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accountability

'I'll Be Gone and You'll Be Gone'

Sina Odugbemi's picture

There was an article in the New York Times recently with the title 'What's Really Wrong With Wall Street Pay?'  In the article, the writer discusses a problem world leaders want to do something about but are not sure how. How do you stop compensation packages for bankers and traders in global markets from encouraging them to take the kinds of wild risks that have done so much damage to the global economy?  I wish the leaders the very best of luck in dealing with that one. Success in the endeavor is far from certain...to put it gently.

What caught my eye as I was reading the piece is what the writer says bankers call the "I.B.G-Y.B.G." problem, as in 'I'll be gone and you will be gone'. It is the moral hazard problem. Traders in global markets take incredible risks and recklessly, they collect their bonuses and move on. The firm takes all the risk. Well, it turns out that taxpayers take risks as well, since governments have had to bail out so many banks deemed too big to fail.

Citizen Inspectors General to the Rescue

Fumiko Nagano's picture

According to The Financial Times, the U.S. government’s Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board plans to launch in October what the FT calls “the most complex government website in history." The Recovery Board, an independent body headed by Chairman Earl Devaney, is tasked to oversee the outflow of the US $787 billion stimulus package to jumpstart the ailing economy, and the state-of the-art website is intended to engage citizens in tracking the use of taxpayer money.

What caught my attention is the premise behind this initiative—that citizens know best what is happening in their own communities. In an effort to rein in waste, fraud, and abuse of stimulus funds, the Recovery Board is putting into practice the principles of accountability and transparency through partnership with citizens. The Board understands that to carry out its mandate successfully, it needs to equip citizens with information so that they can help the Board do its job. As Mr. Devaney explains, “The website will unleash a million citizen IGs [inspectors-general].”

Accountability Alchemy

Darshana Patel's picture

A self-help group member shows us her paralegal identification (Medak District, Andhra Pradesh).Alchemy is well known as the science of turning invaluable substances into gold.  But it symbolizes transformation of the most radical kind.  (From the Arabic word al-kimia, alchemy literally means "the art of transformation.")

So what does accountability have to do with radical transformation? According to the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) , a government agency in Andhra Pradesh, India; accountability is key to ensuring transformation of the poor.   

SERP is implementing the Andhra Pradesh Rural Poverty Reduction Project, locally known as Indira Kranthi Patham (IKP) in all the 22 rural districts of Andhra Pradesh. IKP is the longest running livelihoods program financed by the World Bank in South Asia but what makes the project unique is not large-scale spending. It is the slow, intentional process of building institutions of and by the poor that no amount of money alone has been able to accomplish.  The idea behind this project is that accountability and sound governance practices must be embedded in the norms and culture of institutions rather than treated as after-thoughts.

In the End, It’s About What People Want

Fumiko Nagano's picture

The potential that Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have to contribute to economic growth in developing countries is undeniable. In terms of what ICT in general and e-government in particular can do specifically to improve governance and accountability, we often hear about their positive impact on government transparency and responsiveness, on government efficiency and effectiveness, and finally, on citizen access to information, services, and opportunities.

A Riot of Global Norms

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Part of my job is to give advice to teams working on different projects and initiatives in the broad areas of governance and accountability regarding what I like to think of as people-related challenges. And one of the commonest threads running through the initiatives I look at is the challenge of transplanting global norms. Think for a minute about the norms around good governance, around work on anti-corruption. In almost every case, initiatives involve a set of global norms  that experts want developing countries to adopt.

Civic Spheres, Open Government

Fumiko Nagano's picture

Last month, US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer spoke in an engaging panel discussion on the role of art and architecture in civic spheres at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. He talked about the design of Boston’s federal courthouse: an effort that strove to create a building that was accessible and inviting to the people, so that they would recognize it as a public space—their space—and use it.

Benchmarking Expectations: Pre-Election Polling and Accountability

Taeku Lee's picture

The on-going controversy around the presidential election result in Iran raises an important curiosity.  It is clear at the present moment that the official results have defied expectations and dashed hopes for many.  From the standpoint of political accountability, there are at least two important questions that arise.  First, where do these expectations and hopes come from?  Perceptions that the election was "stolen" must be based in some sense of a range of plausible outcomes, and the declared 63% to 34% split clearly fell out of this range for Moussavi supporters and comfortably within this range for Ahmadinejad supporters.  The problem of conflicting pre-election expectations is an old one, rooted in what social scientists often call "homophily."  Where we stand is often determined by where we sit, and we tend to sit in deeply embedded and entrenched social information networks amongst others who are very much like us in body, mind, and spirit.  Those in the Ahmadinejad camp most likely set their expectations in the company of other Ahmadinejad supporters and those in the Moussavi camp most likely set their expectations in the company of fellows who championed Moussavi's cause.

What in the World is 'Rude Accountability'?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

I have just read a fascinating paper published by the Institute of Development Studies in the UK and written by Naomi Hossain. It is titled 'Rude Accountability in the Unreformed State: Informal Pressures on Frontline Bureaucrats in Bangladesh' [IDS Working Paper Volume 2009 Number 319]. The paper describes and analyzes what happens when poor peasants in Bangladesh are being poorly served by frontline service providers like doctors and teachers in an environment where the institutional accountability mechanisms do not work. So, what do these poor peasants do? They get angry and they show it. They speak rudely to these doctors and teachers who normally expect deference. They embarrass them. They get local newspapers to name and shame them.They even engage in acts of violence like vandalism. And their reactions often produces results, particularly the media reports. This is what Hossain calls 'rude accountability'.

The Back-Handed Compliment

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Is it true that the news media - when free, plural and independent - promote effective, responsive and accountable governance? Working with Professor Pippa Norris of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, CommGAP has produced a major study making the case  for Yes as rigorously as we can. That study is now being prepared for the printers, and should be available soon. Yet there are times when I think; why do we need to go to great lengths to make what should be an obvious point?

Benthamite Lessons from a Scandal

Sina Odugbemi's picture

It is important not to let a scandal go to waste. If you follow world politics, then you must know about the recent events in Great Britain. According to the Financial Times, 'For the past two weeks, Britain has been in a state of stupefied anger at the ingenious ways in which elected politicians have used their expenses system to milk the taxpayer'. As a result, says the same report, 'public fury over scandalous expenses claims has pushed lawmakers, in fear of losing their jobs and their reputations, towards constitutional reform'. (Financial Times, May 23/May 24 2009.)

Now, I am a student of the constitutional thought of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), the British utilitarian philosopher and jurist. Thus, as I have followed the scandal  Bentham's words have been ringing in my ears. For, one of the great battles of Bentham's long life was the reform of parliament. But Bentham was a universalist. He was confident that his ideas for constructing a form of government that would provide 'securities against misrule' were universally applicable. Bentham believed that government should be as open and as transparent as possible. This is his Panopticon principle, all round transparency with very few exceptions. Note that a request under the Freedom of Information Act got the scandal under discussion going.

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