Economics serving society

Social Accountability: Persuasion and Debate to Contain Corruption

Ariane Lambert-Mogiliansky

JPEG - 114.6 kb

How do we make high-level bureaucrats and politicians responsible for their decisions? There is today a consensus that electoral and administrative procedures are inadequate in this regard. In recent years we have seen the development and testing of alternative solutions coming from within civil society, but these solutions remain difficult to evaluate because of the lack of a conceptual framework: how do we improve on the traditional accountability model? What is the role of civil society? This article presents a model that analyses these mechanisms in a fixed contract model by introducing an obligation for public decision makers, according to precise criteria, to defend their records and convince citizens of the merits of their decisions and actions. Failure to persuade leads to resignation. More precisely, Ariane Lambert-Mogiliansky considers a situation in which the decision maker allocates a budget to different public services. He enjoys a certain discretionary power that allows him to distribute the funds; the challenge is to minimise the diversion of public monies. The authors study mechanisms that combine elements of performance verification and communication between public policy makers and users.
The first results show that a zero-tolerance policy (wherein any diversion is subject to sanction) is not generally the best, even when citizens are perfectly informed. Moreover, when we cannot verify perfectly that a decision maker’s actions conform to his actions, he may be held accountable in a partial manner by a random check: a service, drawn from a sub-set of preselected services, is controlled by citizens ; if no diversion is evident, then the decision maker’s mandate is renewed, if not, then it is revoked. The question arises then of knowing if the verification should be contingent on the decision maker’s defence of his record. The article demonstrates that the decision maker’s announcement of his record has no value unless users see the presentation and have the opportunity to challenge it. Where that is the case, the mechanism tends to achieve the optimum. This article also proposes some tools for field experiments while guarding against some common sense errors – in particular in relation to the principles of verification. The analysis also suggests that some interesting practical developments lie in new technologies that aim to reinforce the accountability of public decision makers: the mechanism studied may, for example, be put in place through a well-structured interactive complaints platform.
Original title of the article: Social Accountability: Persuasion and Debate to Contain Corruption
Published in: PSE Working Papers n° 2013-42
Download :
© Jürgen Fälchle -