Printer Friendly

Introduction: growing concerns for public accountability under the state in transition.


In line with the increasing global concern for democratic governance in recent decades, there has emerged greater emphasis on the realization of public accountability in different countries and regions. It is emphasized that accountability represents one of the most basic values or principles of democracy (Hayllar, 2000; Zarei, 2000). In representative democracies, all branches of government remain publicly accountable, have obligation to provide satisfactory explanations for their activities, and exercise power on behalf of the people (Aucoin and Jarvis, 2000). The current global significance of accountability, according to some scholars, lies in the growing public demand for better services, greater responsiveness, and more citizens' participation (Milakovich, 2003). As Hayllar mentions, "demands for more accountability and more accountable public services and public servants have become fashionable" (Hayllar, 2000:60).

It is also emphasized that public accountability is crucial for improving public sector performance, because it reinforces institutional learning of service rules, codes of conduct, and performance standards. It also plays an essential role in enhancing the integrity of public employees, preventing unethical behavior like corruption or nepotism, and deterring the abuse of official power (Bovens, 2003). In addition, the realization of public accountability is being highlighted for its contribution to the revival of public trust in government. It is assumed that the compliance of citizens to state rules and regulations depends on their trust in government, which in turn, is dependent on public accountability (Jensen, 2000). In Western nations, according to Bovens (Bovens, 2003), due to the rising public criticism and declining trust in government, there is a greater need for rebuilding public confidence by ensuring public accountability.

Despite such growing significance of public accountability, what is relatively missing from existing literature, however, is the study of such accountability in relation to the nature of the state. The modes, means, and degrees of accountability often vary among and within different state formations such as the capitalist state, the welfare state, the socialist state, the bureaucratic state, and the developmental state (Haque, 1998). Variations in public accountability largely result from historical and cross-national differences in the state's relative autonomy from major social groups and classes, its external relationship with the business sector, and its internal power structure composed of political, military, judicial, and administrative branches (Haque, 1998). In recent decades, there has emerged a worldwide shift in the nature of state formation in favor of market-driven policies and institutions--often known as the neoliberal state or promarket state--under which public sector management has been reformed into the so-called "new public management (NPM) that largely uses the basic principles of business management such as competition, value-for-money, customer orientation, performance measurement, result-based budget, and so on (Lodhia and Burritt, 2004; Martin, 1997).

In line with this major transition towards a promarket state and its businesslike public management, there have also been considerable changes in various dimensions of public accountability. As Glynn and Murphy suggest, the NPM model "is characterized by the adoption of private sector management concepts and styles", and under this model, "the best form of accountability is a market accountability where, at least in principle, the invisible hand of the marketplace will provide the accountability mechanism ..." (Glynn and Murphy, 1996:125). More specifically, there are shifts in public accountability from the traditional bureaucratic to the current neo-managerial model, from vertical single-hierarchy to horizontal pluralistic structure, from collective to individualistic performance evaluation, and so on (Ryan and Walsh, 2004; Bovens, 2003). Beyond the developed world, to a certain extent, these current trends in accountability can be noticed in various developing countries (Therkildsen, 2001). There is also a worldwide transition towards more direct accountability of pubic governance (which is increasingly joined-up with non-state actors) to citizens, interest groups, non-government organizations (NGOs), and the media (Bovens, 2003; Ryan and Walsh, 2004).

These new modes and structures of public accountability require extensive study and re-examination, because for some critics, "traditional systems have been destroyed without a new properly functioning accountability system being put in place" (Koen, Bram, Falke, Guy, and Geert, 2005:4). It is pointed out that the rise of efficiency-driven autonomous agencies have weakened the legitimacy of necessary political control and legislative scrutiny; extensive use of devolution, commercialization, and outsourcing has created confusion regarding "who is accountable for what"; and partnership with non-government entities may have led to more complication since they are not always amenable to government rules and codes of conduct (Kernaghan, 2000; Cameron, 2004). These legitimate concerns regarding the new challenges to public accountability posed by the recent promarket shift in the state and its public management deserve further indepth studies and analyses. All contributors to this Special Issue of IJPA attempt to address these contemporary changes and challenges related to accountability by using diverse perspectives, themes, and national and regional settings.


In this Special Issue, there are eight articles focusing on the above concerns regarding public accountability in selected developed and developing countries. The specific cases include, for example, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the Netherlands, and the Philippines. In her article, Joyce Liddle examines the British case, and explores the changing nature of public accountability under the managerialist state and its new challenges at both the national and local levels. In particular, she draws attention to the fact that the Blair government has continued the genre of businesslike reinvention in governance, which largely replaces traditional top-down hierarchies, involves non-state actors, creates new relationships among the stakeholders, poses a challenge to the "scrutiny and accountability" of these actors, and so on. It is argued that there is a reconfiguration of legitimacy and accountability due to policies and practices such as contracting out, privatization, and use of non-state actors.

The replacement of traditional top-down structures has led to more ambiguities in identifying which individuals and agencies are accountable and to whom they are to be held accountable. Due to these new challenges to democratic accountability, there is a growing need for finding innovative alternatives or approaches. In this regard, Liddle suggests that post-NPM models like New Public Service and New Public Governance represent such alternatives that focus on these challenges to accountability, prescribe greater public participation, emphasize responsiveness to citizens rather than clients or customers, and highlight shared decision-making based on democratic control and people's involvement.

In his article titled "The Limits of Public Accountability under the Reinvented State in Developing Nations", M. Shamsul Haque focuses on the recent reinvention experiences of the developing world, and presents the major tenets of such reinvention or reforms based on the principles of market competition and promarket policies, structures, and standards. He explains how this market-led reinvention may have reconfigured public accountability in terms of its means, standards, and agents or stakeholders. He also observes that in many developing countries, one most obvious violation of accountability is the fact that these reforms have been unilaterally carried out by governments without any concerns for public opinion or reaction. In these countries, market-led reform measures have been adopted not due to people's demand but under the pressure or influence of international agencies like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. There are also local vested interests, especially the business elite, favoring privatization, contracting-out, and joint venture. Haque concludes that these new constraints to public accountability are likely to weaken public confidence in government, and therefore, require due attention and consideration. It has become imperative to assess the adverse consequence of reinvention for public accountability and undertake appropriate measures to resolve the problem.

On the other hand, John Halligan examines the case of Australia where the public service has become increasingly marketized, contractualized, and politicized during the recent three decades. In this context, the forms of public accountability have changed and the means of accountability multiplied, which has led to more complexity and ambiguity in the process of realizing accountability. Halligan stresses that although there is a greater emphasis on public scrutiny and accountability, the transfer of public sector assets and activities to the private sector has diminished the scope or avenue of such scrutiny and accountability. In particular, the expansion of shared public management (shared with external actors) has complicated the means of internal controls. In addition, there is now more political control over bureaucracy, and thus, greater potential for political influence.

Similarly, in his article on New Zealand, Richard Mulgan discusses the pattern of changes in public accountability under the NPM-type reforms emphasizing output measures, contractual agreements, separation between service providers and purchasers, disaggregation of government departments, and expansion of managerial autonomy. He highlights that in this new context, the additional dimensions of accountability have led to the emergence of "multiple accountabilities" and increased the level of complexity in accountability structures. For Mulgan, the adoption of new modes or approaches of governance, including networks and partnerships, is likely to cause more complications in public accountability, especially in terms of difficulty in delineating clear structures of accountability. While the output-based accountability highlights the extent of agency performance, the upward ministerial responsibility stresses organizational hierarchy, which may create further confusion.

Michiel S. de Vries examines the accountability practices in the Netherlands where the major elements of traditional accountability have allegedly been abandoned. It is pointed out that while the traditional mode of accountability emphasized control, answerability, hierarchical relations, and preset standards, the new form of accountability highlights performance, information exchange, and horizontal relations in line with the principles and techniques of NPM. Although this new framework of accountability may have certain positive consequence like greater transparency, for de Vries, it has certain shortcomings and critical side-effects. The new managerial mode of accountability may create the risk of being "costly, biased, and inconsequential". He concludes that there is a need for rethinking or reconsidering managerial accountability.

In his second article in this Special Issue, M. Shamsul Haque focuses on the major barriers to local level accountability in South Asia created by various forms of social divides that exist in the region. More specifically, he argues that although there has emerged a growing trend towards decentralizing the state power to local governments in order to enhance local-level accountability, the realization of such accountability is greatly constrained due to social divisions and inequalities in terms of income, caste, and gender. He explores the structures and compositions of local governments in countries such as Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and finds that there are severe forms of discrimination against less privileged groups (i.e. the rural poor, the lower caste, and the female population) in the local government system. These underprivileged groups can hardly assume leadership position in local councils or committees, participate in local decisions, demand or receive local government services, and hold local entities accountable to them. Haque provides empirical evidence in support of his arguments. He recommends that in order to ensure the responsiveness and accountability of local governments in South Asia, governments need to undertake and implement some drastic reform measures to overcome social divides, reduce discrimination, and guarantee some degree of economic inequalities.

In her article, Ledivina V. Carino explains the situation of accountability in relation to the nature of the state. She argues that the major standards of accountability in a strong republic are democracy, state autonomy, and state capacity. In the context of democracy, the state enjoys relative autonomy from dominant social forces, which enables it to serve the interests of diverse sections of the population. On the other hand, state capacity implies the state's capability to exercise social control in terms of getting people involved, and getting them to accept or approve such control. In line with this general framework of accountability, Carino examines the situation in the Philippines, and notices that the nature of the state in this country has recently changed with the adoption of new regulatory governance, public sector reform, and shared performance with the private sector, local government, and civil society. But these changes remain inadequate to meet the above standards of accountability (i.e. democracy, autonomy, and capacity). Among the major challenges to accountability in the Philippines, she mentions, in particular, that there is a problem of weak accountability of the president, the cabinet, and the legislature; their connections with big businesses; and their use of force to overpower other stakeholders in order to make personal gains. However, there is a sense of optimism created by the new emphasis on democracy, devolution of power to local government units, and greater presence of NGOs, although democracy has not eradicated all corruption and the non-government actors themselves may often have their own set of accountability problems.

Finally, in her article, Hiroko Kudo explores the linkages between electronic government or e-government and public accountability with special reference to Japan and Italy. She highlights that both of these cases have adopted NPM-style reforms in governance, including administrative and fiscal rationalization, budget modernization, public-private partnership, new managerial techniques, and e-government, in order to enhance accountability. Such reforms, introduced often in response to the fiscal problem, change in political power, and rising public demand, may create greater need for transparency and accountability. It is pointed out that e-government is used not only to overcome "government failures" but also to ensure the realization of "best practices" in governance. According to Kudo, both Italy and Japan have adopted considerable public sector reforms, including e-government, for greater transparency and accountability. However, the adoption of e-government has created certain concerns such as the privacy and security of citizens. In particular, with the increasing outsourcing of information technology and infrastructure in the public sector, the realization of accountability has become more crucial.


Aucoin, Peter and Mark D. Jarvis (2005). Modernizing Government Accountability: A Framework for Reform. Ontario, Canada: Canada School of Public Service.

Bovens, Mark (2003). "Public Accountability." Paper presented at the EGPA Annual Conference, September 3-6, Oeiras, Portugal.

Cameron, W. (2004). "Public Accountability: Effectiveness, Equity, Ethics." Australian Journal of Public Administration 63(4): 59-67.

Glynn, John J. and Michael P. Murphy (1996). "Public Management Failing Accountabilities and Failing Performance Review." International Journal of Public Sector Management 9 (5/6): 125-137.

Haque, M.S. (1998). "Paradox of Bureaucratic Accountability in Developing Nations Under a Promarket State." International Political Science Review 19(4): 357-372.

Hayllar, Mark (2000). "The Importance and Attributes of Effective Accountability Relationships." Asian Review of Public Administration 12(2): 60-80.

Jensen, Lotte (2000). "Images of Accountability in Danish Public Sector Reform." Paper presented at the IPMN Conference on Learning form Experience with New Public Management, 4-6 March, Macquarie School of Management, Sydney, Australia.

Kernaghan, K. (2000). Rediscovering Public Service: Recognizing the Value of an Essential Institution. Toronto, Canada: Institute of Public Administration of Canada.

Koen, V., Bram, V., Falke, M., Guy, P. and B. Geert (2005). "Agencification and Accountability Regimes: Upwards and Downwards Accountability in Flanders." Paper presented at the workshop on Autonomization of the State: From Integrated Administrative Models to Single Purpose Organizations, 1-2 April, Stanford University, California, USA.

Lodhia, Sumit K. and Roger L. Burritt (2004). "Public Sector Accountability Failure in an Emerging Economy: The Case of the National Bank of Fiji." International Journal of Public Sector Management 17(4): 345-359.

Martin, John (1997). Changing Accountability Relations: Politics, Consumers and the Market. Paris: Public Management Service, OECD.

Milakovich, Michael E. (2003). "Balancing Customer Service, Empowerment and Performance with Citizenship, Responsiveness and Political Accountability." International Public Management Review 4(1): 61-83.

Ryan, Christine and Peter Walsh (2004). "Collaboration of Public Sector Agencies: Reporting and Accountability Challenges." International Journal of Public Sector Management 17(7): 621-631.

Therkildsen, Ole (2001). Efficiency, Accountability and Implementation Public Sector Reform in East and Southern Africa. Paper No.3, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Geneva.

Zarei, M.H. (2000). "Democratic Process and Accountability in Public Administration." Asian Review of Public Administration 12(2): 40-5


National University of Singapore, Singapore


Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania, USA

COPYRIGHT 2007 Southern Public Administration Education Foundation, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Haque, M. Shamsul; Mudacumura, Gedeon M.
Publication:Public Administration Quarterly
Geographic Code:9SING
Date:Dec 22, 2007
Previous Article:Limits of public accountability under the reinvented state in developing nations.
Next Article:Challenges to democratic legitimacy, scrutiny, accountability in the UK national and local state.

Related Articles
Privatization and political accountability.
Town Hall Meeting Introducing Candidates for the Detroit Board of Education.
Paradox of public sector reforms in Malaysia: a good governance perspective.
Does e-government guarantee accountability in public sector? Experiences in Italy and Japan.
Public sector reform in New Zealand: issues of public accountability [*].
Accountability in Australia: control, paradox, and complexity.
Limits of public accountability under the reinvented state in developing nations.
Challenges to democratic legitimacy, scrutiny, accountability in the UK national and local state.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters