By: Saba Noor
Accountability Strengthens Democracy
(i) Democracy is the rule of majority.
(ii) Accountability is the writ of majority.
Thesis statement: Accountability is lifeblood of democracies.
2. Accountability – a strong pillar on which democracy is built
(I) In governance, accountability is the answerability and liability.
(ii) Accountability means surrendering before law and let law rule.
(iii) Successful democracies like America have established a robust system of check and balance that have ensured their progress in every field of life.
3. Characteristics of an accountable society
(i) Politically aware and educated masses ensure across the board accountability.
(ii) Peace, development, rule of law and respect for human rights are the touchstones of an accountable society.
(iii) Turkey’s public struggle to save the country from coup was because of majority’s belief in the democratic system (that is strengthened by accountability).
4. Misuse of accountability – a tool against democracy
(i) Democratic system in developing countries (Pakistan) has occasionally been disrupted on the pretext of accountability.
(ii) Accountability institutions are under the auspices of political parties in developing countries.
(iii) Accountability is a means of political victimization as well.
5. A global democratic system can only sustain by across the board transparent accountability
(i) Dodging accountability at United Nations may usher a disastrous trend against democracy.
(ii) USA – a transgressor of human rights is answerable to no one.
(iii) Democracy of weaker states is at stake because of unaccountability of powerful nations.
(iv) Non-availability of check and balance can lead the world into the darkness of authoritarian rule again.
6. Hindrances to an accountable democratic society
(i) Powerful nations like UN permanent members are immune to accountability.
(ii) UN Peacekeeping Forces were not taken into account for their involvement in cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2010.
(iii) No one got punished for chemical attacks in Syria in April 2017.
(iv) Accountability is exercised on poor people only.
(v) Absence of a powerful world organization.
7. An era of hope
(i) Recent Panama drama in Pakistan (a developing nation) has given a spur to accountability system.
(ii) A former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed in August 2017.
(iii) Iceland’s newly elected Prime Minister Bjarni Ben called for new election after an allegation on his father of a pedophile rehabilitation.
8. Way Forward
(i) Governments should evolve a trend-based approach to democracy.
(ii) A robust framework for accountability should exist at global as well as national level.
(iii) Conduct of free and fair elections should be guaranteed.
(iv) There must be equal, independent and transparent accountability system.
Democracy with its Greek root of ‘demos’, or people is a system of government in which citizens have their say to elect representatives from among themselves to form a governing body, such as a parliament. Democracy is sometimes referred to as “rule of the majority”. So, in a democratic system, a change in government should matter to all of us. And if it does not deliver any benefits to exploited, ones of people, we need to find out why? And this system of finding out is generally called accountability. In a democratic system, people rule and govern and corrupt people are held answerable to strengthen the democratic values. If politicians and rules don’t deliver the promised results, the masses have the power to question and even overthrow their authority. In this way, democracy and accountability are closely linked together and it would be totally appropriate to say that accountability is the lifeblood of democracies. They both are dependent on each other. If accountability is absent, the democratic values cannot serve their purpose. Likewise no one can be held accountable in an authoritarian rule.
Didier Burkhalter, head of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, explained that accountability provides a link between citizens and the state that it is “built on truth and trust”. Thus, it is evident that all the benefits of a democratic society can only be reaped with a strong accountability system. It is like a pillar on which democracies are built upon.
“Accountability is the essence of democracy. If people do not know what their government is doing, they cannot be truly self governing,” opines Garry Hills,
In governance, accountability is the answerability and liability. Politicians and people of high stature have to answer for their actions if they have done something that violates the law of the land. Thus answerability can be before people (in the form of next election, people can exercise their power of vote if they find a politician wicked and corrupt) and it can also be in the court (on the plea of people or in the other case can be if security forces catch him red handed doing something against law). A politician or ruler has to surrender before law and he cannot be superior to the will of people or law of the land.
A cursory look at successful democracies can reveal that the reason behind the success of their democratic system is their staunch belief in check and balance system. No one is exempt from punishment whether he is president, prime minister or judge.
“Our moral duty to the taxpayer requires us to make our government leaner and more accountable.” — President Donald J. Trump:
The reason, of the success of democratic system, in developed countries, is the characteristic of that societies. The citizens of developed nations with successful democratic system understand that democracy’s purpose is to create conditions in which free citizens can lead the most fulfilling lives possibly that they themselves choose. They understand that human beings need not only livelihoods and security but also freedom, dignity and justice. Such a politically aware public do not let someone go scot free if he tries to crush their freedom and dignity. Justice for everyone do not led anyone be unaccountable.
The accountable societies ensure peace, development, rule of law and respect for human rights through the power of accountability. The democracy in such societies prospers and their governments are strong to the extent that if someone attacks their governments they break out on streets to save their government. As happened in Turkey, when masses came out on the streets of Turkey to send the coup makers back to the barracks because of their belief in the system.
The same accountability that is crux of democracy becomes an imminent danger to democracy because of the misuse of accountability process. Democratic system in developing countries like Pakistan has occasionally been disrupted on the pretext of accountability. Ghulam Muhammad (former Governor General of Pakistan) sacked the Constituent Assembly on the ground of its failure to draft a constitution, which was incorrect. Iskander Mirza replaced an elected government with Martial Law, he not only abused politicians but also denounced the 1956 constitution as unworkable.
Sword of accountability should not be used to remove democratically elected governments and install military regimes or favoured political parties. No system can realize its potential if it is frequently disrupted. As in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif was the latest Pakistani civilian prime minister not to complete a full five-year term.
None has done so in the country’s 70-year history. The military has ruled Pakistan for half of its history since gaining independence from the British in 1947. Sharif has been dismissed twice before. Once after a tussle with the president under the watchful eye of the military in 1993, and again in a direct military coup by then army chief Pervez Musharraf in 1999.
Misuse of accountability aside, in some of the countries, independent accountability institutions have been nonexistent. These accountability institutions are handicap and are under the auspices of one or other political party. These are not neutral, and take side. In most cases, accountability is used for political victimization and remains individual specific.
Some liberals even call accountability as a conspiracy to derail the democratic process. Accountability, on the other hand has more pluses than minuses. A safeguard to democracy, a barrier against corrupt practices and an antibiotic of poor people’s exploitation – accountability process should be global, equal, transparent and across the board.
“Without publicity, no good is permanent,” in the words of Jeremy Bentham, “Under the auspices of publicity, no evil can continue.”
A global accountability system can be the harbinger of a global and strong democratic system but a weaker one (accountability system) can lead to the death of democracy. Lack of accountability at the only global forum – United Nations is not good for democracy. United Nations has failed to take into account the nations like America – who transgress the human rights.
In Pakistan, according to the news, maids, girls of an age where they should not be in employment, have been brutally tortured, and murdered. The other day, a young boy was punished by a landlord for letting his cattle to stray. The boy was tied to a donkey and allowed to be dragged on the ground as the donkey ran. The boy died. No one took care of employment laws. Neither employers worried about the repercussions to them.
In the US, according to National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), a human rights initiative, ’32 million people are without health insurance; the most distressing is the number of preventable deaths – up to 101,000 people per year – simply due to the way the health care system is organised.
In Yemen, millions of people are on the brink of famine. According to the World Food Programme, the child malnutrition rate in Yemen is one of the highest in the world. The system of accountability is still fragile thus, and democracy seems to be at stake.
Super powers like USA, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iran go on trampling the sovereignty of weaker nations for their so-called motives. No one is there to hold them accountable and give them a shut up call. In this unbalanced world, only weaker are punished and the cliché “might is right” still fits in the present scenario.
The heart is at tumultuous wrench at the sight of stones and bricks locked away and mongrels breathing free.
Non-availability of check and balance can plunge the world into the darkness of authoritarian rule again. The immediate action would be to take stock to hindrances to accountability and rectify them.
Powerful nations go on exploiting and plundering weaker nations, they have made the lands of weaker nations a ground for their proxy wars, but no steps have been taken against them at the international level. Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting for the domination of their Sunni and Shiite ideologies. They have destroyed the peace of Middle East and the superpowers check Russia and USA) have aligned themselves with the ideologies of either Saudi Arabia or Iran. Everybody has its own ulterior motives to serve in already destroyed region.
United Nations permanent members use their veto power if United Nation tries to take step against any one of them. What to speak of superpowers? Even UN Peacekeeping Forces were not held accountable for their human rights abuses and for their involvement in cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2010. The most recent example of unaccountability is the immunity of those who are responsible for chemical attacks on Syria in April 2017.
The very essence of this ancient system of governance is being tested. The lack of accountability is leading it towards failure. Freedom has declined worldwide for the 11th straight year, according to Freedom Houses a nongovernmental organisation. Many countries that seemed to be transitioning to democracy, like Egypt, Turkey, Thailand and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are backsliding; among the encouraging exceptions are Myanmar, Nigeria and Tunisia. And in established democracies, trust in politicians, party membership and electoral participation have steadily diminished over the years because of lack of accountability.
Poor nations are crushed because of the corruption of their politicians, people are experiencing more bad conditions because of the ill practices of their rulers.
For friends, its rulers serve the populace; Beneath the heavens is no more need of me!
These corrupt and unfair nations at global level and politicians at national level need to be hindered by the existence of a powerful world organization. Although some countries are exception and avoid violating the rules of democracy but the rest need to be chastised by a muscular world organization.
Those exceptional countries that respect accountability are ushering an era of hope for the future of democracy. The recent Panama drama in Pakistan (d developing nation) has given a spur to accountability system. Panama papers exposed financial practices by a range of Pakistanis, both private citizens and private officials. Although Mr. Sharif was first in the queue of accountability, the process must not stop with him.
Another country Brazil set a precedent by impeaching and removing its President Dilma Rousseff in August 2017. Respect for accountability is prevalent in the western world, a clear specimen of this can be the Iceland’s prime minister decision to call for re-election. Iceland’s newly elected Prime Minister Bjarni Ben called for new election after an allegation on his father for rehabilitation of a pedophile.
The nations with handicap accountability system, should learn from these examples/ Whole of the world should keep in mind that the only way to sustain and retain democracy (a form of government), is to ensure accountability to the roots – everyone is equal – no one got scot free. All levels of government should be accessible to, and representative of, the people.
All the governments should evolve a custom and trend based approach to democracy. Accountability should be deeply entrenched in society. This is the only way to ensure the existence of peaceful, prosperous and powerful democracies.
The very need of an accountability framework is felt across the world. A higher authority which is also neutral can help in the prevalence of law and order. Not only states, rather the globe itself have a global accountability system that can take into account the states and organizations.
Transition of power should be free from corruption. Elections are not truly democratic and those responsible for are unaccountable, if the elections are not inclusive, transparent and accountable. They do not confer genuine legitimacy – when political rivals and their supporters do not believe that the electoral process is free and fair, they seek less peaceful methods to change political direction and leadership. We should promote legitimate elections around the world – not only because we think democracy is ethically superior to other forms of government, but also, because it delivers better results if accompanied by accountability. Democracy strengthened by accountability holds the best promise for peace, development and respect for human rights and the rule of law.
The transparent and independent accountability system can help democracies to flourish. The importance of transparent accountability system can best be understood with this saying of Patrick Henry:
“The liberties of people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”
Suffice to say, accountability is a major part of how we conceive democracy, providing a good balance between executive power and citizen control. Without accountability, democracy will limp and lose its purpose. It is only through accountability that democratic system serves its purpose of peace, progress, prosperity, rule of law and human rights.