Publication on Social Accountability and Corruption

Last month, I placed a publication on social accountability mechanisms’ potential to reduce corruption in public administration in the journal Public Administration & Development.

The article is a comparative case study analysis with cases from Uganda, Tanzania and India. It tries to better understand why some of the social accountability mechanisms assessed have had positive impacts while others have been rather unsuccessful. When conducting this research, I wanted to find out more about the underlying factors that determine whether social accountability mechanisms work or not.

One of my main motivations for this was the observation that donors are increasingly understanding social accountability as a new solution for the fight against corruption. This has to be seen in the light of the growing evidence that traditional anti-corruption interventions have often not had impacts. It is currently unclear whether social accountability can keep up to the promise to be more effective in fighting corruption, and my article aims at contributing to the small but growing evidence base.

The article finds that social accountability mechanisms are only capable of reducing corruption systemically if they activate horizontal accountability and sustain it through the sanctioning mechanisms of electoral accountability. To this end, social accountability mechanisms must be inclusive, broad, with public effect and embedded in other accountability relationships. Electoral accountability is key, and support to social accountability mechanisms should therefore always be well placed within a broader agenda aimed at strengthening democratic governance.

This means that blind support to social accountability may not be useful in certain contexts, and that sequencing and embedding such support in other measures to strengthen an accountability system is essential. The presence of civil liberties is the most basic precondition, and government transparency, decentralisation and electoral accountability also need to be guaranteed to a certain extent to make social accountability work. Social accountability is hence not a new solution to fight corruption, but only effective as part of a broader democratisation approach.

To read more, please see the abstract of the article below. The publication itself can be found here.

FIGHTING CORRUPTION WITH SOCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY: A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF SOCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY MECHANISMS’ POTENTIAL TO REDUCE CORRUPTION IN PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION

Given the poor track record of traditional anti-corruption initiatives, donors and governments are increasingly looking at how civil society can fight corruption in public administration. Social accountability mechanisms intend to perform this role by holding officials directly accountable through citizen engagement. However, this article argues that social accountability mechanisms are only capable of reducing corruption systemically if they activate horizontal accountability and sustain it through the sanctioning mechanisms of electoral accountability. A comparative case study analysis using the cases of the Ugandan Public Expenditure Tracking Survey and the Bangalore Citizen Report Card is applied to test this hypothesis. The Tanzanian Public Expenditure Tracking Survey and an example of citizen engagement in Mumbai are employed as shadow cases to provide additional evidence for the hypothesis. The results indicate that social accountability mechanisms must be inclusive, broad, with public effect and embedded in other accountability relationships to fight corruption effectively. Electoral accountability is key, and support to social accountability mechanisms should therefore always be well placed within a broader agenda aimed at strengthening democratic governance.

Florian Schatz

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