One More Time: ACCOUNTABILITY [Archives:1999/05/Viewpoint]

February 1 1999

I have written repeatedly about the need for accountability in any system – whether private or governmental. Accountability is not only morally and legally important, it is vital from an economic viewpoint because it increases the level of efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Accountability is accomplished by using different tools. These include the following:

1) Transparency:
One of the most important tools in achieving accountability is to have a transparent system. If a system is open to the public eye, then the possibilities of wrong-doing, inefficiency, and other shortcomings will decrease. If a system fights hard to keep information from the media and the public, then it must have something to hide. Often, such excuses as ‘to protect the national interest,’ ‘state secret,’ and ‘preliminary stages of decision-making’ are concepts used to hide the shortcomings. Transparency also helps cut down waste in society. This is crucial, especially for poor nations like Yemen.
Increasing the level of transparency of any system will definitely make it morally superior, legally upright, and economically sound.

2) Checks & Balances:
To achieve accountability, a system must have adequate checks and balances. This means that no single individual or group should exercise excessive powers to the determinants of the rest of society. Checks and balances require that there are clear boundaries of authority.
In the case of Yemen, it is the top brass of the military and security, the leading tribal sheikhs, the key government bureaucrats and officials who exercise such uncontrolled powers. These people are not accountable to the law because the organs responsible for law enforcement are weak.
Such a situation leads to continued erosion of the legitimacy and credibility of the system. It also leads citizens who can rebel against state authority to do so.

3) Role Models:
A system of accountability works only if there are good role models, especially among the leaders of the state and society, and those who enjoy high visibility. It is absolutely important to show that all individuals in the community, no matter what their influence, are subject to the same rules and laws.
It serves the nation better if the top people themselves willingly submit to the rule of law, and accept to be held accountable by the system. Unfortunately, this is not true in Yemen today. That is why ordinary citizens hold a grudge against the influential members of society.

4) Publishing Facts:
Most nations publish information regularly about the performance of the various organs and institutions. The Yemeni authorities have consistently shied away from publishing financial, legal, criminal, political and other data. Can you imagine that the Central Bank of Yemen, for example, does not publish monetary information?
Facts are important for accountability.