A country claiming to be democratic must uphold the axiom that it is a nation of laws, not of men. Accountability and transparency are the hallmarks of a society that abides by this maxim. The three arms of the government may function in harmony and within the bounds of their mandate insofar as accountability is strictly enforced. Such a system of checks and balances obeys and enforces the law, battles lawlessness, assures respect for human and democratic rights enshrined in the constitution and other laws, and enables all branches of government to respond duly to the demands of the public. These ideals cannot be realized in a situation where the system of government accountability is non-existent or weak. Let’s examine some critical issues in this regard.
The boundary between the role of government and party is blurred. Though the ruling party leads the government, the powers and responsibilities ought to be clearly delineated. For instance, the constitution of Ethiopia stipulates that the armed forces shall carry out their functions free of any partisanship to any political organization(s). The same principle is true for the police and security services. Party functionaries must not mix party and government affairs when they are act on behalf of the government. Institutions that report to Parliament should not be under the thumb of the executive even if they look to it for budgetary allocation. Similarly legislatures at the federal down to local levels must faithfully exercise oversight power over the executive and not let themselves be dominated by it. The judiciary also needs to enjoy the independence the constitution guarantees it and act without interference from both the legislature and the executive. As attested to by a slew of recently released studies the reality on the ground, however, leaves a lot to be desired. This is primarily attributable to the absence of accountability. If the rule of law is to take root in Ethiopia it is incumbent upon citizens in general and the government in particular to make accountability a national tradition.
Another indicator of the lack of accountability is the blatant hampering of law enforcement efforts. Corruption has assumed epidemic proportions in Ethiopia. The areas particularly prone to corrupt practices are all too clear for everyone. Government procurement, land provisioning, tax evasion and municipal services figure prominently among the areas beset by rampant corruption. However, even as the government’s much-vaunted “deep renewal” exercise is supposed to be in full swing graft is continuing unchecked. The fact that the litany of grievances against managers and executives in the civil service are consistently ignored has compelled the public to wonder if corruption has been sanctioned by law and this is what “renewal” is all about. The absence of accountability points to the gross dereliction of duty by the government.
Goods imported by various government institutions at a considerable cost using desperately needed foreign exchange are falling in disrepair or expiring in stores and dry ports across the country because no one is held answerable for failure in duty. An inspection of the warehouses of many a government agency will for sure expose shocking deficiencies. A recent report submitted to Parliament reveals the extent of the problem. Early this week the Public Enterprises Standing Committee of Parliament disclosed while presenting its finding following a field visit that around one hundred containerized cargoes belonging to some five government agencies have been warehoused in three dry ports from two months to three-and-half years because of their owners’ inability to undertake the formalities necessary to take possession of them. Had the government been as firm with its own institutions as it was with private sector organizations the wastage resources that the nation barely affords could have been averted. This represents further evidence of lack of accountability.
Oblivious to the constitutional diktat that the conduct of affairs of government must be underpinned by transparency and accountability the vast majority of public officials have the propensity to decline requests for information. Some even question the motives of or flat out threaten the party seeking the information. Such an egregious violation of the legally protected right to have access to publicly held information at the hand of officials who are either incompetent or reluctant to respond to the needs of citizens adversely affects the general public but more so the media given it constitutes an erosion of the rule of law. When accountability is in low supply those who crave to crown themselves king tend to proliferate.
In general accountability is an essential mechanism in ensuring that all government organs, officials, employees and agents duly discharge the responsibilities entrusted to them by law. In other words it is an indispensable tool to guarantee the rule of law. Its absence is bound to inter alia, induce a muddling of the role of the government and the ruling party, deal a blow to, law enforcement efforts, dishearten law-abiding citizens, lead to the infringement of basic liberties and miscarriage of justice, encourage corruption and lawlessness, engender instability, and mar the country’s reputation. No matter how impressive infrastructure development or economic growth is accomplished, they will be hard to sustain if transparency and accountability are not embedded in the nation’s psyche.