A few weeks ago, The Economist published an article on economic governance that discussed the importance of public sector accounting. It recognized the importance of maintaining existing public-sector assets and investment in new ones. These assets, according to an IMF study, account for a significant portion of GDP. But, the article asserts, filling potholes and repairing bridges are not as politically appealing as flashy new infrastructure, and few economies engage in robust public-sector accounting that demonstrates the net worth of these assets.
Maybe if governments and citizens understood the value of their public assets, they’d be inclined to invest in their maintenance – avoiding waste and even catastrophic accidents when poor infrastructure fails?
I get stirred up by all types of governance data, so in honor of the International Day for Universal Access to Information, I though I’d highlight a few efforts to measure access to information. Information on access to information, if you will.
Editor's note: This blog post is part of a series for the 'Bureaucracy Lab', a World Bank initiative to better understand the world's public officials.
“By introducing an automated customer management system we took a noose and put it around our own necks. We are now accountable!”
This reflection from a manager in the Nairobi Public Water and Sewerage utility succinctly captures the impact of MajiVoice, a digital system that logs customer complaints, enables managers to assign the issue to a specific worker, track its resolution, and report back to the customer via an SMS. As a result, complaint resolution rates have doubled, and the time taken to resolve complaints has dropped by 90 percent.
MajiVoice shows that digital technologies can dramatically improve public sector capacity and accountability in otherwise weak governance environments. But is this example replicable? Can the increasingly cheap and ubiquitous digital technologies—there are now 4.7 billion mobile phone users in the world—move the needle on governance and make bureaucrats more accountable?
There are few better ways to reveal whether a government’s rhetoric matches reality than examining how it raises and spends public money. Are funds being spent on the things it said they would be? Are these investments achieving the outcomes that were intended? In short, are government budgets accountable?
The traditional model for how accountability functions is rather simple. "Horizontal accountability" describes the oversight exerted over the executive arm of government by independent state bodies such as parliaments and supreme audit institutions. "Vertical accountability" describes the influence citizens hold through the ballot box.
Between elections and outside of formal institutions, however, opportunities for influencing how governments manage public resources are limited. As a consequence, this simple vertical/horizontal model has proved increasingly inadequate for capturing how budget accountability works (or doesn’t) in the real world; this is especially true in developing countries, where democratic processes and formal oversight institutions can be somewhat fragile and ineffective.
Amazon is promising to deliver goods with drones. Seeing these prospective innovations in airborne delivery, we’ll be forgiven for thinking that bad roads will increasingly be secondary concerns.
But the reality is that “last mile” road access will continue to be a major and costly development challenge for years to come. “Last mile" access refers to road to final destinations, whether communities, crops, markets, schools or clinics. These are typically provincial, city-municipal and barangay (village) roads in the Philippines.
Often the responsibility of local governments, these roads determine the ease and cost by which people and goods can get to final destinations. Communities across the globe face poor road access, depriving them of economic and social opportunities, whether bringing produce to markets, getting kids to school, or mothers to clinics. Billions of dollars continue to be spent on last mile road access, but often with very poor results.
Can drone technology make a difference?
Finance ministers, auditors-general, and leaders of professional accounting organizations are meeting Tuesday in Nassau to discuss a topic that is often hidden from view, but is critical to quality of life in the Caribbean: Capacity and standards in public financial management.
How governments manage taxes, borrowing and spending is essential to economic growth, to poverty-reduction, and to ensuring that the region’s poorest can improve their lives. It is a core function of accountability in government. Improvements in this area could increase the health of small and medium-sized enterprises, create jobs, and bring in additional government revenues to spend on essential public services. Residents of Caribbean nations: this strategic dialogue will be about how the government manages your money.
While countries around the world reap the benefits of an expanding digital environment, development challenges persist, adversely impacting low-income countries from achieving that same rate of growth.
The 2016 World Development Report (PDF) recently highlighted these findings in addition to three factors that contribute to a government’s responsiveness towards these digital changes.
According to the report, public services tend to be more amenable to improvements through digital technologies if the proposed system allows for fluid feedback, a replicable development process, and an outcome that can be easily measured and identified.
In May 2015, I was a panel speaker at the 2nd World Bank – International Ombudsman Institute Roundtable on the role of ombudsman institutions (OIs) in promoting citizen-centric governance and inclusive institutions. This was a great opportunity to share the experience of my office, the Ombudsman Republic of Indonesia (ORI) in promoting greater government accountability and also learn from other countries’ experiences presented by the other panelists.
The OIs come in various shapes and sizes, thus encompassing different roles depending upon their national mandates. While OIs are mostly known to deal with complaints regarding maladministration issues not addressed at the agency level, our panel discussed how OIs could contribute to service delivery improvements, while also promoting citizen engagement in demanding accountability.
As fellow Ombudsman Peter Tyndall from Ireland noted, OIs are capable of not only looking into individual complaints regarding poor service delivery often caused by one-off incidences, but also investigate and uncover roots of more systemic problems within public institutions.
Accountability Institutions – such as Information Commissions, Ombudsman and Supreme Audit Institutions – play a fundamental role in advancing government openness. Initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership should deepen engagement with them.
Transparency and accountability are key priorities of the Open Government movement. They are also areas where accountability institutions can have real impact. Information Commissions play a crucial role in guaranteeing the right to information. Ombudsman institutions handle citizen complaints about public administration and help protect citizen rights. They have a crucial mediation function that fosters reciprocal engagement of the citizen and state. Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) are also a critical part of the national accountability architecture, with a mandate to “watch over” government accounts, operations, and performance, through external auditing.
The last 10 years have seen turbulent economic times. The global economic crises was rooted, in part, in standards for guiding private sector behavior and setting economic policy that failed to meet emerging challenges and risks. One of the lower profile, but important, consequences has been to reexamine the fiscal standards that have guided fiscal policy and management practices.
On October 6, 2014 the International Monetary Fund, at a joint event with the World Bank, launched its new Fiscal Transparency Code (FTC) and Evaluation following two years of intensive analysis and consultation. I congratulate the IMF on creating a set of standards that capture the quality of fiscal reports and data, are graduated to reflect different levels of country capacity, and more comprehensively covers fiscal risks.