rights.
(Viewed in March 2004)

World Bank, 2004. World Development Report 2004. The framework for Service Provision. Chap. 3, pgs. 46-61.
(Viewed in March 2004)

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