Role of accountability in good governance -Express Tribune

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A few days ago, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) organised a seminar on the role of accountability in good governance in the serene environment of Bhurban. I had the privilege to address the selected gathering of officers of NAB. In an atmosphere of free exchange of views, the correlation of accountability with governance was discussed.

In the modern world, good governance is accorded the highest priority in both corporate and public sectors. Many political and economic problems experienced by developing countries have increasingly been attributed to a culture of poor governance in these countries. In this context, governance is considered the capacity of state institutions to deliver service and other goods demanded by the public in an effective, transparent, impartial and accountable manner. Efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, accountability and rule of law are therefore the essentials.

Seen in the perspective of the above-mentioned determinants, delivery in an efficient and effective manner is not possible without necessary administrative and financial authority. But, when giving authority to any functionary, chances of the abuse of authority for personal gains cannot be ruled out. Therefore, a system of checks and balances is placed. If any elements of good governance are missing, chaos, uncertainty, corruption and an ultimate institutional collapse will be the outcome.

Successful states and organisations have now moved to the concept of total quality management where the satisfaction of the customer is paramount, which is not possible without strong processes of transparency, accountability, inspections and rule of law. In this context, a government functionary is required to know that they derive their authority from the law. In this regard, Article 4 of the Constitution of Pakistan envisages that all acts should be in accordance with the law.

In contrast to this, my experiential knowledge of public sector organisations has taught me that the subordinates in offices are either not aware of the rules of financial management or deliberately mislead the supervisory officer. They make the supervisory officer believe they are all-powerful to do anything. The officers are usually too occupied in day-to-day affairs, leaving all important affairs to their subordinates in the ministerial staff without realising that as principal accounting officer, the ultimate responsibility lies with him or her.

In this respect, the drawing and disbursing officer, therefore, must be fully conversant with financial management. In order to avoid embarrassment, they should always consult the handbook of Guidelines to Drawing and Disbursing Officer, Pakistan Procurement Regulatory Authority Guidelines, and Pakistan Procurement Rules or the Procurement Laws of the province such as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Public Procurement of Goods, Works and Services Rules, 2014, and General Financial Rules.

Under the Constitution of Pakistan, equality of opportunity and equality before the law are the fundamental rights of every citizen. As such, transparency in official matters whether procurement or appointments, or admissions should be ensured.

Deviation from such principles leads to bad governance, a precursor to injustice as well as corruption and corrupt practices. Misuse of authority to extend the benefit to others is one of the instances. By use of such authority leading to violation of others’ rights, a sense of alienation, deprivation and discord is sown in the society, which ultimately gives rise to the negation of rule of law as a norm.

A society indifferent to corruption and corrupt practices can hardly progress or maintain a better value system, eating the very fabric of society like a termite. Therefore, any institution raised on such a foundation will be weak and likely to crumble. Countering corruption and corrupt practices are the essential duties of the state to ensure justice and merit. For these different systems must be evolved.

In Pakistan, checks and balances in financial matters are being maintained through the Office of the Auditor General of Pakistan as well as the Public Accounts Committee. In case cognizable offence attracting penal action, action is taken by anti-graft bodies like NAB, Federal Investigation Agency, and Anti-Corruption Establishment. However, such bodies must distinguish between a bona fide mistake and a mala fide mistake as well as exercise authority judiciously not arbitrarily. Across-the-board use of authority is also imperative for eliciting the trust of the public.

The enforcement of the rule of law is a sine qua non across the board for accountability. It can only be ensured if all governmental organs act within the orbit of law by ensuring enforcement of law and rules. Unfortunately, all departments by omission or commission fail to perform this important duty. Therefore, we find disorder in all spheres of life.

The omission to enforce the law is evident from the fact that several bodies have failed to implement laws for sustainable development and maintain proper upkeep of the city. These bodies include local government, city government, Peshawar development authority, cantonment board, water and sanitation authority, irrigation department, and environmental protection agencies in Peshawar. The natural water channels, canals, riverbeds and drains have been encroached upon, thus blocking the natural flow of water.

The Peshawar development authority, throwing its master plan, by-laws and environmental laws to the wind, has drudged, filled and squeezed the water channel and allowed permanent structures. Against the law, the same authority has, with impunity, allotted amenities, plots and green patches for disqualifying purposes. While the Supreme Court is quite active against similar violations in Karachi by razing illegal construction, it perhaps has not received a glimpse of such violations in Peshawar and other cities. However, even the High Court can take cognizance of such violations in the greater public interest.

All said and done, accountability and transparency are the mediums through which good governance can be ensured. But the essence of good governance must be felt by every citizen in civic life.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th, 2021.