What is Accountability

Accountability is a set of mechanisms that allow the managers of an organization to be accountable and to be held responsible for the results of their actions.

The term accountability does not have a specific translation into Portuguese, but it can be related to accountability , inspection and social control .

This term can be applied in private organizations, but it is used especially in the context of public organizations and is an important concept when it comes to democratic participation.

Accountability in public management

The exercise of accountability in public management aims to reduce the risks of concentration of power and ensure that the population participates in government decision-making.

This contributes to democratic management and requires that public managers be transparent with society regarding their actions.

Now, if public resources come from society, it is only fair that citizens should know about how their tax money is being invested.

Thus, public agents and organizations as a whole must show the population what public policies are being developed, where resources are being used and what the results of these actions are for society.

For society to be aware of the actions of the State, transparency is essential . In Brazil, several mechanisms were created to give more transparency to the public administration, some examples are:

  • Transparency Portals:pages on the Internet where public agencies must provide information on their income and expenses.
  • Access to Information Law (LAI):obliges public bodies to provide information of collective interest to any citizen, except for a few cases of secrecy.

Through LAI, any individual can request information from the municipality of his city, for example, about the expenses with education, health or culture in his municipality. This holds true for the three branches: legislative, executive and judicial, and also for all levels of government: municipal, state, district and federal.

In addition to transparency, it is important that there are reporting channels and accountability mechanisms for cases in which public managers do not act in the interests of the collective interest or in disagreement with the rules.

This possibility of monitoring and demanding explanations, brings society closer to public administration and allows democracy to be strengthened.

In addition, citizen participation can be very important in the most appropriate allocation of resources and in the formulation of public policies, as society is the target audience for these investments.

The accountability can be exercised by an individual independently or by civil society organizations , which represent groups of people organized for a common goal.

The exercise of accountability is related to a cultural aspect, as it is necessary for society to create the awareness that it has the right to know and participate in the decisions of governments.

In countries with a history of authoritarian governments, such as Brazil, it is necessary to strengthen this culture through education and awareness projects.

See the meanings of democracy , public policy and Three Powers .

Vertical and horizontal accountability

With regard to power relations, there are two types of accountability , understand what each one means:

Vertical accountability

The accountability vertical happens when there is a hierarchical relationship between the one who has the power and he who does the supervision and requires accountability.

In other words, from the point of view of power, there is an unequal relationship – accountability is exercised between superiors and subordinates.

In public administration, vertical accountability happens between the State and the population . The most relevant example of this case is the elections.

When choosing their vote, the population can reward a candidate and elect him or she can punish him and not give him votes. The choice of the candidate is made based on the information that the population has about each one.

Horizontal accountability

The accountability horizontal happens when there is a mutual control institutions. There is no difference in hierarchy, as these organizations have powers at the same level. In public administration, horizontal accountability happens between public agencies.

An example of horizontal accountability is the control that the three branches (executive, legislative and judiciary) have between themselves or the control that takes place between different public bodies.

Public prosecutors, courts of auditors and regulatory agencies are examples of public institutions that exercise accountability at a horizontal level.


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