Irrespective of the language, culture or social norms of a specific region, there are certain integral values that remain unchanged across borders and divides. For instance, nowhere in the world have we ever seen masses demanding widespread anarchy and disorder; on the contrary, world over people want a functional system of governance to maintain rule of law in the society. Accordingly, it seems safe to assume that to see order and stability in the society is something that is inherent to all human beings. It is this integral need that propels us all to rally behind political leaders, cheer for them during processions and vote for them during elections – all the time hoping that the leader of our choice will bring prosperity once s/he is in power. However, our desire to see betterment in the society is not time bound and so it does not cease to exist upon casting the vote. This desire continues even after a new government is in place, driving us to scrutinize policies and actions of our governments and leaders. It is this drive for constant improvement in the environment around us that gives rise to another integral value that people across the world hold dear: accountability.
Accountability, by many, is considered the fourth leg of the metaphorical chair of good governance. It helps the masses to evaluate the effectiveness of public officials and public offices, ensures that they are performing to their full potential and ensures that at any given point in time there is enough public pressure on the political leaders to be responsive to the community they are meant to serve.
So, how can accountability be exercised? What mechanism should an average voter adopt to have his/her concerns heard? Who should we complain to and how can we reach such people and offices?
In Pakistan there are a number of institutions whose sole or partial purpose is to ensure that the government and its officials run the affairs of the state as transparently as possible. There are also specialized institutions where general people like you and I can lodge a complaint or register a concern that we might have regarding the functioning of the government.
Most of us here in Pakistan are well aware of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). With its offices in all the major cities of the country, NAB is Pakistan’s apex anti-corruption organization. Any and every Pakistani citizen is eligible to approach NAB with evidence against guilty government office holders, whether political or bureaucratic. The icing on the cake for the informer is that if the corrupt official is convicted because of his/her tip, NAB will also reward him/her!
While NAB is the primary government organization entrusted with the task of ensuring transparency, other public institutions include Public Accounts Committee, the Judicial Commission, Election Commission of Pakistan, Ombudsman institutions, the Federal Investigation Agency and various provincial agencies. For economic governance, there is another set of institutions: the State Bank of Pakistan, the Competition Commission of Pakistan and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan.
Apart from government organizations mentioned above, the Parliament itself is one of the most important structures in the ‘chain of accountability’. The Parliament does not merely form the bridge between people and the government but its role is also critical because it is also the institution to which many accountability institutions report. Moreover, a Parliament and its elected representatives are important vehicles through which citizens and civic groups can also extract enforcement of various laws and policies.
Finally, the citizens have a dual role when it comes to ensuring accountable governance. On one hand the government generates data regarding its functioning to keep the citizens informed and on the other hand, the citizens themselves are an important source to generate data for better accountability. Confused? Let me explain! You see, in the age of smart phones, 24/7 internet connectivity and social media platforms such as Twitter, citizens can now hold the government and its officials accountable without a moment’s delay.
In short, there are sound mechanisms in place to ensure checks and balances for transparent and effective governance. However, it is not just the responsibility of the government to ensure the effectiveness of these mechanisms but every citizen also has an important role to play. So, whether it’s reaching out to NAB with important evidence or raising hue and cry on social media, you and I are the most important players in ensuring good, transparent governance!