Accountability is a crosscutting pillar of the post-2015 development agenda. It is crucial to delivering development effectiveness, along with the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and their means of implementation.
Albeit among various frameworks and global partnerships for development, the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation stands out in terms of devising ways to hold aid partners accountable.
The UN Development Cooperation Forum (DCF) has also been an enduring facilitator in shaping renewed partnerships for development co-operation, collecting vantage points for launching global accountability mechanisms to make sustainable development happen.
The Global Partnership is a multi-stakeholder partnership involving not only governments and international organisations but also non-state actors including CSOs. Even BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – emerging as non-OECD-DAC donors can be integrated into this open partnership. The Global Partnership’s architecture of global accountability not only goes beyond government-centred approaches but is designed as a true multi-stakeholder partnership where actors interact at both the country and international levels. Its vision of global accountability is based on combining existing country-level mechanisms with strong regional and global frameworks. But having more partners in development co-operation requires much clearer accountability to mark different participants’ mandates; otherwise buck-passing will become a problem.
We need to rigorously redefine accountability to prevent its utility from falling into mere political rhetoric without practicality. Such an effort can also make the Global Partnership more accountable and sustainable.
A new conceptualisation of mutual accountability can be explained by the following three components: responsibility, answerability, and enforceability.
First, responsibility is key to accountability in that those in authority must clearly define their duties and performance standards to enable transparent and objective assessment of their behaviour. Clear identification of who is responsible for what at the start of aid programmes also helps avoid confusion over who holds other partners to account for what throughout aid programmes.
Second, answerability requires public officials and institutions to justify their actions and decisions to those who are affected by them. In development, power relationships between individuals and state institutions, or between aid providers and programme partners are often asymmetrical. Enhancing information sharing transforms these asymmetries by empowering partner countries to better influence the aid-giving countries’ behaviour. Sharing information symmetrically also promotes quality of monitoring and evaluation.
Last but not least, enforceability requires public institutions to monitor public officials and institutions’ compliance with established standards, and to sanction officials who do not comply. They should also take appropriate corrective and remedial action when required. Enforcing accountability is not only about penalties, but also about ensuring that fair and systematic mechanisms assess partner countries’ compliance with agreed responsibilities. In this sense, enforcement mechanisms are the last resort for partner countries to hold each other accountable through inspection or rigorous oversight.
All in all, mutual accountability requires all three elements of responsibility, answerability, and enforceability to be organically connected. Thus, effective accountability requires steady and reliable information and communication between stakeholders as well as the means to impose penalties when required. In principle, any partner who violates standardised principles should be excluded from development partnerships.
However, international aid agencies and traditional donors that meet these three conditions are very rare. Indeed, it is not easy to satisfy them all simultaneously. They can do so by trying to be more open and attentive to serious complaints arising during programme implementation, by adapting to changing needs throughout aid programme cycles, and by complying with sanctions when their performances are properly inspected in accordance with complaints.
Enforceability is the most taxing element, mainly because both donors and recipients are reluctant to adopt mechanisms that may hold back their sovereign decisions. Aid recipients also tend to see all three components as a threat or organised shackles by which traditional donors aim to rule their behaviour. Nevertheless, excluding enforcement will render accountability mechanisms meaningless for holding partners accountable. It is unfortunate that both discussions on the Global Partnership and UN processes for the post-2015 agenda lack genuine consideration of how to enforce mutual accountability.
In a nutshell, the next round of inter-governmental processes for the post-2015 development agenda should include the three following aspects.
First, mutual accountability should operate not only at country-level, but also internationally. Discussion should harness ways to link country accountability processes with global mechanisms. Second, mutual accountability mechanisms must have full participation of networks representing parliaments, civil society organisations, local governments, businesses and even non-OECD-DAC donors such as BRICS countries. Third, enforcement mechanisms should be a prerequisite for mutual accountability at both country and international level.
In so doing, it is worth noting that a centralised enforcement institute, which can impose penalties on the rule impingement beyond state boundaries, would prompt political backlash from newly emerging donors or programme partner countries. It is also important to note that the overemphasis on enforceability could politicise aid effectiveness, while still fully acknowledging that enforcement mechanisms are required at the international level as a key to consolidating accountability. Therefore, more discussion is needed on how to align enforcement mechanisms between aid donors and partner countries for development processes post-2015.
In this regard, the Global Partnership already aims to provide a political space for development discussions on better enforcement mechanisms, on the basis of a multi-stakeholder partnership. The Global Partnership should take a further initiative to carry the resulting enforcement mechanisms to inform upcoming UN dialogues for the post-2015 era.
Taekyoon Kim is an Associate Professor of International Development at the Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS), Seoul National University, South Korea. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.