Accountability refers to the ability to call public officials, private employers or service providers to account, requiring that they be answerable for their policies, actions and use of funds. Widespread corruption, defined as the abuse of public office for private gain, hurts poor people the most because they are the least likely to have direct access to officials and the least able to use connections to get services; they also have the fewest options to use private services as an alternative.
There are three main types of accountability mechanisms: political, administrative and public. Political accountability of political parties and representatives is increasingly through elections. Administrative accountability of government agencies is through internal accountability mechanisms, both horizontal and vertical within and between agencies. Public or social accountability mechanisms hold government agencies accountable to citizens. Citizen action or social accountability can reinforce political and administrative accountability mechanisms.
A range of tools exist to ensure greater accounting to citizens for public actions and outcomes. Access to information by citizens builds pressure for improved governance and accountability, whether in setting priorities for national expenditure, providing access to quality schools, ensuring that roads once financed actually get built, or seeing to it that medicines are actually delivered and available in clinics. Access to laws and impartial justice is also critical to protect the rights of poor people and pro-poor coalitions and to enable them to demand accountability, whether from their governments or from private sector institutions.
Accountability for public resources at all levels can also be ensured through transparent fiscal management and by offering users choice in services. At the community level, for example, this includes giving poor groups choice and the funds to purchase technical assistance from any provider rather than requiring them to accept technical assistance provided by government. Fiscal discipline can be imposed by setting limits and reducing subsidies over time. Contractor accountability is ensured when poor people decide whether the service was delivered as contracted and whether the contractor should be paid. When poor people can hold providers accountable, control and power shifts to them.
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