This summer, I made a project visit to a government clinic in northern Sierra Leone. It is a clinic pretty much in name only, being constructed as 1-bedroom living quarters for a teacher and subsequently converted into a health facility. The nurse took me on a tour, pointing out the problems: a broken scale to weigh infants, no waiting room for early stages of labor, animals grazing and
Public Accountability Mechanisms
The discussions on budget transparency and open data have been gaining momentum over recent years. Not only is it important that governments publish budget data on web sites, but also that they disclose meaningful data and full picture of financial activities to the public. The question is, how much of the disclosed information and documents are reliable? What is the scope of disclosed information? Is there any reliable information about other important aspects of fiscal discipline and transparency?
A number of fiscal transparency instruments and guidelines have been developed by civil society groups and international organizations to evaluate the existence, regularity, and contents of certain key budget documents published in the public domain and whether the information comply with international standards. However, current instruments do not concentrate on the source and reliability of published information, as well as the integrity of underlying systems and databases from which governments extract data.
Two recent blogs (Mobile Apps for Health, Jobs and Poverty Data and Transformational Use of ICTs in Africa) talked about how mobile applications facilitate access to services in the financial, trade, agriculture, and social sectors.
Despite proliferation in business applications, most government applications only provide information about public services and agencies. The potential is huge and now there is a level playing field for developed and developing countries. Take the USA where government applications are still quite limited in scope and quantity (see the 10 best). Aware of their unleashed potential, President Obama issued a directive on May, 23rd 2012 to every federal agency “to make two government services the American people depend on, available on mobile phones.” Yes, May 2012.
- Performance Measurement
- Digital government
- Public Accountability Mechanisms
- Mobile Phone and Public Accountability
- cellular technology
- Public Sector and Governance
- Information and Communication Technologies
- South Asia
- Governance & Public Sector Management
Over the past two decades, citizen-led initiatives to hold power holders to account have taken the world by storm. The promise embedded in such efforts – that more enlightened and engaged citizens demanding greater accountability around issues that they care about can have a decisive impact in improving development effectiveness, the quality of (democratic) governance and the nature of state-society relations – has led to a mushrooming of transparency and accountability initiatives (TAIs). TAIs operating at the domestic, regional and/or international levels now cover a plethora of issues ranging from corruption, access to information, and budget processes, to natural resource management, service delivery, and aid.
There is no doubt that governance can be complicated. It has been subject to extensive analysis and explanation by a variety of experts, with a corresponding variety of definitions. Competing philosophies are based on not only assumptions about the intersection of economic and political management, but also the relevance of institutions to development outcomes. Measurement of such complex concept can be an awkward tool in the midst of such ambiguity.
Good institutions matter for development. Institutions enable societies to address challenges – from managing irrigation and schools systems, to raising and spending revenues. In the terms of Nobel Prize laureate Elinor Ostrom, the right institutions enable effective collective action, while poor or missing institutions hinder problem-solving.
A while back I was working for a small education foundation in Bangalore. Every day I took the bus to the office along a road that had so many pot holes it felt like the driver had decided to take a short cut across the surface of the moon. About a month before I left the whole stretch was covered by a smooth layer of gleaming tarmac and a series of huge posters appeared – announcing the hard work and successful lobbying conducted by our local city councillor.
Recently, at a community meeting I attended at Robina clinic in Tonkolili district, Sierra Leone, facilitators asked a group of young women to rate the quality of health service delivery using what they coined the “mango test.” As part of this “test” community members decide how many hypothetical mangos, on a scale from 0 to 5, they would give a nurse as thanks for the quality of her care.
In many areas of contemporary development practice–from the formulation of local budgets to the delivery of education services–social accountability mechanisms are being employed to assist citizens in holding the state accountable and thus, hopefully, to improve development outcomes.
The idea that citizens can directly contribute to strengthening the governance and quality of service delivery has been gaining momentum. The recent globabl uprisings, from revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia to the Occupy Wall Street movements here in the US, have highlighted the important role that individuals play in demanding more accountable governments and policies.