By Tazoacha Francis (Download PDF version)
The failure of governance in Cameroon is a result of the acute lack of public accountability. Public administration is a major preoccupation in all contemporary democracies in the world today, even though there are disparities in the benchmarks, means, and agents of such culpability based on the nature of the polity ranging from traditional to modern, conservative to liberal, capitalist to socialist . Public accountability is the major concern of contemporary democratic governance in every society today. Democratic consensus will remain abstract if those in leadership cannot be held responsible by the community for their deeds and oversights, for their judgments, their policies, and their expectancies. Therefore, there is a dire need in every public office be it government or private to make sure that this exercise is carried out in order to make checks and balances in these services for effective management of resources, proper accountability, and sustainable development.
Since the Friedrich-Finer debate of the 1940s, accountability has been a prominent issue within public administration learning and practice. Furthermore, accountability concerns have become therefore a more pressing issue in response to recent structural changes in public service delivery in our societies today (OECD, 2009). Within a traditional bureaucratic model, accountability refers to the expectation that those in government should be held responsible for their actions. Whereas many wide-ranging forms of accountability exist, conventional discussions of liability within the public administration narratives limit the subject to both the elected “the government” – both elected administrators and government employees – (Commonwealth Secretariat (2016). However, as the margins distinguishing the public sector and elected officials in Cameroon have increasingly blurred, the simple question of “Who is accountable?” has become more difficult to answer.
Twenty-first-century governance involves more than government employees and officials. It has even involved the private sector and civil society organizations. More than a decade ago, Milward and Provan, 2000) coined the term “hollow state” to describe the current state of government, where third-party contractors constitute a shadow government, executing the business of regime without rendering the accountability that is in accordance with the norms of the public agencies. Although many schools of thought continue to argue that government growth is out-of-control, evidence illustrates that–using a “core” approach to defining public organizations – the public workforce is shrinking rather than growing.
For more than two decades, the New Public Management reforms have preferred contracting the private sector as against government agencies, fueling spurring the growth of non-profit organizations providing publicly-funded services. Other research has shown collaboration between the private and public agencies stretches beyond recognized engagements. On this occasion, the theory of “governance” has gone beyond the dictates of New Public Management to encompass any arrangement for realizing the business of the public (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2016). Public administration researchers have come a long way in understanding these new public service delivery structures.
The Essence of Public Accountability in Cameroon
Cameroon as any other growing economy in the world needs to harness public accountability as the basis of good governance, peace, economic growth, and sustainable development. In July 2002, during the foundational summit of the African Union in Durban, South Africa, a declaration on democracy and political, economic, and corporate governance was implemented by the Heads of State and Governments to serve as a model and yardstick for effecting the various NEPAD plans of action and carrying out a diagnosis in each African State using the key indicators of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) Cameroon was among the African countries which adhered to the APRM and accepted to be assessed by peers on the basis of the following indicators: democracy and good governance; governance and economic management; corporate governance; socio-economic development; and partnership for development. Therefore if Cameroon upholds the principles of this declaration, then it will go a long way to harness practically the policy of governance in Cameroon. This has however remained a far cry with a growing possibility of obfuscating good governance as an outcome of a viable democracy.
Achieving good governance in Cameroon demands effective public accountability because it will provide a democratic means to monitor and control government conduct, prevent the development of concentrations of power, and enhance the learning capacity and effectiveness of public administration It will equally provide citizens with the information they need to judge the propriety and effectiveness of the conduct of the government.
One of the basic prerequisites for public accountability in democracies is the political neutrality of career public servants, which has come under challenge due to the dicey issue of civil servants cum politicians in Cameroon and the growing power of ministers or political executives to exert influence on the public service (Shamsul 2000). In this light harnessing these basic perquisites will enhance better ways of rendering services by public servants of all categories in Cameroon. It will also minimize appointments, recruitments or employments, etc. based on clan considerations. This will go a long way to improve the standards of living in the state in particular and the country as a whole.
Furthermore, the new demands of accountability have extended its frontiers to include social accountability, due to the perceived lack of trust in government, thus, there is a demand in many western democracies for more direct and clear accountability relations between public organizations on the one hand and their stakeholders such as clients, citizens and civil society actors on the other hand (Ejere E.S.I. 2013). Specific attention has been placed on the role of NGOs, interest groups, and customers or clients as well as relevant stakeholders in determining the policies. Furthermore, the rise of the internet has as well given a new approach to this procedure of government accountability . These new demands and the meteoric rise in awareness in the public in Cameroon can enhance a better way of managing public accountability to help rescue the country’s nascent democracy from tipping off a cliff.
Moreover the prevention of corruption and abuse of power, public accountability can act as a check on the ‘tyranny’ of overly presumptuous elected leaders and ‘privatized’ executive power (NIOGN, 2016). The panacea against an imperious, unsuitable, or corrupt government is the organization of institutional countervailing powers . Other public institutions, such as an independent judiciary the parliament, and political officials are voted into office and given the power to request that accounts be rendered over particular aspects. This initiative is carried out by the government of Cameroon can serve as a good role model which can help set a better foundation for the functionality of better democratic institutions in Cameroon in particular and Africa as a whole.
Accountability is not only useful as a check, it also leads to prevention. Accountability pressures the authorities and or managers to find a nexus between past, present, and future. An administrator who is called to account is confronted with his policy failures and he is aware that, in the future, he can be called upon again, even more pitilessly, to render an account . The public approach of giving account teaches others in the same position about the accountability process. This same lesson if imbibed and entrenched as a governance culture can help nib on the board a defacing economy from collapse.
Democracy is the responsibility of all and sundry to co-create a system that works. All must be involved to adumbrate the clarion call of a responsible democracy that abhors good governance through public accountability. A more networked democracy directs focus on mutuality, trust, and co-creation. A more open government would promote those cultural processes that support accessibility and engagement. Furthermore, engaging the government would acknowledge and embrace alternative views that contain wisdom, energy, and solutions. In that light, more interactive policymaking would mean better service design and more appropriate service delivery, which would reduce costs and improve effectiveness. More transparency would restore integrity to the government and make politicians more accountable to the people they serve. Transparency is the embodiment of public control as an end in itself. Democracy, after all, is not about the people necessarily being right, but about the right of the people to be wrong.
Francis Tazoacha is the Director of Peace and Security at the Nkafu Policy Institute. He has a Master’s Degree in Natural Resources and Peace from the United Nations University for Peace in San Jose, Costa Rica.
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