What it takes to be a transparent and accountable GoSS: Mr. Pagan Amum’s new terms of reference?
By Constantine Bartel
May 24, 2007 — The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Secretary-General Mr. Pagan Amum is reported to have announced that the SPLM intends to build a transparent government in South Sudan. (Mayen Deng May 15, 20071). I welcome this because it is never too late and would therefore like to share my thoughts. I am hoping for three things, one that it is not just an intention, two that it is not just transparent but accountable too and three that it is not only for the current administration but the exercise should be the basis to lay down the principles for good governance for the future.
A transparent government of the people is one with an ongoing dialogue between the public and government. It is on the one hand the responsibility of Southern Sudanese to be aware of and understand the issues that affect them and it is the responsibility of the of their government (GoSS) to dialogue with citizens to determine how best to address issues and to establish appropriate policies and programs that reflect the priorities and values of Southern Sudanese. Before I go on, lets see if we share the concept of transparency in government as may be intended by the Secretary-General of SPLM. My understanding is that transparency is about citizens’ access to information and facilitating their understanding of decision-making processes. We therefore need transparency for accountability which in turns depends on good records and clear procedures. It therefore implies a proactive effort to make information accessible to citizens. If this is done properly, Pagan Amum’s transparency would become one of SPLM and GoSS most important milestone after the peace agreement.
An accountability government that is citizen-focused and service-oriented is critical for effective government and maintaining its credibility with its citizens.. There are two levels of accountability: Parliament and the public service transparency and accountability. Parliament is accountable for ensuring that policies and programs are designed and funded for implementation. The public service is responsible to Parliament for the implementation of approved policies through the detailed design and execution of programs and is accountable to parliament to keep it informed of progress and any issues affecting implementation. Many countries have a transparency and accountability act which the GoSS could adapt and adopt. Both the parliament and the public service are responsible for ensuring that citizens understand the implications and impacts of these programs and for informing all parties of changes in the local or global environment that may positively or negatively affect them.
Flexibility must be built in so that programs can be accelerated, enhanced or terminated depending on changing circumstances and needs. Monitoring of government activities, both internally and externally by auditors and Commissioners is essential in order that variances from acceptable practices can be identified, publicized and corrective action taken quickly.
So what does it take to be transparent and accountable? Based on the above, the Secretary-General could aim for a GoSS that excel in following components.
Leadership is a process of persuasion by which an individual or a leadership team induces others to pursue the leader’s objectives. It is all about recognizing or finding out where people are headed and then lead. For this, the Secretary-General of the SPLM must appoint people who can motivate those around them through positive interactions, take risks and encourage innovation and at the same time initiating change. These people must also have the ability to listen and respond effectively. These leaders of the new transparent government are assertive people who are able to get things done through others.
It is said that excellent leaders are not geniuses with thousands of helpers around them. Instead, they are persons who choose to be encircled by strong and competent staff. They don’t have the right answers, they ask the right questions. With these leadership skills in mind, let’s examine the seven initiatives that can propel Secretary-General and his vision of government from good to great.
Demonstrate accountability for its actions
He could endevour that GoSS demonstrates accountability for its actions. The actions and decisions made by GoSS affect people now and future generations. It is therefore important to demonstrate accountability. Because decision makers manage the resources and activities of the country on behalf of its peoples, their management decisions should be both effective and transparent.
Examples of tools to enhance and support transparency in government include the freedom of information acts, administrative procedures acts, televised or radio broadcasts of parliamentary debates, published government audit reports and advertised government positions.
Examples of immediate areas where it is important to show that the GoSS is accountable is when the minister of finance or concerned citizens want to know whether or not their funds are spent for the purpose it was given or has been spent as agreed. The government should also be able to demonstrate that legal requirements are met. All of this can only be done when appropriate systems and procedures are in place to enable effective controls over the operations of the institutions. Only then can the Secretary-General be confident that his SPLM is planning and managing resources effectively on behalf of the people of the Southern Sudan. An example of lack of transparency in government is where I as a Southern Sudanese citizen or even the GoSS for that matter cannot know how much tax and oil revenue is being incurred by the national government in Khartoum. If you think this is a serious matter, then Mr. Amum has a lifetime terms of reference to work on.
Where resources are not properly recorded, planned or managed, there can be a range of negative impacts, for example work will not be monitored for quality or output. This can lead to the whole organisation under-performing, which can have consequences for attracting the right kind of investment. In the case of transparency over oil revenues, it could lead to another generation of child soldiers and misery.
To demonstrate accountability, the institutions must ensure that appropriate systems and structures are in place to safeguard the organisation; ensure its practices are legal; ensure regular monitoring and reporting of activities and finances and evaluate activities and performance against targets. There must be evidence through systems and procedures that demonstrate accountability. Where financial resources are not properly managed, it increases the potential for fraud and this places the government apparatus at increased risk, which can have consequences for future stability and development. Where resources are not managed effectively, the country may find that it does not have adequate resources to implement its development goals. (Accountability Checklists could be used)
A newspaper or website to communicate accountability with budgets and projects would be useful. For example you may see the Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2008 by going to this link http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2008/. It contains information on the President’s priorities, and budget overviews organized by agency.
Define responsibilities through Terms of References
It is more effective to get things done when people know who is responsible and what is expected from them and at what time frame. Leaving responsibility open for individual interpretation results in loss of productivity, allows finger pointing when the work doesn’t get done. For example the terms of reference (ToR) of the chief of the department of roads could be to build 2000 Km of all weather roads or tarmac roads etc. the transport department’s ToR could be about developing a plan in 12 months and realizing a frequent pubic and private transport (road, air and water) between major towns in three years. This is accompanied by Civil service law to spell out rights and
duties such as clear administrative procedures, advertised job descriptions, competitive process for evaluating candidates and appeal procedures. Understandably this may not be strictly enforced in all departments for a while, but it is crucial in some. For example in the health care and aviation, buildings, public utilities and construction services.
When assigning responsibility for tasks in a project, limit it to one person or a team, it is easier to hold one person accountable rather than a whole ministry. You will get reasons like the driver did not come on time or the morosila could not find the file and the accountant went to attend her grandpas funeral. On distribution of funds to the regions, a number of principles could be used. For example the Principle of Fiscal Equity: In Australia, the principle requires that each State should have fiscal capacity for providing the average standard of public services so long as it does so at an average level of operational efficiency and makes an average effort to raise revenue from its own sources. You may wish to consult ILO guides on Human Resources Management or the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Public Economics and Public Administration
Transparency and openness of government activities
In 1994, the deputy secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Commission for Discipline Inspection Mr. He Yong, announced at a national symposium in Beijing that Government agencies in China will open their doors to the public to promote effective administration. “All administrative information pertaining to the interests of the public, except State secrets, business secrets and personal privacy, must be made public,”. Mr. He Yong went on to say that “Departments that do not obey the rules “will be punished seriously,”. Besides serving a public need, the Chinese now believe that a transparent government policy also serves the government itself. The question is how do you go about it. This is seen as part of the government’s efforts to boost economic prosperity and social order. The State Councillor and Secretary-General of the Chinese State Council, Mr. Hua Jianmin is adamant that publicizing government information will create more convenience, propel the government to administer according to law and strengthen supervision of executive power. This is where I think that an lessons or an advisor from China could be of value to the SPLM and GoSS on this issue instead of a policy entrepreneur like me and my friends.
Avoiding autocratic or monopolistic behaviour
The institutional framework of a society determines the degree to which its members will pursue wealth-creating activities. Checks and balances must be introduced to avoid autocratic or monopolistic behaviour. Although a sound regulatory framework is necessary, this should not prevent commercial entrepreneurship. I would mention a few areas that will need attention. One very important area is Public procurement. This deserves an article next time I have a moment. The other areas are the electoral process, the selection to government office, Public disclosure of assets and interests and the role of the press. Role of the Press in government transparency would help the GoSS to disseminate information about its activities, serve as watch dogs and educate citizens about government procedures and decisions. For outside assistance you may consult UNDP funding investigative journalism training in developing countries and some competent Non-Governmental Organisations.
Measuring and enforcing accountability
A system could be put in place to implement tools and techniques for measuring accountability and responsibility in achieving results and for the efficiency and effectiveness of obtaining those results. A good experience with regards to enforcement could be found in Nigeria. Since the creation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in 2003 the spotlight has been on firmly put corruption. The commission led by Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, a lawyer and former prosecutor investigated senior government ministers and state governors, along with top law enforcement officers and business executives. It has reportedly secured more than 150 convictions – and reclaimed some $5 billion in stolen public funds. GoSS could learn from Mr. Ribadu,s experience on how the commission function? How investigations get launched and how private citizens are involved? This together with international anticorruption laws could be useful instead of ad-hoc donor driven governance requirements. But here too, public confidence in the holder of public office must be enhanced and should be protected from wrongful accusations. For example in Canada there is Public Registry on the Internet which covers Deputy Ministers, full-time political appointees, ministers and their staff, parliamentary secretaries, junior ministers. All are required to declare assets, past and current outside activities, gifts and hospitality. This law is applied and enforced by the ethics counselor. One could consult the UN International Code of Conduct for Public Officials especially – Section II: Conflict of Interest and Disqualification – Section III: Disclosure of Assets.
Transparency in Elections
The urgency with regards to elections may not be in the creation of multi party democracy, rather on the foundations for an open, accountable process of elections that will be understandable to the electorate at the time of the referendum. One could as of now prepare accessible documents related to voting, publicizing political and administrative decisions relating to voting operations and access to independent observers. I would suggest that a referendum is held in one and half years as a trial run to the main referendum vote. The topic could be “endorsing the peace agreement that was signed two years ago. The armed forces could play a role in the logistics.
With regards to the day to day execution of policies and programmes, participatory government could encourage voting by secret ballot in some cases and lay clear guidelines and opportunities to run for office. You could solicit support and advice from the UN Department of Political Affairs and UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs to enhance the effectiveness of the principle of genuine elections or consult expert opinion from international organizations such as the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), Formerly the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) a nonprofit democracy development organization that works to give people a voice in the way that they are governed. Good luck.
* The author is Assistant Programmes Director at the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) in Geneva and co-founder and Director of the African Technology Development Forum (http://www.atdforum.org). He can be reached at [email protected]