Accountability (GS Paper 4)


What is accountability?

  • Accountability is to take complete responsibility by a person or an organization for what he/she or the organization did or failed to do (which was their duty) and must be able to give a satisfactory reason for it and the use of authority entrusted in them to carry out that responsibility. It is to check whether a work was done or not and Accountability as a process is performed after the work is completed or is supposed to have been completed.
  • 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, decisions, policies and resulting consequences.
  • Civil servants though not directly accountable to the People or their representatives but there are Vigilance authorities and Ombudsman in all organisations to keep a tab on them and also they are indirectly accountable for their action/exercise of authority to the people through the political executive (who are answerable to the Houses of Parliament for their Ministries) and Courts of Law. If there is no accountablility then the civil servants would turn in to despots, arbitrary and corrupt.

What is difference between accountability and responsibility ?

  • The main difference between responsibility and accountability is that responsibility can be shared while accountability cannot. Being accountable not only means being responsible for something but also ultimately being answerable for your actions.
  • Also, accountability is something you hold a person to only after a task is done or not done. Responsibility can be before and/or after a task.
  • In ethics and governance, accountability is answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and the expectation of account-giving. Responsibility may refer to: being in charge, being the owner of a task or event.
  • Example: It is DM’s responsibility to make sure everyone in his district is given Aadhar Card. So DM will be aware of this task and keep working. At this point, you cannot say DM has been held accountable for performing this task. DM is only held accountable — owes an explanation for his actions — if he could not finish the task in stipulated time or there were many errors.

Types of Accountability:

  • Political accountability is the accountability of the government, civil servants and politicians to the public and to legislative bodies such as a parliament.
  • Ethical Accountability: Within an organization, the principles and practices of ethical accountability aim to improve both the internal standard of individual and group conduct as well as external factors, such as sustainable economic and ecologic strategies.
  • Administrative Accountability: Internal rules and norms as well as some independent commission are mechanisms to hold civil servants within the administration of government accountable. Within department or ministry, firstly, behavior is bound by rules and regulations; secondly, civil servants are subordinates in a hierarchy and accountable to superiors. Nonetheless, there are independent “watchdog” (Like CAG) units to scrutinize and hold departments accountable; legitimacy of these commissions is built upon their independence, as it avoids any conflicts of interests.
  • There can be many other types of Accountability.

Accountability Dilemma

  • Because many different individuals in large organizations contribute in many ways to the decisions and policies, it is difficult even in principle to identify who should be accountable for the results. This is what is known as the problem of many hands. It creates a dilemma for accountability.
  • If individuals are held accountable or responsible, individuals who could not have prevented the results are either unfairly punished, or they “take responsibility” in a symbolic ritual without suffering any consequences. If only organizations are held accountable, then all individuals in the organization are equally blameworthy or all are excused. Various solutions have been proposed. One is to broaden the criteria for individual responsibility so that individuals are held accountable for not anticipating failures in the organization.

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