Saturday, 4 December, 2021

Accountability For Governance

Dev Raj Dahal

The concept of accountability grips the minds of policy makers and leaders now. The shift of mono-centric government to multi-centric governance entails each gravitational pull - the state, market and civil society -, which sustain its identity, cooperate and coordinate goals and means for collective action. None of the actors can conceal itself from its accountability for its inaction or action as per its oath of office, mandate, authority, law and duty. The moral justification of governance actors lies in supplying the common good where the state has a primacy in defining overall goals, policies and binding decisions. Their ability to resolve conflict and respond to the legitimate demands of people is vital to their accountability and effectiveness.
As a democratic instrument, accountability defines the style by which they interact with the people as citizens, consumers and workers and, thus, musters muscle to move them towards the execution of Nepali Constitution. The popular sovereignty means Nepalis can own their aptitude, body, spirit, labour and product and apply legislative power useful to public and national interests. In an interdependent world, the partnership of the state with a myriad of donors, public, private, civil society and citizens’ bodies and right use of their competence have become critical to fostering synergy of a responsive rule. Accountability of the state and various societal actors in the process of democratic performance rests on coherence of tasks in the provision, production and distribution of public good in a system of communication, steering and action.
Accountability warrants that decisions and action taken by authorities are subject to public scrutiny. It ensures coordination of diverse actors’ policy choices and initiatives as per constitutional spirit and responds to the needs, rights and desires of the Nepalis they are meant to be getting, thus contributing to rules, process and patterns of good governance. Unlike state, local and federal rules possess legal sovereignty directly derived from the Constitution. But owing to the larger mandate of the Nepali state, command of resources, duties and authority in the admin and management of macro-economic and political policies, the local bodies have both upward and downward accountabilities. 
Promotion of certain democratic practices of autonomy of governance actors is vital for making them norm-oriented and breaking with the power-oriented political culture that fostered patronage politics in Nepal. The values of popular sovereignty, subsidiarity, inclusion and participation of affected establish basics for direct engagement of Nepalis in self-rule and shared rule through their deputies spurring the accountability of leaders. The balance, however, needs to be kept among the enacted laws and procedures in the Nepali Constitution and popular sovereignty. The autonomy of governing actors and informal institutions, networks and movements is vital to make them immune to influence of predators, free riders and interest groups in their impersonal performance and overcome sustainable development deficits.
The ways of increasing the accountability of the governance actors are: first, developing effective networks of checks and balances among constitutional organs enabling them to perform their institutional duties, keep integrity and reconcile internal demands of Nepalis and geopolitical imperatives to balance competitive influence of external actors on education, politics, administration, law and development policies. Second is decentralisation of power, resources and authority to practice local self-rule; and finally, better participation of people enabling them to handle popular grievances, expectation of change and engage in the decision-making of civic bodies, civil society, chamber of commerce and industries and communities in the delivery of public good.
Of course, all authorities and powers carry accountabilities. Power devoid of accountability promotes arbitrary behaviour of authority while accountability without political will to use power kills the base of authority in society. The authority and power vacuum in Nepali society is the effects of weak governance. Good governance needs to balance political power and leadership accountability with the rights of citizens.  Accountability really requires setting up and executing rule of law and an autonomous system of monitoring, evaluation and enforcement of actors’ conduct vital to yield preferred development outcome.
The Nepali Constitution, plan documents and donors’ discourse highlight the need for accountability for a number of reasons: first, governance entails nurturing collective efforts to organise human affairs on several layers such as federal, state and local scales. Second, it cuts the dichotomy between economics and politics telling that market economy cannot grow without social capital, robust institutions, competition and choice. Free market, says Ayn Rand “is ruled not by consensus but by the productivity.” The law of market governance is determined by supply and demand, not syndicate, monopoly and scarcity of goods, even basic needs deficits, which manifests its distortion.
In Nepal, ironically, the parliament as a visible provider of accountability suffers from its abdication of policy making duty to global regimes and remained fragile to monitor and evaluate actors’ performances. As a result, Nepali legislators have moved to executive domain of development and cut power separation and checks producing often unstable executive. Nepali political parties share the same global policy contents and platform offering citizens no electoral policy choices. The MDGs, PRSP and SDG are examples.
Third, it purports to improve the base of democracy through the institutions of security, legitimacy and transparency, not just the negotiation of interests among key powerful actors enriching self and enforcing upward accountability. It desolates the people without any option other than to vegetate, migrate or stay frustrated. And finally, new policies based on the ideals of democracy, human rights, inclusion and ecological justice demand the accountability of leaders. Yet, no Nepali leader is held accountable either for policy or governance failure. Critical reflection and integration of public issue areas are central to bridge the gap between rule, institutions and demands. Otherwise, collusion of dominant actors for illegitimate gains cuts the executive answerability, corrodes legal restraints and invites protests from the critical mass of change agents of society acting in the spirit of human beings’ rational nature.
Nepali Constitutional provision of the right to information on the activities of the governance actors facilitates the process of accountability, the responsiveness, which is also the basis of controlling corruption, crime and abuse of authority. But the nature of government actors in Nepal based on the negotiation of interests and sharing of spoils by top leaders among the factional bosses of parties foils fair execution of accountability and work like a stellar stewardship of modern institutions- civil society, market, political party, government, polity and the state. The right to information imagines subordinating the governance and informal institutions to the rule of law where authorities cannot enjoy the tribal privileges above public reason, duty and morality, even if hefty fees tempt the lawyers to justify “crime of passion” through “crime of logic” to use the concepts of Albert Camus and silence the victims of injustice.  Individual rights of Nepalis symbolise the extension of law, justice and morality into the public sphere. The courts are expected to be non-partisan in protecting rights of Nepalis while watchdog agencies monitor the violation of authority and rights that mutilate justice. The institutions of transparency and integrity such as media, civil society, judiciary, CIAA, Auditor General, Public Account Committee of the parliament, opposition political parties and the attentive people lack full autonomy.
To avoid arbitrary authority, Nepali Constitution has devised proper laws and set provision for bi-monthly appraisal of the progress of each ministry. Despite these ritualised measures, inaction, arbitrary action, corruption and nepotism are capturing the media headlines prompting the Prime Minister’s Office to set up Action Room to monitor the progress in projects, organise regular meeting between Prime Minister and other ministers and latter’s interaction with secretaries. This is necessary but informed public often cite the existence of weak political will of the governance actors and the continuity of a personalised system above institutional culture. A system that fosters a culture of selective justice for some and impunity for others weakens the vital bits Nepali state to create order, freedom and basic services.  So long as vote-buying and rent-seeking culture stays it makes tempting to resort to evil practices producing bad governance whose costs for the wretched poor are awful.
The crisis of accountability in Nepal can be solved by minimising the scope for discretionary authority, setting up a mechanism for transparency in decision-making and strengthening the constitutionalisation all actors. The citizens must be educated to know the culture of power, authority and leadership and claim rights to gain from the governance.
Intellectual inputs about the changing needs and rights are essential for the contextualisation of policy and relinquish hitherto style of blind imitation, irrational caricature and compulsive adaptation to unmediated concepts of progress that benefit only the elites, not ordinary Nepalis. Nepal’s party system set up in a hierarchic manner and partisanisation of all public institutions, including universities and civil servants spoil the process of enforcing downward accountability affirming people’s rights to self-rule, development and self-determination. To bounce back governance actors’ acceptability and creditworthiness their impartiality is vital. 

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)