Government » Principles of Democratic Government » Ethics and Accountability



In ethics and governance, accountability is answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and the expectation of account-giving. As an aspect of governance, it has been central to discussions related to problems in the public sector, nonprofit and private (corporate) and individual contexts. In leadership roles, accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, products, decisions, and policies including the administration, governance, and implementation within the scope of the role or employment position and encompassing the obligation to report, explain and be answerable for resulting consequences.

In governance, accountability has expanded beyond the basic definition of “being called to account for one’s actions”. It is frequently described as an account-giving relationship between individuals, e.g. “A is accountable to B when A is obliged to inform B about A’s (past or future) actions and decisions, to justify them, and to suffer punishment in the case of eventual misconduct”. Accountability cannot exist without proper accounting practices; in other words, an absence of accounting means an absence of accountability.

Importance of Accountability for Good Governance

Accountability is a mechanism designed to ensure that the affairs or the entities are conducted with due regard to the interests of those who are interested in the affairs of the entity.

Accountability guarantees actions and decisions taken by public officials regarding government initiatives and response to the needs of the community thereby contributing to better governance and poverty reduction. It also means that their decisions and actions are subject to oversight so as to guarantee that their stated objectives are met.

Good governance recognizes accountability in terms of improving the delivery of public services, measuring performance and providing incentives to achieve targets and sanctions in case of non­-performance. Accountability is not to be viewed only in terms of democratic control and integrity of operations but also in terms of performance.

Through series of reform measures such as a government financial management initiative, creation of executive agencies, Citizen’s Charter, and Public Service Agreement, complete transformation of bureaucratic structure and efficient public service, accountability can be embedded in a government.

Several countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada and USA have embraced the philosophy of accountability and brought significant improvement in public service delivery and efficiency. USA has enacted a Government Result and Performance Act 1993.

The basic characteristics of accountability can be summarized as follows:

  • Definition of goals of the institution and powers, functions and resources committed thereto.
  • Planning, directing, supervision and control of activities/operations.
  • Recording of transactions.
  • Audit by an independent authority.
  • Final disposal of the accountable responsibilities.

Accountability is important in evaluating the on-going effectiveness of public officials or bodies and ensures that they are performing to their full potential, providing value for money, instilling confidence in the government and being responsive to the community.

Bureaucracy is a social institution, and its members, do not shrink from exercising this power in their own favour, unconcerned about, or to the detriment of, the people whom they profess to serve. No government, of whatever complexion, can evade the need for accountability. In a democracy, accountability inevitably assumes a pre-eminent position as it derives its legitimacy from the people at large.

Accountability is at the heart of every government, what the nature of that accountability, and how it is articulated, however, depends upon the kind of polity a country has. The greater the need for accountability, the greater the difficulty to enforce it. Developing countries tend to experience this difficulty more.

Accountability is important for good governance to keep the public servants in tune with the right perspective required to achieve the goals targeted at societal welfare and development.

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