Academic journal article Ethics & International Affairs

Horizontal Accountability in Intergovernmental Organizations

Academic journal article Ethics & International Affairs

Horizontal Accountability in Intergovernmental Organizations

Article excerpt

In an era in which the number of global and regional problems requiring collective action has grown dramatically, intergovernmental organizations (IOs) have become increasingly important. Yet as they are called on to deal with a broadening array of issues, IOs are attracting closer scrutiny both of their capacities to address these new tasks and of their very legitimacy. (1)

One of the principal reasons for the erosion of the perceived legitimacy of IOs is the large number of fraud and mismanagement scandals surrounding IO officials. The salience of these scandals has been magnified by the fact that they often involve programs and operations intended to help some of the world's neediest people. To take some examples: several World Bank officials have been under investigation for skimming millions of dollars from an African job creation program; UN peacekeepers stationed in Congo with a mandate to protect civilians were involved in rape, pedophilia, and prostitution; and one official at the World Meteorological Organization stole $3 million, almost a quarter of the organization's training budget--money intended to help develop better early warning techniques for tropical cyclones, such as struck Myanmar in May 2008.

The most visible of recent IO scandals involved the UN Oil-for-Food Program. The program was put in place after the international community acknowledged that Security Council-imposed sanctions were causing a high degree of suffering among Iraqi civilians, especially children. As a team headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker reported, prior to the UN program there had been "no other documented example of child nutrition deteriorating this fast in a large population. Yet due in great part to mismanagement and fraud, a program that was intended to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi population led to hefty profits for Saddam Hussein, hundreds of foreign companies, and several UN officials. (3) The illegal profit for Saddam's regime alone was about $2 billion. (4) IOs rarely experience such extreme cases of malfeasance, but these examples are important reminders that as IOs have become more powerful, they affect an increasing number of lives in both positive and negative ways. With such power comes increased demand for accountability. (5)

In Andreas Schedler's widely accepted definition of accountability, "A is accountable to B when A is obliged to inform B about A's (past or future) actions and decisions, to justify them, and to suffer punishment in the case of eventual misconduct." (6) Schedler's definition implies that agents can simultaneously be accountable to multiple actors, both external and internal to a political system or an organization. (7) As shown in the democratic theory literature, accountability can and should be achieved in many different ways.

Yet while recent years have certainly seen increasing interest in IO accountability, the majority of works have addressed only "external accountability"--that is, accountability toward publics outside the organizations. Moreover, most studies have focused primarily on two, albeit important, developments: greater participation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the adoption and implementation of IO policies, and increased IO transparency vis-a-vis the public. (8) Meanwhile, works that do engage recent changes within IOs have tended to focus on the more immediately exciting questions surrounding the "democratic deficit," again vis-a-vis general publics, and have neglected technical aspects of "internal accountability"--that is, accountability to actors within IOs themselves. (9) This neglect is surprising considering the recent spread of internal accountability mechanisms, including those described below as expressions of "horizontal accountability," (10) such as internal units that perform audits, inspections, evaluations, and investigations. These units are staffed by experts charged to find ways to avoid, identify, and solve the growing number of cases of mismanagement and fraud involving IO bureaucrats. …

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