Public Accountability of Government in a Democracy

The main objective of RTI Act is to bring transparency and accountability of government. The RTI Act aims to get people’s access to the information with the government as a matter of right. Accountability of the government to the people is a prerequisite for good governance. Hitherto, governments used to focus on outlays in the annual budgetary exercise.

Since 2005-06 the focus has shifted from outlays to outcomes, i.e., results (at least on government’s records and policy documents). Therefore, to usher in an era of good governance all the ministries and the various departments concerned should disclose their budgetary goals and the results to the public at large.

Unfortunately in the current system people of the country are clueless on the outcomes of the various budgetary goals and for everything they have to initiate queries under the RTI Act to obtain the relevant and required information. There has to be a change in this current system and the government should start sharing the key performance indicators of its ministries and departments at periodical intervals to the general public.       

For instance, a public limited company listed in the stock exchange releases its quarterly results within a fortnight at the end of every quarter to the general public at large. It is mandatory on the part of the listed public limited companies to comply with these guidelines as per the listing arrangements. In case of banks, other financial institutions and NBFCs declaration of quarterly results are mandated by their regulators. Similar mandatory guidelines have to be framed for the government and all its ministries and departments should be made to submit their quarterly results (outcomes) consisting of key performance indicators within a fortnight at the end of each quarter to the parliament and share the same with the general public at large. 

To broadly assess the performance of the government, there can be three basic parameters, viz.,

(i) details of the funds allocated, funds released and funds utilized in the annual budgets,

(ii) time taken to complete the project/ programme or the status of progress of such project/programme for which the funds have been released, 

(iii) details of the number of beneficiaries of such project/programme. 

The government should be made to submit the targets/goals and the actual results with regard to the above three basic parameters at the beginning of each quarter and at the end of each quarter respectively in the parliament and the general public at large through press release.

If required the relevant acts have to be amended in order to make this a statutory obligation for the government. This will enable the people to access the information on the performance of the government in a transparent manner and identify and differentiate the performing and non performing ministries/departments of the government. 

The approval for government’s annual budgets, its income and expenditure, and mobilization of resources is given by the parliament. Therefore, the ministries and departments of the government who in turn function as per the approved annual budgets have an obligation to submit their performance report and be accountable to the parliament.

There is a need to introduce statutory obligation for the government to submit necessary explanation for the shortfall in the performance as against the budgeted targets on quarterly basis to the parliament and for that there has to be a meaningful discussion and debate in both the houses of parliament.

Commercial organizations function with profit motive whereas government entities are expected to function with social welfare as primary objective. However, there is a misconception that making losses or wasteful expenditure is justified for government entities since profit making is not their objective. This misconception is the primary cause behind several government entities incurring massive losses.

Cost escalation alone was around Rs. 1 lakh crores in 295 central government projects in August, 2014 which rose to Rs. 3 lakh crores in 347 central government projects in November, 2018! This clearly indicates that the government is either clueless on the reasons behind delays in execution of various projects or though aware about the causes behind such delays it is unable to resolve the same.

Such a massive additional costs of Rs. 3 lakh crores is undoubtedly a huge and avoidable burden to the government’s exchequer.  Needless to mention absence of coordination between various ministries/departments and lack of accountability for such absence of coordination are the root cause behind such massive cost escalations in various central government projects. This leads to misuse of country’s resources and loss to the wealth of the country.

If this has to change, there has to be effective monitoring of the progress of the execution of central government projects based on the three basic parameters mentioned earlier to evaluate the performance as against the set targets. Such an evaluation will result in analyzing the utilization of the resources and ascertain the reasons behind time and cost escalation in execution of the projects.

This type of exercise enables to identify the government ministries/departments where the misuse of resources or cost and time escalation in execution of the projects has taken place and initiate effective measures to improve the performance of such ministries/departments. 

Timely execution of the government’s projects and programmes will result in accomplishment of the desired goals/objectives. Even assuming that the government’s projects/programmes are implemented within the allocated resources, if there is delay in such implementation it will certainly lead to delay in accrual of the benefits to the beneficiaries of those projects/programmes. Such delay in accrual of benefits to the beneficiaries is known as loss of benefit, which is a loss to the society and the country. 

Therefore, one can say that only timely execution of the government’s projects/programmes and that too within the allocated resources is a measure of good performance of the ministries/departments of the government.   

The beneficiaries are identified by the government well in advance before the execution of projects/programmes. Whereas the actual number of people (beneficiaries) who get benefited by the projects/programmes is known only on completion of such projects/ programmes. A project/programme of the government can be termed as successful only when the actual number of beneficiaries is greater than the expected/estimated number of beneficiaries.

The government’s ministries/departments can be primarily categorized into (i) social welfare entities and (ii) commercial entities/ public utility service providers with a tariff. The three basic parameters mentioned in this article are equally applicable to both the type of entities. 

When these three basic parameters are duly observed the social welfare entities of the government can control the misuse of allocated resources and improve their performance through effective use of such resources. In the same manner by adhering to these three basic parameters the commercial entities/ public utility service providing entities of the government can function efficiently and render the public utility services to the people at lower tariffs and still make some reasonable profits.

This will lead to a responsible government with transparency in governance and public accountability.  In order to bring such a transformation in the functioning of the governments there is a need for the people to bring pressure on the political parties and the governments to introduce reforms in governance.

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About the Author

B.N.V. Parthasarathi
Ex Senior Banker, Management and Financial Consultant, Visiting faculty at premier B Schools and Universities. E mail- [email protected]