Gaining state support for social accountability mechanisms

By Rhonda Hart,2014-04-16 21:23
10 views 0
Gaining state support for social accountability mechanisms

    Blair draft for comment 12 October 2007 Blair draft for comment 12 October 2007

    Gaining state support for social accountability mechanisms

    Paper prepared for the World Bank‘s CommGAP workshop in Paris, 1-2 November 2007

    Harry Blair

    Political Science Department, Yale University

    (comments welcome at

If social accountability is to be successful in enabling ordinary citizens and civil society organi-12zations to hold public power-holders responsible for their actions, then the state must support

    actively or passively the mechanisms to be used in exacting it. This paper will explore the sources of that support and what those sources require in order to underpin the social accounta-bility mechanisms (SAMs) that depend on them. I will argue that the types of state support vary across a whole spectrum from intensely active to extremely reluctant, covering a wide range of mechanisms, all of which foster social accountability in some fashion. Accordingly, internation-al donor agencies and programmers face a great variety of choices in selecting particular me-chanisms to assist.

    The paper begins with a brief glance at the entire spectrum of state response to citizen demands for social accountability, which range from enthusiastic support to repressive opposition. I then zero in on the more positive part of that spectrum in detail, looking at various degrees of positive support with examples. The following section focuses on the sources of state support, asking what induces the state to respond to SAMs. The paper‘s final part offers a brief look at several

    patterns emerging from the analysis.

    The spectrum of state response

    Citizens asking the state for social accountability can be met with a variety of responses, as indi-cated in Figure 1. At the most positive extreme, a city mayor might respond with such enthu-siasm to a citizen delegation demanding better sewage and garbage removal that he sets up an elected board to superintend city sanitation services with powers to sanction inadequate perfor-mance. At the most negative extreme, a state executive might respond to public demonstrations seeking greater government accountability by bringing in military troops to open fire on the de-3monstrators. Between these two opposites of embracing and suppressing lies a neutral zone of indifference, in which the state neither encourages nor discourages mechanisms through which citizens exercise accountability. For example, a government might allow newspapers to publish whatever they wished, while neither supporting them (e.g., by subsidizing their delivery by mail) or opposing them (e.g., through censorship). Another way to look at these three responses would be to consider them as state postures that are active, passive and repressive, as shown in Figure 1.

     1 This formulation sums up the definition in widespread use at the World Bank (Malena et al., 2004: 2-3). 2 The ―state‖ here includes all levels of power-holders, from nation to village; ―local‖ refers to any level below the

    nation. 3 While the positive extreme is admittedly rare, examples of the latter occur more frequently, as with the response of Myanmar‘s military junta to public demonstrations in late September 2007 (see Mydans 2007).


    Blair draft for comment 12 October 2007 Blair draft for comment 12 October 2007

    Figure 2 provides a more finely grained depiction of the left two-thirds of Figure 1‘s spectrum,

    turning the axis on its side to give a greater sense of the rank ordering from most to least degree of support. In addition, the state‘s support for SAMs is divided into active (indicating positive

    action of some sort on the part of the state) and passive (in which the state essentially takes no action to support or oppose citizen efforts to exercise accountability). The resulting figure with its attempted rank ordering then hopefully matches up with the mechanisms and examples shown 4in Table 1.

    In Table 1, I have tried to sort out 15 mechanisms for exercising social accountability by placing them in a descending rank order according to the degree of state support they receive. For each mechanism is shown its ―source of authority‖ (how it got introduced to the political system), the essential requirements for its success (what it will take for it to function successfully as a SAM), whether it requires significant state financing, and whether it operates at national or local level. A capsule discussion of each mechanism follows, progressing by the levels shown in Table 1, beginning with mechanisms getting the most active state support and proceeding to those receiv-ing the most passive support. The better known SAMs such as elections or civil society will be just presented abstractly, while brief examples will be provided for those that are likely to be less familiar.

    When the state takes an active posture

State as champion. A justifiably well-documented initiative, participatory budgeting (PB) ori-

    ginated during the early 1990s in the southeastern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, under the lea-dership of its mayor at the time, Olivio Dutra. In the PB process, annual neighborhood meetings determine municipal investment priorities and elect delegates to district meetings which consoli-date the proposals and feed them into a city-wide system that through a transparent allocation algorithm translates them into actual investments. District delegates elected to the city-level council consolidate the budget and monitor its implementation, at which point the next year‘s cycle begins. Widely adopted in Brazil and a number of other countries, PB has transformed a patron-client structure in which upward citizen loyalty was traded for top-down political largesse 5into one based around citizen priorities as its main input into budgetary decision making. The

    key to PB‘s success was the leadership and commitment provided by Mayor Dutra and his suc-

    cessors, without which it would surely have quickly failed.

    Decentralization is a second mechanism where the state must play an ongoing role as champion for reform to ensure any success. Real devolution of authority can bring decision making and accountability closer to affected citizens and, by directing investments where they are most

     4 The attempt at rank ordering on the right-hand side of Figure 2 and in Table 1 should be regarded as tentative, reflecting a first trial run. The terms chosen here seem to me to show a nice gradation, but comments are most wel-come. The English language provides a huge range of nouns expressing various levels of support (significantly aid-ing the present exercise) but the degree of overlap between them is also very large (making the task of distinguishing between them harder). 5 There are many accounts of PB. Among the more insightful are Baiocchi (1999), Brautigam (2004) and Koonings (2004). For a summary of the Porto Alegre experience, see Blair (2006). The World Bank‘s Public Expenditure Tracking Surveys (PETS) are somewhat similar to participatory budgeting, but PETS deals exclusively with moni-toring budgets decided elsewhere, while PB composes the investment budget as well as monitors its implementation. See World Bank (n.d.).


    Blair draft for comment 12 October 2007 Blair draft for comment 12 October 2007

    needed, act as a powerful force for poverty alleviation. Intruding as they do into the basic struc-ture of a country‘s governance, decentralization initiatives require legislative (perhaps even con-

    stitutional) action and executive implementation. Moreover, in many countries, they also require displacing parliamentarians accustomed to deploying central expenditures as patronage tools in their constituencies and bypassing bureaucrats habituated to siphoning off a large portion of cen-tral funds passing through their hands on the way down to lower levels. Thus it is not surprising that many decentralization initiatives founder and wither as they run up against these elements. Equally daunting, when authority really does pass downward, local elites may simply seize con-trol of the devolved power and use it to their own advantage. In short, an immense political will 6 is needed to make decentralization succeed.

State providing strong backing. Many countries have ombudsman institutions, which can act 7as powerful mechanisms for social accountability. One particularly impressive example comes

    from the Philippines, where the ombudsman can investigate and prosecute any public official for malfeasance, whether upon a complaint or acting on his own accord, and can mandate any offi-cial to perform any legal act or prevent any illegal one (TAN 2002). Theoretically, the ombuds-man‘s scope extends even to the president of the country. More typical is the Croatian ombuds-

    man, who can report official misbehavior to the parliament and publicize findings to the media but cannot take any legal action against wrongdoers (Blair et al. 2007). Clearly the ombuds-man‘s scope of authority is key here. But also critical is the support the state provides to his of-

    fice and the integrity shown by the incumbent. Historically, the Philippine ombudsman office has been so starved of resources that it has become enfeebled, and occupants of the office have been tainted with serious charges of corruption and cronyism (Arugay 2005). The ombudsman can be powerful indeed as an engine of social accountability, but it needs both full authority and strong support from the state to be effective.

    As part of its Popular Participation Law reforming local governments in the mid-1990s, Bolivia set up a statutory oversight board in each of its 311 municipalities. These comités de vigilancia

    (CVs or vigilance committees), whose members were selected from some 13,000 territorially determined traditional organizations (most often peasant associations), were intended to act as a check on the new elected municipal governments. The CVs were charged with preparing local investment plans, monitoring the elected council‘s implementation of investment, and lodging actionable complaints when they observed malfeasance. The law was pushed through by a pres-ident determined to enfranchise the country‘s majority indigenous population, who up until then

    were largely excluded from governance. Though somewhat hobbled by lack of capacity for their new tasks, the councils and CVs did bring a significant measure of accountability to local gover-8nance in Bolivia.

    Citizen review boards can likewise be effective instruments when given strong state backing. All too often, citizen monitoring boards are captured by the institutions supposedly being moni-