Sample Essay on Accountability and Public Service Reforms

Public Administration, Accountability and Public Service Reforms

Definition of Accountability

Accountability is an aspect of governance in which the people working in the public sector are expected to be liable and answerable to their actions. The aspect of accountability is to bring forth discussions that may be affecting the public sector and making the affected parties take the responsibility of the decisions, actions or policies that influence the administration process. Being accountable in the public sector comprise with the responsibility of reporting, answering and giving an explanation of the consequence of the actions (Funnell & Cooper, 2012). Through accountability, the act of democracy in the public sector can be promoted and keep the public informed of the government activities and enable the government to evaluate its performance. A detailed interpretation of accountability form part of this discussion, together with the impact of current managerial reforms in the public service on public accountability (Guthrie, 2005).

Accountability is a vital tool that promotes democracy in the public sector and ensures that people operating in the public sector are in a position to defend their actions. The government is expected to be liable for the funds that are collected by the public in the form of tax money. Therefore, accountability is the price the public sector must deliver to the governing authority in the ways the government revenues are spent. Accountability has been interpreted in several ways. Mulgan (2003) in the book ‘Holding power to account’ describe accountability as an association that involves common interaction and an exchange consisting of free rights to  the account holder and the responsibility of the accouter. The author explains that the account can be offered to an external party or the person in charge and that the act involve social relationship and exchange of ideas. Apart from that, accountability is a right of authority, and the account holder has a legal mandate on the accouter (Mulgan, 2003).

Bovens (2007) in the book entitled ‘Analyzing and Assessing Accountability’ describe accountability as relationship between a forum and person that must have the responsibility of giving explanation and justification of his or her conduct. The forum investigating the actor or the person in charge are not restricted to asking questions and giving verdicts as well as making the actor face consequences of the irresponsible acts. According to the author, the act of being accountable comprise of three main elements. The first element is that the public servant should take the responsibility of informing the government on their undertakings (Nagel, 2000). Secondly, the forum is expected to debate with the management of the actions, and finally, the actor should be well informed that the forum is mandated to pass judgment and make the person face some consequences.

Therefore, public accountability can be said to be the act of being responsible for public operations such as revenue management, service provision or social responsibility. Public accountability is not expected to take place behind closed doors or the parties be involved in corrupt dealings. The accountability should be and open action where everyone should have the right of information concerning the performance of the public sector. Every government institution is a subject to scrutiny and should be subjected to the accountability process. The Process of accountability will depend on the scope the kind of power the government has in an attempt to promote democracy (Funnell & Cooper, 2012).

Customs of Public Accountability

The current public accountability is complex in a way due to the nature of strategies that the account holders are conducting their operations. The process public accountability can be organized depending on the information received, type of action or time factors. In most governments, the process of public accountability is designed to take place at a particular time when the government is evaluating its institutional performance. Public accountability can take place in the form of the political forum. Politics can be said to be the beginning of accountability as it captures different political stages of accountability (Evans, Haughey & Murphy, 2008). For example, Election process which the general public expect the government to account for the voting process. The government must provide information to the public on the integrity of the leaders and justify the act of leadership. Similarly, the voters are also expected to be accountable for the leaders they are electing.

Public accountability can take the form of the judicial forum. The government requires the judicial forum to justify their actions openly and disclose the necessary information. Through the information disclosed, the public can have a chance to bring forth their complaints and challenge some of the government decisions in the court of law (Guthrie, 2005). For example, if the public feel that some of their rights are violated, or there is infringement of their importance, the public can take a formal sanction upon the leaders and force the government to take the necessary action. Public accountability can take the form of administrative forum where the public account holders are put responsible for administrative performance. According to the administrative hierarchy, public officials are expected to be accountable to the departments of their administration (Bovens, 2007). The government minister must be answerable for all the activities that take place under their administrable dockets, following the government manifestos. Accountability through administrative forum may also consist of court audit, inspections, internal audit or advisory council (Nagel, 2000). Mechanism of accountability refers to the tools or the instruments that are essential for the process of public accountability. The mechanisms correspond to the different administrative, political, social and judicial functions of the government (Edwards, 2012). The current mechanisms for assessing public accountability are important as it also borrow traditional forms of assessment. The mechanisms must consider impotent elements of accountability, which consist of the specification of public performance, transparency, and involvement of capital risk. These elements try to hold the public leaders or the government accountable for every action.

Characteristics of Good Accountability

Accountability in the public sector is the main value of democracy in every government. Therefore, it is important to know the features of accountability that is acceptable to the public and the administrative authorities. Various researchers have discovered that the democracy of the act of accountability is fundamentally assured in the way people present their ideas. An acceptable public accountability must be properly presented in the sense that it directly or indirectly engages all the relevant stakeholders that  play an active role in the process. The interest and participation of the people can be influenced politically hence the acting political authority should be held accountable for the pronouncements made (Multan, 2003).

Good public accountability should be transparent and provide adequate information to the auditors. The officials to be assessed for accountability should be ready to avail all the necessary documents and information to the public to view. The public service should also ensure that there exists the act of factual responsiveness (Alverez, 2007). The public will not be pleased with a public sector that is consuming government resources without delivering. The public authority must perform well in all the delegated duties failure to which the office will be subjected to scrutiny and evaluation to determine their level of accountability. Another element of good public accountability requires that the information that is being presented to the public should be compact in the sense that it is complete and hold all the required information. Giving incomplete information is considered illegal, and the public accountant can be held responsible for the missing information (O’Faircheallaigh, Wanna, & Weller, 2000).

Importance of Public Accountability

The important function of public accountability is to ensure democratic governance in the management of public resources. The benefits of public accountability can be described as series creating a principled relationship between the public and the governing body. The public or the citizens are the watchdogs of democracy and are at the forefront of monitoring accountability (Funell & Cooper, 1998). Therefore, the focus of public accountability is to promote democracy and ensure performance of the public servants. Every person in the public service has a role to play, and all are expected to deliver on their delegated duties. At the end of the tenure, the account holders are evaluated on their performance and responsibilities. Therefore, public accountability is important for the democratic process as it provide political or social representatives with information to judge the efficiency and effectiveness of the governance.

Public accountability is responsible for the enhancement of the governance integrity in service delivery. Accountability safeguard the citizens resources against corrupt public servants nepotism, misuse of public office and other forms of irregularities in the public service. Public accountability is, therefore, an effective tool that can be applied in deterring people appointed or elected to manage public offices from misusing public resources because the public auditors will look at all the activities (Osborne, 2000).

Consequentially, public accountability promotes performance in service delivery at the national level through fostering institutional learnings. The role of public accountability is not only to identify and control the in proprieties but also to prevent some of the unacceptable activities from occurring. Public standards can be internalized, and necessary adjustments are made through accountability (Evans, Haughey & Murphy, 2008). The public servants that are given certain responsibilities are informed on the policies they have to follow, and the government goals that must be realized from the office. The officials are also informed that they will be accountable for the activities while at the office and must produce reports on their performance. For example, when a minister is given development funds to establish social amenities. The minister will be restricted to carrying out the task and not misappropriating the funds or putting the funds to other unplanned projects (Lonsdale, Wilkins& Ling, 2011).

Moreover, accountability is important in enhancing the legitimacy of the public administration. For example, most states in the Unites States of America are facing critical public administration because the exercise of public authority is not prioritized. Public accountability is supposed to enhance h performance of the public administration through transparency, awareness and functions so that the citizens can develop trust and be confident to the public officials (Alverez, 2007).

Finally, there may be cases when the public service fails completely to perform its functions. The public accountability committee will have the responsibility of liberating on the reasons for providing unrestricted release of the officials responsible for the failure. For example, when there areparliamentary inquiry, public hearing or investigations by public officials in case of catastrophe or natural disasters, the people involved can be given a second chance to perform. When such incidences occur, the public can be informed and help lift the burden of blames and prevent grievances on the public servants (Edwards, 2012).



Current Reforms in the Public Service on Accountability and Assessment

The new management reform in the public service on accountability can be traced back to the early 80’s where the new public management strategies were realized. The new strategy was to set strategic orientations, new principles and come up with new structural reforms that would see and effective management of the public sectors. The current reforms for managing public sectors, however, have not been implemented in most countries around the globe (Bovens, 2007). One of the changes is that the public administration is putting focus on administrative activities and results base on the established rules and procedures. Another transformation considered the progression of eliminating the unnecessary rules and principles that were considered to be hindering the performance of the administrative departments and officials holding such positions. The result is to improve on the new regulations and put in other administrative strategies for managing public sectors (Funell & Cooper, 1998).

The changes have seen the public sector devolve some of their powers to make them competent in service delivery. The strategy has brought good coordination and cooperation in the public sector. The devolution is to make service delivery easy and accessible to every citizen that is considered as the consumer of the government services (Osborne, 2000). Some of the public services have been privatized as a way of reducing the government administrative units, and to achieve economic benefits for the government. To some occasions, the public administrations have been reformed to help the governance attain their goals and objectives in service delivery to the people. This implies that the purpose of the governance units is fixed to ensure that they attain the desired social responsibilities and objectives to the citizens (Evans, Haughey & Murphy, 2008).


To assess the impact of the current management of public reforms and public accountability, consideration is given to the case studies of Canada, West Europe,USA, and UK. These regions have gone through a transformation in the public management and accountability with the intervention of neoliberal strategy of governance (Alverez, 2007). The strategy, which started by restructuring the public sector in the capitalist nations such as UK and USA, was also adopted by West Europe and the public service 2000 of Canada. The revise of the national performance in USA and UK has since brought the desired accountability in terms of financial management.

The strategy is extended to other market economies in the developed nations where some of the business principles are applied in the management of public resources. The neoliberal reforms have set new rules, objectives, policies and roles that have improved the performance of the public sector (Bovens, 2007). The assessments, which involve setting goals, defining public accountability, analysis of objectives and reviewing the performance of the public administration, has shown tremendous improvement of service delivery and accountability. The assessment is also revealed by the international ties that have been created in the throughout the globe that promote sustainable development and commercial activities (Lonsdale, Wilkins& Ling, 2011).








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Bovens, M. (2007). Analysing and Assessing Accountability: A Conceptual Framework. European Journal of Law, 13(4), 447-468.

Edwards, M. (2012). Public sector governance in Australia. Acton, ANU E Press

Evans, T. D., Haughey, M., & Murphy, D. (2008). International handbook of distance education. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

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Guthrie, J. (2005). International public financial management reform: Progress, contradictions, and challenges. Greenwich, Conn: Information Age Publ.

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