Promoting Accountability in JLOS
The concept of Accountability denotes an obligation of an individual or organization to account (answer) for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner. It also includes the responsibility for money or other entrusted property. Accountability means ensuring that officials in public, private and voluntary sector organisations are answerable for their actions and that there is redress when duties and commitments are not met.
The Constitution of Uganda provides that all public offices shall be held in trust for the people. Therefore, all persons placed in positions of leadership and responsibility shall, in their work, be answerable to the people. All lawful measures shall be taken to expose, combat and eradicate corruption, abuse or misuse of power by those holding political and other public offices. This requirement is realized through various institutional and individual public service standards contained in policies, legislation, regulations, guidelines, standing orders, and codes of conduct. In the same vein, under Article 17(1)(i) of the Uganda Constitution, it is a duty of all citizens to combat corruption and misuse or wastage of public property.
In the JLOS context, in addition to the public service standards, the JLOS SIP III and the JLOS Anti-Corruption Strategy are explicit on matters of accountability. Under JLOS Outcome III on promoting accountability, the Strategy provides for three result areas; internal accountability, external accountability and the fight against corruption.
Accountability in practice is demonstrated in various perspectives and at different levels. The different perspectives include; presentation of periodic performance reports, presentation of financial reports, conduct of internal and external audits, conducting staff performance appraisals, conducting disciplinary measures, among others.
The different levels of accountability include; Sector accountability, Institutional accountability, intervention (activity/project/program) accountability, process accountability, and individual staff accountability.
Accountability is an institutionalized (i.e. regular, established, accepted) relationship between different actors. One set of people/organisations are held to account (‘accountees’), and another set do the holding (‘accounters’). Once these practices are made a part of an institutional regular way of operation, then that denotes the institutionalization of accountability. Accountability cannot be a one-off event but rather a regular practice that ensures that all stakeholders work by set standards.
In JLOS, there are various codes of conduct, procedural guidelines, and program documents that have inbuilt accountability mechanisms. These define interventions, processes, monitoring for results mechanisms, oversight structures and reporting lines. These frameworks set standards relating to program or activity interventions at institutional level, together with corresponding JLOS staff responsibilities.
There are many ways in which people and institutions can be held to account. It is useful to think of an accountability relationship as having up to three stages: standard setting, answerability and sanction for errant conduct and reward of exemplary service.
1) Standard setting: setting out the behaviour expected of the ‘accountee’ and the criteria by which they might validly be judged. For instance, the JLOS SIP III, and JLOS Work plans are program standards against which the Sector and JLOS MDAs are held to account. In addition, institutional Client Charters serve to set standards against which services are to be delivered and therefore premise against which institutions are held accountable.
At an individual or staff level, codes of conduct such as the Public Service Standing Orders, the Uganda Prisons Service Standing Orders, and the Judicial Code of Conduct are in place to guide individual conduct and performance. These standards not only guide execution of mandates, but also prevent abuse of entrusted mandates.
Periodically, institutions and staff are expected to account or answer for their actions, the use of public resources provided, the exercise of authority and demonstrate results against the set performance standards.
2) Answerability: a process in which accountees are required to defend their actions, face sceptical questions, and generally explain themselves. This applies both to negative or critical as well as to positive feedback.
The JLOS Sector and institutions receive funding to implement programs and interventions. As an act of accountability, the Sector’s Semi-annual and Annual Progress Performance Reports are a demonstration of accountability. The JLOS MDAs such as the UHRC provide accountability in their periodic reports that are presented to Parliament for scrutiny.
There are also non-structured mechanisms of accountability that largely involve public participation. These include Community Barazas, Community Outreaches/ Dialogues, Public Open Days, JLOS Service User Committees, and public inquiries or consultations among others.
Where accountability provided falls short of expected performance under the standard set, a sanction mechanism comes into play.
3) Sanction and reward: a process in which accountees are in some way punished for falling below the standards expected of them (or perhaps rewarded for achieving or exceeding them). An effective sanction system must be implemented consistently to build a culture of respect for codes and standards. When sanctions are enforced rarely, no matter how severe, the punishments seem more like random bad luck for the targets, rather than the legitimate consequence of violating or not meeting the standards that have been set.
The Sector has two types of sanction systems; criminal justice sanctions and the administrative sanctions. Criminal sanctions follow the criminal justice pattern and trial before courts of law for abuse of set standards. Various legislation define such abuses, including corruption, as crimes triable in courts of law. Administrative sanctions are administered at institutional levels by the various oversight mechanisms including Disciplinary Units, Supervisors, and Tribunals.
In addition to the above, persons who have been found to offer exemplary performance are recognized and rewarded. This is the flip side of the sanction of errant conduct.
In many cases, the accountability process sounds very formal and like a legal trial, but most accountability sequences are not as formal, and/or do not include all these stages. However, accountability is also how those in power are held publicly responsible for their decisions. This helps to highlight that accountability is not only a set of institutional mechanisms or a checklist of procedures, but an arena of challenge, contestation and transformation.
By Musa Modoi | Published: January 20, 2016