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Governance

Holding the state to account

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

women at a community meeting, Mumbai IndiaIn a democracy, a critical element in the engagement between citizens and state is “accountability”. There are several definitions—one among them from the World Bank reads: “Accountability exists when there is a relationship where an individual or body, and the performance of tasks or functions by that individual or body, are subject to another’s oversight, direction or request that they provide information or justification for their actions”.

Citizens and civil society organizations seek accountability from the state. Where this builds on broad-based civil society engagement, we hear of “social accountability” whose advocates believe that a regular cycle of elections alone are not enough to hold the state to account. For instance, a decline in the quality of public services or cases of denial of (social) justice call for mobilization outside of the electoral cycle. But how does the state respond?

When the state is under sustained pressure to reform, it could take one of these positions: (1) respond to civil society using physical force and/or its legal prowess; (2) stoically “do nothing”; (3) formulate a response that emphasizes form over function; and (4) undertake genuine reform. These options represent a sliding scale of state response, and on any given issue, the state might change its position over time, depending on how the context evolves.

The reality is that more often than not, status quo rules: the space for citizens seeking accountability relies primarily on the willingness of the state. It is not in the nature of states to do this of their own volition, and often, a sustained campaign by a strong coalition of interests is required to influence them.

Grievance Redress Mechanism: A case of Nepal’s Hello Sarkar

Deepa Rai's picture

A section of a footpath is swept away by landslide near the international airport in Kathmandu, Nepal. The roads are slippery and difficult to walk on or even drive due to potholes and delayed maintenance in the valley. These are just few difficulties that I endure during my everyday commute, but what do I actually do about it? I complain about it with my friends, we all nod in agreement and we get on with our everyday chores.

Pranish Thapa, on the other hand, is an exception. A 17 year old student, he has complained on issues ranging from public infrastructures, abuse of power, the quality of education, good governance or the lack of it, etc... His complaints have gone beyond 3000 over the last five years. He lodges his grievances through Hello Sarkar, which literally means Hello Government in Nepali.

Pulled by the abstract of the event organized by Martin Chautari, I decided to see how the case of Grievance Redress Mechansim (GRM) is working in Nepal. The event information stated: Hello Sarkar aims at making the government more accountable to the people by addressing citizens’ grievances on public service delivery directly. It is located at the heart of the state machinery, the Office of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. Concerned citizens can approach the system via phone (toll-free number- 1111), mobile texts, email, social media or website.

Four ways regional bodies can help deliver justice commitments made through the SDGs

Temitayo O. Peters's picture

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) differ from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in many ways. Unlike the MDGs, the SDGs universally apply to all countries and they are holistic and integrated. Moreover, their delivery is to be achieved by governments, civil society, and the private sector all working together to achieve their success.
 
The SDGs also recognize the central role of justice in achieving development, with Goal 16 specifically guaranteeing “equal access to justice for all.” Governments, in partnership with other stakeholders, must make necessary national reforms to provide access to justice to the billions who currently live outside of the protection of the law. They must commit to financing the implementation of these reforms and be held accountable for their success.
 
Regional and sub regional bodies are uniquely placed to assist governments with implementing and monitoring justice commitments made through the SDGs. Learnings from the MDGs show that countries that integrated the MDGs into existing regional strategies were far more successful in meeting the MDGs’ objectives than countries that did not have the support of an existing regional strategy.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Foreign aid is a shambles in almost every way
The Economist
NOT long ago Malawi was a donor darling. Being dirt poor and ravaged by AIDS, it was needy; with just 17m inhabitants, a dollop of aid might visibly improve it. Better still, it was more-or-less democratic and its leader, Joyce Banda, was welcome at Westminster and the White House. In 2012 Western countries showered $1.17 billion on it, and foreign aid accounted for 28% of gross national income. The following year corrupt officials, businessmen and politicians pinched at least $30m from the Malawian treasury in just six months. A bureaucrat investigating the thefts was shot three times (he survived, somehow). Germany said it would help pay for an investigation; later, burglars raided the home of a German official and stole documents relating to the scandal. Malawi is no longer a donor darling.

The capabilities of finance ministries
ODI
All countries have a finance ministry. If one organizational feature defines what makes a state a state, it is a central unit that handles income and expenditure – or aspires to. This remains remarkably consistent irrespective of the huge variations in the purpose and institutional shape of government. Finance ministries are also at the centre of many current policy discussions, whether on how to respond to the 2008 financial crisis, how best to fund global development goals, or how an emerging economy should go about establishing a welfare state. Virtually every policy decision that involves the raising and spending of public money involves a finance ministry at some stage. Yet despite their almost self-evident importance, very few studies focused on finance ministries as objects of study.

Why collaborate? Three frameworks to understand business-NGO partnerships

Kerina Wang's picture

Nowadays, forming strategic alliances across sectors has become the new operating norm. But the blurring of sectoral boundaries among governments, businesses and NGOs makes it increasingly difficult to assess functions traditionally performed by a certain sector, since conventional boundaries have dissolved, and power and influence are distributed in networks. One sub-set of such collaborations – business-NGO interactions – has attracted much attention, as NGOs begin to move away from their informal, social roles and venture into economic and political territories.

Business-NGO collaborations may come in many forms: NGOs could partner with firms to function as “civil regulators”, primarily by addressing market and government failures through the development of soft laws, social standards, certification schemes, and operating norms; leverage social capital to transfer localized institutional knowledge to firms; mobilize collective action between governments and firms; and serve as information brokers to connect otherwise disparate groups.

How do we assess business-NGO dynamics? Why are they are established? And in what forms are they governed? I source a few inspirations from business, political science, and public administration theories and offer three theoretical lenses through which we can examine business-NGO partnerships.

Blog post of the month: What is the serious conservative approach to politics?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In May 2016, the featured blog post is "What is the serious conservative approach to politics?" by Sina Odugbemi.

The word ‘conservative’ has lost all meaning these days, which is both sad and depressing. It is now used as short hand for all manner of romantic reactionaries (who want to go back to some Golden Age), bigots, racists, obscurantists, buffoons, and carnival barkers. Yet modern conservatism is a serious and intelligent approach to politics espoused by some of the finest and deepest minds in the history of political thought. I always say that when I studied political philosophy in graduate school I went into my studies as a political liberal, and while a came out more convinced of the justness and soundness of liberal constitutional democracy, the thinkers that had impressed me the most were mainly conservative political philosophers, particularly David Hume, Edmund Burke, Joseph de Maistre and James Madison. An encounter with these minds is a bracing experience. You do not survive it without your mental architecture being somewhat rearranged.

In what follows, I will attempt a restatement of modern (because it is also, like liberalism, a product of the Enlightenment) conservative political thought as I understand it, and try to indicate why I deeply respect this approach to social and political challenges even if I don’t always agree with it.

Should aid fight corruption? New book questions logic behind this week’s anti-corruption summit

Duncan Green's picture

Over at the Center for Global Development, Charles Kenny wants comments on the draft of his book on Aid and Corruption (deadline end of May). Let’s hope this becomes standard practice – it worked brilliantly for me on How Change Happens – more varied voices can chip in good new ideas, spot mistakes or contradictions, and it all helps get a buzz going ahead of publication.

But let me take it one step further. As a contribution to the corruption summit, hosted by David Cameron on 12 May 2016, I thought I would summarize/review the book. Charles gave the green light, provided I stress the ‘preliminary, drafty, subject-to-revisiony nature of the text’. Done.

The summit is about a lot more than aid – for example the rich countries putting their houses in order on tax havens. Which is just as well, because the book poses some real challenges to the whole ‘anti-corruption’ narrative on aid. What’s more, it is erudite, engagingly written and upbeat – as you’d expect given Charles’ optimistic previous takes like Getting Better. He’s got a great eye for telling research and ‘man bites dog’ surprise findings. Example: ‘Taking a cross section of countries and comparing current income (2010) to corruption perceptions in 2002 and income in 2002, results suggests more corrupt countries in 2002 have higher incomes in 2010.’

His core argument is pretty striking – when it comes to aid and corruption, corruption does indeed matter, but the cure is often worse than the disease: ‘an important and justified focus on corruption as a barrier to development progress has led to policy and institutional change in donor agencies that is damaging the potential for aid to deliver development.’ Ouch.

What is the serious conservative approach to politics?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The word ‘conservative’ has lost all meaning these days, which is both sad and depressing. It is now used as short hand for all manner of romantic reactionaries (who want to go back to some Golden Age), bigots, racists, obscurantists, buffoons, and carnival barkers. Yet modern conservatism is a serious and intelligent approach to politics espoused by some of the finest and deepest minds in the history of political thought. I always say that when I studied political philosophy in graduate school I went into my studies as a political liberal, and while a came out more convinced of the justness and soundness of liberal constitutional democracy, the thinkers that had impressed me the most were mainly conservative political philosophers, particularly David Hume, Edmund Burke, Joseph de Maistre and James Madison. An encounter with these minds is a bracing experience. You do not survive it without your mental architecture being somewhat rearranged.

In what follows, I will attempt a restatement of modern (because it is also, like liberalism, a product of the Enlightenment) conservative political thought as I understand it, and try to indicate why I deeply respect this approach to social and political challenges even if I don’t always agree with it.

The anti-corruption agenda is in danger of forgetting its principal asset: An independent media

James Deane's picture

Sitting in a large, rain pattered, tent in the grounds of Marlborough House in London last week, I had to admit to a mixture of frustration and admiration.  Admirably hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat, the conference was the civil society and business gathering prefacing the major Anti-Corruption Summit organised by UK Prime Minister, David Cameron. 
 
First, the admiration. Both the outcomes of the Summit and the immense energy by civil society and other leaders in informing and influencing it, are impressive.  Registries of beneficial ownership, fresh agreements on information sharing, new commitments requiring disclosure of property ownership, new signatories to the Open Government Partnership and open contracting Initiatives, the commitment from leaders of corruption affected countries and much else on display this week suggests real innovation, energy and optimism in advancing the anticorruption agenda.
 
The frustration stems from a concern that, while there is much that is new being agreed, one of the principal and most effective existing assets for checking corruption has barely featured in the discussion so far – and it is an asset which is increasingly imperilled.
 
It isn’t just people like myself who point to the critical role of an independent media.  As I’ve argued in a new working paper, when any serious review of the evidence of what actually works in reducing corruption is undertaken, it is the presence of an independent media that features consistently.  In contrast, only a few of the anti-corruption measures that have been supported by development agencies to date have been effective. 

A Call for Global Action against Corruption

Stephen Zimmermann's picture

Supreme Court of Canada“Corruption is a significant obstacle to international development. It undermines confidence in public institutions, diverts funds from those who are in great need of financial support, and violates business integrity. Corruption often transcends borders. In order to tackle this global problem, worldwide cooperation is needed. When international financial organizations, such as the World Bank Group, share information gathered from informants across the world with the law enforcement agencies of member states, they help achieve what neither could do on their own.”
 
This statement was made not by someone from within the World Bank Group, underscoring the value of the Bank’s work in the fight against corruption. It is the opening passage of a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada issued on April 29, 2016 in the World Bank v. Wallace.  By endorsing the integrity efforts of international organizations while upholding the privileges and immunities of the World Bank, the Court’s decision serves as a reminder that better results in the fight against corruption can be achieved when all the actors in the global fight come together in their respective roles.  The investigation and prosecution that led to this decision stand as a clear example of the power we can harness when we work together. They also illustrate the challenges of aggressively fighting corruption while simultaneously pursuing a development agenda focused on ending poverty.

In 2011, the World Bank’s Integrity Vice-Presidency learned that representatives of SNC-Lavalin were planning to bribe officials of the Government of Bangladesh to obtain a contract related to the construction of a bridge over the Padma River.  The World Bank had already agreed to provide more than one billion dollars in financing for this project that was projected to be among the most significant and impactful development projects in the region.  As INT’s investigation unfolded, it voluntarily shared information of its findings initially with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and subsequently with the Bangladeshi Anti-Corruption Commission. 

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