The New Politics of Accountability

Irsyadillah Abubakar

Irsyadillah Abubakar

Lecturer, University of Syiah Kuala, Aceh ID

Accountability is associated with fulfilling the obligation of the rulers to provide reasons for responsibilities and authority granted. In other words, the principals who have transferred and delegated power have certain rights to demand answers for conduct and policies made by the agents.

This makes clear that a robust mechanism of accountability has a positive impact on enhancing social welfare and achieving social justice.

Protection of human rights, alleviation of poverty, freedom of speech, equalization of educational opportunities and health care access, promotion of political equality, police reform, and infrastructure provision could be achieved only by having a reliable system of accountability.

It is generally accepted that the most powerful mechanism of accountability is free and fair elections, in which electorates could cast their votes to support or protest the rulers for the actions that they took when they were in power.

This vertical form of accountability has apparently been celebrated in Indonesia. It is the fact that the last four governments have been produced by democratic elections. Indeed, reasonably free and fair elections have been experienced in the election of national and local governments.

Therefore, the nation has been considered as one of the biggest democratic country in the world and a leading model of democracy for the Islamic world.

To harness the major democratic achievement and in order for the democracy to work well in advancing the social progress of electorates, there must thus exist the separation of independent state institutions that permit them to authorize, control and sanction the power-holders.

As a democratic nation, Indonesia has obviously exercised the actual practice of checks and balances. There has existed a clear role and duty of political mechanism (executive and legislature), fiscal mechanism (official system of audit and financial accounting), administrative mechanisms (hierarchical reporting, public service codes of conduct), and legal mechanisms (corruption control agencies, ombudsmen and the judiciary).

As can be seen, at certain times the state bodies do work professionally in providing and criticizing the curtailment of the original action of public agencies and the branches of governments. However, at other times rather than providing an independent voice and critical evaluation, they just provide legitimacy for the abuses made by the power-holders.

Most crucially, this horizontal form of accountability has traditionally fixated on managerial and functional accountability. It is only concerned on measurable and quantifiable aspects rather than less tangible changes in social and political processes. In fact, a strong mechanism of accountability should be a key guarantor of equalizing human, economic, social and political rights, which are not always measurable.

Furthermore, it is important to highlight that satisfying perceived managerial accountability requirements of prominent independent state institutions and systems may not necessarily yield improved mission achievement of the top power holders. It could actually lead to mission drift as has experienced by many previous governments in Indonesia or other countries.

It seems clear that managerial accountability has simplified and coalesced complex social and political realities into only discrete components. It also could somehow distract the mission achievement of top power holders. Thus, this form of accountability is contended to be not maximal to increase and accelerate the reliability of policy making and to leverage the advancement of social welfare.

Given this realities, there is an emergence need to shift from narrow managerial accountability focus and to establish means of allowing the scope to embrace social accountability practices. It emphasises the use of a holistic and downward form of accountability, which recognizes the basic right of every member of society to involve in the decision making that matter upon them.

In other word, civil society’s engagement in policy decision making and budget formulation at national and local government is argued to be the way forward. Through this process, ordinary citizens, communities, independent media, and civil society organizations are centrally involved in determining social and political development priorities and assessing the outcomes of government activities.

This means, through this process, all members of society are encouraged and provided platform to enforce standards of good practices on public officials and service providers.

This type of accountability approach may well also be relevant as a way to increase pressure on government detailed information provision, which has been implemented in developed countries such as the United Kingdom. Hence, the details of government thinking and activities would not be concealed and obscured from public scrutiny. This is of course also a form and process of accountability.

It is argued that social accountability should be embraced in practice, otherwise the voices of the poor would be left speaking into a void. Poor society always experience major barriers in accessing justice, and are particularly susceptible to being excluded from policy making. Poor people are also all vulnerable if they cannot reliably hold their government accountable for the policy that they take in the public realm.

The role of the family is also crucial to ensure the application of social accountability through family and school education. As the label goes, social accountability relies on civic engagement including active role of the people in the periphery and the smallest unit called family to participate in exacting the accountability.

It is important to note that although top government level has strong sense of good visions and action plans to accelerate the development of the nation, it is impossible to accomplish them without real control, support, helps and contributions from wider society.

However, strategies should be developed in the process to manage the potential tension between the mandated and formal form of managerial and functional accountability and less formal and genuine civil society involvement of social accountability.

Finally, it is believed that the promotion of a greater use of social accountability imbued with strong ethical values would certainly make it as an effective catalyst for revolutionary social change and robust development of Indonesia.