Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Introduction: Growing Concerns for Public Accountability under the State in Transition

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Introduction: Growing Concerns for Public Accountability under the State in Transition

Article excerpt

NEW CONCERNS FOR PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY

In line with the increasing global concern for democratic governance in recent decades, there has emerged greater emphasis on the realization of public accountability in different countries and regions. It is emphasized that accountability represents one of the most basic values or principles of democracy (Hayllar, 2000; Zarei, 2000). In representative democracies, all branches of government remain publicly accountable, have obligation to provide satisfactory explanations for their activities, and exercise power on behalf of the people (Aucoin and Jarvis, 2000). The current global significance of accountability, according to some scholars, lies in the growing public demand for better services, greater responsiveness, and more citizens' participation (Milakovich, 2003). As Hayllar mentions, "demands for more accountability and more accountable public services and public servants have become fashionable" (Hayllar, 2000:60).

It is also emphasized that public accountability is crucial for improving public sector performance, because it reinforces institutional learning of service rules, codes of conduct, and performance standards. It also plays an essential role in enhancing the integrity of public employees, preventing unethical behavior like corruption or nepotism, and deterring the abuse of official power (Bovens, 2003). In addition, the realization of public accountability is being highlighted for its contribution to the revival of public trust in government. It is assumed that the compliance of citizens to state rules and regulations depends on their trust in government, which in turn, is dependent on public accountability (Jensen, 2000). In Western nations, according to Bovens (Bovens, 2003), due to the rising public criticism and declining trust in government, there is a greater need for rebuilding public confidence by ensuring public accountability.

Despite such growing significance of public accountability, what is relatively missing from existing literature, however, is the study of such accountability in relation to the nature of the state. The modes, means, and degrees of accountability often vary among and within different state formations such as the capitalist state, the welfare state, the socialist state, the bureaucratic state, and the developmental state (Haque, 1998). Variations in public accountability largely result from historical and cross-national differences in the state's relative autonomy from major social groups and classes, its external relationship with the business sector, and its internal power structure composed of political, military, judicial, and administrative branches (Haque, 1998). In recent decades, there has emerged a worldwide shift in the nature of state formation in favor of market-driven policies and institutions--often known as the neoliberal state or promarket state--under which public sector management has been reformed into the so-called "new public management (NPM) that largely uses the basic principles of business management such as competition, value-for-money, customer orientation, performance measurement, result-based budget, and so on (Lodhia and Burritt, 2004; Martin, 1997).

In line with this major transition towards a promarket state and its businesslike public management, there have also been considerable changes in various dimensions of public accountability. As Glynn and Murphy suggest, the NPM model "is characterized by the adoption of private sector management concepts and styles", and under this model, "the best form of accountability is a market accountability where, at least in principle, the invisible hand of the marketplace will provide the accountability mechanism ..." (Glynn and Murphy, 1996:125). More specifically, there are shifts in public accountability from the traditional bureaucratic to the current neo-managerial model, from vertical single-hierarchy to horizontal pluralistic structure, from collective to individualistic performance evaluation, and so on (Ryan and Walsh, 2004; Bovens, 2003). …

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