Public services serve as the most important interface between a government and its people. As a result, the extent of, and the efficiency and effectiveness with which these services are delivered frames people’s confidence and belief in the actions of their government. This confidence is also predicated on the ability of people to hold their governments accountable for their actions. Seemingly, accountability sounds like a simple and linear concept, but in actuality, it is highly complex and multifaceted, with its conceptual and analytical interpretation being dependent on the lens through which it is viewed.
In the context of public service delivery, accountability can be broken down into three things:
- The willingness and the ability of the government to take ownership of their responsibility, and to take responsibility for their performance.
- The obligation of the government to give account for their actions in relation to their agreed-upon commitments and expected outcome in the areas of service delivery, and;
- The understanding that the public (through the institution responsible for accountability) can sanction anyone found in breach of their responsibilities.
Viewed through the lens of public service delivery, accountability is consistent with Managing for Results, the key theme in the Results-based Monitoring and Evaluation Readiness Assessment being conducted by Cloneshouse Nigeria. This definition underscores that accountability goes beyond the face value function of ensuring that the government keeps their commitment to the people; it engenders a mechanism for monitoring, reviewing and reporting, and provides a continuous feedback mechanism that allows the government to change strategies and reallocate resources in view of changing demand and/or expectations.
Accountability serves as both a means to an end, and an end, in and of itself. As a means, it provides the government with the platform for learning and continuous improvement. It also provides the feedback mechanism that allows the government to garner the information required for program planning, budgetary allocations and implementation. And, as an end, because as a democratic state, we have the right to hold our elected leaders accountable for their actions, thereby legitimizing the government’s right to govern. Both as a means and as an end, accountability is essential. However, without a clear detail of what it actually entails, accountability becomes a means to no end.
Accountability is best achieved through a framework – one that results from a deliberate and thorough understanding of the governance structure, and a clear understanding of visions and objectives. An accountability framework defines and clarifies roles, responsibilities and expectations. It delineates on the kind of performance-related information to be reported, the appropriate timing, who reports and to whom they report to. It further stipulates clearly a feedback mechanism, documenting how performance is reviewed and how required adjustments are made to ensure that intended results are achieved. In public service delivery, an accountability framework is akin to a decision structure that influences efficient and effective service delivery by taking actions with the primary intention of achieving results.
A good accountability framework ensures that resources are being effectively and efficiently channelled toward stated objectives, it improves the efficiency of program implementers at all levels, and greatly increases the chances of achieving intended results in public service delivery. Evidence of this can be gleaned from developing countries that have experimented with accountability frameworks in the realm of public service delivery. For example, in 2017, inspired by low human development outcomes, Peru initiated a Results and Accountability (REACT) policy, with the primary focus of making education, health and nutrition services more accountable to the communities they serve. The Peruvian approach involved an intentional shift in focus from process to results-based budgeting and monitoring, and from vague to clear accountability relationships. In 2015, Cambodia also developed a Social Accountability Framework geared at improving the quality of services provided by primary schools, primary health centres and local councils. The Cambodian approach involved recruiting citizen volunteers who acted as liaisons between citizens and their service providers, reporting on the quality of services and developing action plans for improving service delivery. Both countries reported a significant impact on outcomes in their respective focus areas of service delivery.
Accountability frameworks have also been applied successfully in Nigeria, albeit they have been more program-specific and have been focused on direct interventions, such as when international organisations implement accountability frameworks to improve the performance of their programs (see example). However, the Nigerian government has recently made some strides toward implementing overarching practices to pursue openness and transparency. In 2016, Nigeria formally joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) initiative – an initiative that mobilizes government and civil society to improve government openness, accountability and responsiveness. Supported by the OGP, the Nigerian government and civil society have co-created a National Action Plan (NAP) which was implemented in January 2017 and is expected to run till June 2019. The plan consolidates existing and new reforms that cut across four thematic areas: fiscal transparency, anti-corruption, access to information, and citizen engagement.
Within these thematic areas, are commitments that are germane to the requirements for accountability. Some of these commitments include making the policy formation and decision-making processes more transparent, creating a channel through which the government can solicit feedback from the public and most importantly, deepening public participation in developing, monitoring and evaluating government activities. These commitments, though not specific to particular sector goals, can set the pace for change required for achieving transformative results in public service delivery, if institutionalised and implemented properly within the different levels and sectors of government. For more information, progress reports and updates on the NAP, check out Open Alliance.
Whatever form an accountability framework takes, a good framework that is properly embedded into the fabric and culture of an organisation will always serve as an incentive for service providers to improve on their efforts. There are several components to an accountability framework, and the degree to which components are incorporated into a particular framework will be dependent on particular accountability relationships; however, there is one core component that is single-handedly the most important in every accountability relationship: full disclosure.
In the realm of public service, there is nothing more fundamental to accountability, than a well-informed electorate as has been revealed by the Cambodia example. The degree of citizen information determines the extent to which people can hold their government accountable. This is especially pertinent in Nigeria, given the decentralised governance structure where responsibility and authority are delegated among different levels of government. At all points, citizens need to be well informed on which tier of government is responsible for the provision of basic services.
In a bid to contribute to citizen knowledge, and as part of the Readiness Assessment, we have produced a fact sheet detailing the extent of monitoring and evaluation in Nigeria. The readiness assessment report will provide insight into the existing structure of managerial and financial decentralisation in Nigeria, focusing on the three key areas of service delivery that are relevant to the Monitoring and Evaluation Readiness Assessment Study being conducted: Education, Health Care and Water Resources. It will delineate the roles, functions and service delivery responsibilities of each tier of government within each ministry. Understanding these managerial roles and financial responsibilities at national and sub-national levels, is critical for transparency, accountability and government coordination. Poorly defined roles and/or the lack of understanding of the distribution of responsibilities between the different tiers of government within the ministries, creates confusion over roles in service delivery and weakens accountability. Finally, as part of the recommendations that will be born from this assessment, we intend to offer suggestions for how an accountability framework can be incorporated into the creation of a Monitoring and Evaluation system in Nigeria.