By Sarjo Bayang
Part 13: Accountability in Government Business of Delivering the Public Goods
Many years of experience on Institution Building, Enterprise and Project Management Consulting Services provides the scope for what follows in this article. Principle and best practice of business encourage revenue generation for the enterprise as a going concern.
Small, medium, and larger establishments all require healthy cash flow to sustain gainful operation.
Public office as an enterprise is also sustained on financial resources generated in the name of everyone. In conformity with standard of fairness whatever comes for the good name of all must be distributed proportionately. It is wrongful and most unjust for occupiers of public establishments to take for personal use in building private wealth at high cost of denying everyone else.
That is the reason why everyone is asking sitting heads of government or presidents to explain all source of private wealth at time of occupying public office before and after. Making profit for personal wealth in public office is not business as usual.
Position of Presidency or leading a nation is not private business entity. Public office holders are accountable and must be transparent about their dispensation of government business in conformity with requirements for best practice performance standard.
Every public office as another business enterprise outfit
Private wealth generation through commercial business is reserved for those who invest personal resources, time, labour, skills, and other productive inputs for purpose of realising gainful returns accounted as profit. Governments sustain operation by public resources on similar practice and principle of investing in people and resources to gain value for money gains.
High office of presidency or heading a nation is no private job occupation. Public resources are committed to maintenance of that position including remuneration and cost of everything that keeps things going. These resources require control and proper management.
Although post holder of the presidency leading a government demands responsibility as chief custodian of the seat and principal decision maker, other competent hands are needed in the overall dispensation of public services. They too are paid from public funds. They have duties to carry which require costs and benefits.
Prudent allocation and fair distribution of the public goods is one measure of effective capability that keeps people confident for those in custody of government resources. Rampant misuse and undue exploitation of public office for personal benefit brings the reputation of leaders and those managing government business at risk of mistrust and disapproval.
Every public office is a business entity. The business of a public establishment is to provide required resources and services better known as delivery of the public good. It is business not in the sense of making profit but enhancing standards and quality of life for those in whose name the establishment exists.
What exactly is government business?
Small, medium, and larger enterprises provide goods and services, charging prices to make profit at end of their trading cycle. They raise funds through personal savings while others borrow from family and friends, or institutional lenders like banks. They also utilise profit from earlier investment by ploughing such proceeds to grow the business.
In similar ways government business too provides goods and services at a cost but client base differs from that of private business people. The nation’s economic superstructure is maintained by a serving government in power. Goods and services are paid for at subsidy. That means even if people pay for certain goods and services, it is provided at relatively reduced cost. Without subsidies cost of goods and services delivered by government would be provided at highly commercial charges.
Tax incentives and subsidies are provided behind the scenes through regular government operating mechanism. Established government institutions carry out special functions to keep the economy and public services running. As part of preserving government secrecy what goes behind the scenes is not properly explained to stakeholders, the tax payer public.
Bottom line of the whole matter about government business is that people require a functioning establishment that provides goods and services for public use. It is business where demand and supply take place not for profit.
President as Leader of Government Business
Any person in custody of public high office as president through choice of people by votes or using force as in a coup, is under obligation to serve everyone’s interest including those they may disagree with. Holding public office as president is big business to manage. The position comes with privileges and challenging responsibilities. There are also considerable risks that this post attracts. Public resources are open to risk of abuse where the office holder succumbs to temptations of abuse or by occasion of incompetence fails to deliver. In situations like that national development and delivery of the public good suffer with devastating consequences.
Those who seek to serve as head of government business without commitment and fairness become considerable resource risks to tax payers in vast ways. It is worst when the post holder chooses to siphon public resources to build personal fortune. Examples are seen in dictatorships around the world.
As chief custodian and manager of government business, leading a country requires the occupier to employ competent persons for various responsible positions. When in their collective they fail to deliver what is required, the employer of all those unproductive hands cannot escape blame. That is what makes political appointments unsuitable where competence is at stake.
Accountability and Transparency in Government Business
Government business is required to be carried out by same principle and best practice of resource management as private business. Managers are hired to serve as custodians of policy instruments and systematic dispensation. Profit is not taken as personal gain of managers including the top position holder(s).
Genuine governments are committed to deliver what they promise at the time of occupying office over specified time. In truly free and fair political dispensation it is not the president or ruling party to dictate running public office as they may wish to stay longest. That power is vested in the hands of the taxpayer voting public.
Though government business does not operate on profit motives, improvement in standard of living enjoyed by the population can be interpreted as measurable evidence of impact in performance terms. What private business people call profit governments on other hand become accountable by extent to which the public good is gainfully delivered at optimal shared benefit to all stakeholders. When results do not match plans a sitting government is obliged to explain any discrepancies.
Public services require Tax Payer Scrutiny
By utilising pool of public resources any government has duty to ensure the public good is rightly delivered. Governments enjoy trust from a stakeholder social group known as the taxpayer and voting public. When seeking admission to the high seat of presidency and other political positions, this takes effect by seeking votes from the public. Normally that is the time when all prospective contenders are supposed to tender their programmes for public scrutiny.
Due to politics of deception some of the contenders come up with very colourful plans they have no intention of fulfilling. All that matters to them is to get elected. Once they are voted in that important position of public trust some of these politicians never find time to review their plans about promises made to the people.
Accountability will be seen to take effect if only politicians serve as loyal partners in the overall stakeholder mix. They hardly or sometimes never do. It is not enough for those in custody of public resources to play lip service when seeking position. Stakeholder interest will be served best when information is provided right across the board.
It is the obligation of those in power to enhance the capability of other stakeholders for ensuring true accountability. Official secrecy does not have to be an obstruction to rightful information flow for best public interest. Accountability becomes difficult when majority stakeholders are not adequately informed or technical imbalances keep key players out of track. Unless all stakeholders know what is there to be delivered in terms of the public good, public office holders can easily escape scrutiny; thereby rendering the accountability process ineffective.
Annual Plans and Budget
Before any commitment of resources for the coming operational period it is normal that organisations draw up annual plans and budget. In some organisations or government establishments the occasion is fund driven. How that works in practice is that chunks of financial sums are raised on paper or big screens as possible accessible funds for the period under plan. Then the organisation inflates like a balloon to fill the space of money in question.
With no solid plans these funds flow in as windfall. It is at such times that bank accounts appear healthy and spending gears set in motion. No matter what ends up happening those funds get exhausted. In the absence of proper accountability nobody knows head or tail of the story until end of the operating cycle. The rest is history.
In truly accountable situations concrete plans are drawn with genuine lines of expenditure in line with standard of good practice. Timescales are plotted for delivery of planned activities and projects. These are tangible planned course of action that can be measured for failure or success.
When there are no concrete plans subject to public scrutiny it is impossible to measure performance by public office holders. That is how it happens when everyone expects the president or leader of government business is above the law and not subject to public scrutiny. In such situation public resources flow by a balloon effect until possible explosive stage. To prevent that happening all stakeholders have right to keep holders of public position accountable.
Donors are stakeholders that could be held accountable too. Dishing out large sums of money to governments without properly accountable mechanism renders negligence on the part some development partners and donors. The people in whose name all those funds are raised require capacity to hold custodians and providers of public goods accountable.
Drawing up plans and budgets may not suffice without plotting out performance indicators. The planner will be doing right by providing performance indicators measurable according to time and tangible results. That is how evaluation is carried out effectively.
Projects are implemented at so much cost, to be delivered over time agreed by all stakeholders. At time of evaluation it is not only funds to be accounted for. Time spent over course of the project is one very important element that is accountable. Some projects are completed in good enough time. Others extend due to various reasons. Bad weather conditions may cause a stop in project implementation. But natural circumstances cannot always be taken as excuse for failure in timely project delivery.
Other resources committed must be accounted too. At end of it all performance of each input can be measured and that indicates how successful or otherwise a given plan becomes.
Once a planned course of delivering public goods is carried out this is properly documented and preserved as evaluation report. Quite often these reports are available for limited circulation and hardly reviewed. People become so excited about plans implemented to the point that nobody asks critical questions.
Evaluation reports are meant to serve living documents and not piled up to fill office space as generally done. They have very instrumental purpose to serve although that is hardly the case. Reports are grossly under-utilised or not at all seen after initial production.
Taking Accountability further
To ensure accountability at all levels of public office proper record of plans and stages of implementation are required. Public office holders must be accountable not only by the amount of money allocated for their custody and onward distribution. The time they occupy in public office is subject to proper scrutiny and robust accountability. Everything runs on cost and time is a valuable input in that resource mix.
In the experience of some nations those occupying the high seat of political power use up more than enough public time. If economists are right in their observation on law of diminishing returns, extensive stay by some politicians provides real good example.
Too many years by some politicians stimulate any curious economist to account for time as input of processes be subject to the law of diminishing returns. Performance measurement for output and effectiveness are best done where resourcefulness matters most.
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