Accountability and transparency in government

Brian FrancisBy Dr. Brian Francis

 

In Section 21 of its 2008 manifesto, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in Barbados, under the caption, A Modern Civil Service, proclaims, “Many of the world’s nation states are engaged in serious efforts to reform their governments and inject a culture of innovation and heightened efficiency in their public services. A government close to society is always ready to listen to the people. Governments that are respectful of legality, honesty, transparency, accountability and efficiency are governments conscious of their mission of promoting human and social development as the basis for attaining a more just and prosperous society.”

Anyone, irrespective of political persuasion, will agree with and support such a noble position held by such a long-standing political institution in the Caribbean. But in reality, many parties in power are rarely guided by such splendid ideals and hence often fail miserably to implement policies and programmes consistent therewith! Why?

Take the case of accountability and transparency in the awarding of government’s contracts for projects to be undertaken nationwide with the overall objective of developing the country. In reality, a government has to look out for its supporters and ensure that its supporters get their fair share of all government’s contracts. The thinking behind that position is that the supporters needed to be kept happy or satisfied to continue to vote for the party in future general elections.

Clearly, if we accept this perspective, wouldn’t that be a severe strike to the face of accountability and transparency in government? How could a government hand pick individuals and award them contracts to carry out public works on the main premise that the contractors are party supporters and still make claims to accountability and transparency? The government certainly cannot!




To ensure accountability and transparency in the awarding of contracts for the execution of public works, government needs to put in place a team of impartial civil servants who are determined to follow certain guidelines in relation to how and when contracts ought to be granted to individuals submitting bids for those contracts.

Any system that allows a single individual to make final decisions in relation to the awarding of government’s contracts is doomed to become corrupt and will eventually fail. If such a system or practice is introduced in any country, it can only serve to ensure that supporters of the governing party get “their fair share of the cake” at the expense of other more qualified and experienced individuals who would have submitted bids for the jobs to be done.

Moving ahead, if any government is interested in the well-being of its citizens as a whole, then, it would be better served to practice accountability and transparency in the execution of all of its policies and programmes since such a stance would clearly demonstrate seriousness on the part of government to a most critical aspect of our democracy. Part of that mandate has to include fulfilling promises made to the public during and after political campaigns that result in the formation of a new government.

Definitely, no government should be allowed to deceive the public in any form possible. Deception by government or public officials is tantamount to “a dangerous obsession.” And as an educated population, we should never allow that culture to take root in the beautiful land of our birth!

 

Dr. Brian Francis, the former Permanent Secretary in the local Ministry of Finance, is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the Cave Hill Campus in Bridgetown, Barbados of the University of the West Indies)

 

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