Public accountability thesis

Aristotle translated by Benjamin Jowett In emphasizing the importance of the concept of accountability, like Aristotle, Kautilya made the following observations:. He further opined that "it is possible to know even the path of birds flying in the sky but not the ways of government servants who hide their dishonest income. Accountability is often used in both public and private discourses, in public and private administration literature and in most policy literature and practices.

  1. Role of the Auditor General in Public Accountability - Some Issues ; Bronwynn Adamson Nosworthy!
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  4. Introduction.

Recently, the concept has become one of the important elements of good governance. However, the term has equally developed into such an elusive, "chameleon" word making it difficult to find a single definition. Bovens argues that accountability is a form of relationship that exist between an actor and a forum in which the actor has an obligation to explain and to justify his or her conduct, and the forum can pose questions and pass judgment, which may result in the actor facing some consequences.

Bovens Holding someone accountable for something is to explain or justify the acts, omissions, risks and dependencies for which one is responsible to people with a legitimate interest To ensure accountability, acts, omissions, risks and dependencies need to be accounted for. Day and Klein argue that whenever one accepts a responsibility to act on behalf of another person or group of persons, accountability relationship is established. One of the most comprehensive explanations of the accountability concept is offered by Lindberg : Lindberg argued that accountability involved five key elements.

An agent or institution that is to be held accountable. A for agent. The domain of accountability. D for domain 3. The principal i. Lindberg The above discussions provide us with a foundational explanation and dimensions of accountability relationships in terms of who is accountable, accountee to whom is accountability be rendered to, accountor , the rights of the principal to question the actions of the agent, and the consequences thereof in case of non-performance or breach of agreed terms by the agent.

This is generally termed as dimensions of accountability.

Responsible Government. The Essence of Public Accountability

The parliaments of national and provincial governments exercise oversight and accountability over their executives and administrations through the Public Accounts Committees, while the local sphere of government relies on the Municipal Public Accounts Committees. This article is theoretical in nature, and it seeks to explore the current state of public accountability in South Africa and to evaluate possible measures so as to enhance public accountability. The article argues that the current public accountability mechanisms are not efficient and effective.

It is recommended that these mechanisms ought to be enhanced by inter alia capacitating the legislative bodies at national, provincial and local spheres of the government. Steadily, the South African government has devoted much attention and its limited resources to the local sphere of government so as to perform its constitutional obligations. Mogale and Mfene posit that to capacitate municipalities to meet developmental requirements and speed up service delivery, extensive human and financial resources acquisition is necessary.

Furthermore, the adoption of key and enabling legislative measures became essential to realise developmental local government objectives. The accountability requirements and the necessity for sound financial management have brought public sector managers in close contact with accountability instruments including internal audit and the audit committee of particular institutions.

Cloete :xi and Mbatha :1 are in agreement that accountable government in the public sector is an essential prerequisite for a democratic dispensation.

Public Accountability - PowerPoint Presentation

They also emphasise that public sector institutions are universally faced with the issues of ethical and transparent administration and implementing good corporate governance. Public officials account to political executive office-bearers and political executive office-bearers account to parliament or municipal councils in the context of municipalities Minnaar Parliament on the other hand is composed of elected office-bearers who account to the electorate.

This theoretical article seeks to explore the current state of public accountability in South Africa and also evaluates its effectiveness and efficiency in the public sector. Possible improvement measures would be suggested including but not limited to enhancing accountability mechanisms of both administrative and political officials through performance management systems, punishing offenders who contravene legislative prescripts, and recruiting and retaining qualified and efficient administrative officials.

Accountability refers to an obligation to expose, explain and justify actions Van der Nest et al. Basically, accountability involves answering to a higher authority in the bureaucratic system of oversight Kearns As posited by Van der Nest et al. However, the whole process of public accountability often has to do with issues concerning spending of public funds, exercise of public authorities, and the actual conduct of public institutions Scott This is applicable in national and provincial government departments, district and local municipalities, parastatals and government entities.

Van der Nest et al. Mfene :7 also concurs that an organisation, or a government official, must be answerable to someone, or something, beyond itself. But of paramount importance is that accountability is not limited to public expenditure but includes reporting on the progress, performance, failures, successes, actual versus targeted performances, and on the general exercise of authority delegated by a superior authority Ababio :5; Munzhedzi Public accountability is often reciprocal in that it starts the moment one assumes powers or starts exercising vested authority to utilise public resources Minnaar ; Mulgan The reason is that there ought to be checks and balances so that an abuse of power by authorities may be avoided or at least minimised.

In this instance, there are two principal actors in the public accountability process; firstly, holders of public office and, secondly, the forum at which they report, which could either be the Public Accounts Committees, Municipal Public Accounts Committees, accounting officers or immediate supervisors.

It must also be noted that the entire process of accounting which includes all relevant meetings, dismissal process, and criminal proceedings must be done in a transparent manner. Transparency is very paramount in the process of ensuring public accountability. However, Pollitt is of the opinion that even though transparency is often regarded as a prerequisite for public accountability, transparency may not in any case be regarded as synonymous of it.

Current mechanisms that are used to foster accountability in South Africa are appraised below so as to comprehend their effectiveness and efficiency and also recommend improvement mechanisms. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa of hereafter referred to as the Constitution provides for various mechanisms of fostering public accountability. It is worth noting that some existing accountability mechanism sought to be evaluated so as to recommend effective and efficient approaches and enhance their functionalities.


The said different mechanisms are discussed below. Members of both national and provincial parliament are elected by the electorate in South Africa and they are in turn accountable to the electorate for the powers bestowed unto them Minnaar The National Assembly, which is the main house of parliament in South Africa, elects the President of the Republic in its first sitting who in turn nominates his national ministers and their deputies from the same house.

However, the relationship of the President of the country and the parliament is complicated in that the he is the president of the majority party. According to the Constitution , the President and his cabinet account to parliament regularly in the execution of their responsibilities. Section 55 of the Constitution provides the following powers and functions to the National Assembly:. The foregoing powers and functions also indicate that the National Assembly shall hold the executive which includes the president, deputy president, ministers and deputy ministers, accountable for all their actions including public expenditure.

The executive shall also account for implementing laws passed by the parliament. Ultimately, the executive is to operationalise passed laws into measurable performance targets and actualise those targets so that the overall objectives of the passed laws are realised.

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  • However, Nsingo posits that more power lies with the electorate. The reason being that the electorate may withdraw their mandate from the political office-bearers through general election, because all political, economic and social decisions should be based on public interest. In the same token, public officials may be called to account by their superiors for not achieving the set objectives Mfene It must be noted that parliament operates in a political environment which reflects the political system in that they are elected through a public vote and such a vote could be withdrawn at the next general election.

    Jacobs and Shapiro share this view and note that accountability requires that voters assign responsibility to those in power whom they consider to be responsible for faulty policy decisions. Some of the crucial decisions taken by parliament relate to collection of financial resources, allocation of resources through budget approval and accounting to the original authority electorate Gildenhuys It can be deduced that accountability occurs when one is answerable and responsible for actions.

    The current state of affairs in South Africa is indicative of a scenario where the answerability of the executive to parliament is proving to be a challenge.

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    New Thinking in Accountability | IBM Center for The Business of Government

    Opposition parties have consistently raised the issue that the majority party shields members of the executive in answering questions in parliament. They argue that it is for this reason that all budget votes that are presented by ministers end up being adopted and approved with only little critique from the opposition benches and no critique from the ruling party at all.

    In order to sustain the notion of democracy in South Africa, Mfene :8 posits that those elected to such positions need to be accountable for the management of goods and services to improve the lives of people. However, Kuye and Mafunisa postulate that the allocation of responsibility in government has been complicated even further by the interposition of political appointees or temporary officials between political executives and permanent public servants. The Standing Committee on Public Accounts SCOPA which focuses on public expenditure by the executive scrutinises the report of the Auditor-General regarding the financial management of various public institutions.

    SCOPA then summons whoever it deems necessary to appear before it and answer questions regarding the expenditure of public monies. Nsingo notes that most of the parliamentary work is done by committees of which SCOPA is one. SCOPA is different from other portfolio committees in that these committees cover a broad range of issues including considering bills, dealing with departmental budget votes, and overseeing the work of the department they are responsible for while SCOPA focuses on public expenditure by the executive.

    SCOPA may also summon administrative heads of departments as they play a pivotal role in these expenditures to account on the manner in which the public money was spent.

    How public accountability changes over time

    This article argues that while a challenge may occur between the political executives and ordinary members of parliament, the same cannot be said about the accounting officers and different portfolio committees. The reason seems to be the fact that accounting officers do not enjoy the same powerful political status as ministers. As an accountability mechanism, the Public Protector has the power to investigate any conduct in state affairs, or in public administration in any sphere of government that is alleged or suspected to be improper or to result in any impropriety or prejudice.

    Chapter 10 of the Constitution states that the Public Protector shall, on his or her own initiative or on receipt of a complaint, investigate any alleged maladministration, abuse or unjustifiable exercise of power, improper or dishonest act, corruption, and unlawful enrichment. The Public Protector shall also investigate any receipt or any improper advantage, or promise of such enrichment or advantage, by a person as a result of an act or omission in the public administration of public institutions, or omission by a person in the employ of any sphere of the government, or a person performing a public function, which results in unlawful or improper prejudice to any person Mafunisa The Office measures its effectiveness in respect of whether recommendations in a particular case are followed.

    It has been found that while the government does act in most cases, it does not always follow the recommendations, particularly with respect to politicians Public Service Commission [PSC] The case in point is the remedial actions involving the building of the presidential residence in Nkandla.