The management proposition discussed in this book is that there is hardly any accountability for whatever ills befall this country. From angst comes awareness and from that comes action towards attaining accountability.
The author describes accountability as the process that counter-checks the policies, people and institutions responsible for governance to ensure that performance is legitimate and transparent and citizens’ interest are protected. This definition is appropriate because it clearly indicates failures cannot be passed off as systemic faults; somebody should be held responsible and heads must roll for any wrongdoing. Only then is accountability established. He rightly points out that public officials must be punished for non-performance; mere answerability is not accountability.
The reasons for this angst over accountability are not far to seek in India: the author provides the examples of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, wasteful expenditure on the Commonwealth Games and so on. He calls the lack of accountability inbuilt in the system the “accountability deficit”, jargon that he has used all through, and it has been depicted in graphics and indices that compare India to other countries.
The problem is that the author does not explain the links between the indices and accountability. For instance, to focus on lack of accountability the author relies on the Democracy Index, though it is quite irrelevant since he does not explain how democracy makes the government more accountable. China and Russia have low democracy quotients but it is not possible to state that accountability is less in China and Russia than in India, which has a better Democracy Index.
The author has used the Corruption Perception Index and the Bribe Payers’ Index taken from Transparency International, but he does not elaborate how exactly accountability is related. The Bribe Payers’ Index is the same for India, China and Russia, but levels of accountability are not the same in these countries. In China, bribery is high, democracy is low, corruption is high and accountability is high, if we judge the country’s performance in all fields — economic, scientific, military and so on. The author has also used the Governance Indicator Index but its relevance to accountability has not been discussed, either.
It is a truism to say that a well-governed country has more accountability. The concept of good governance in a democracy is also different from the concept in an autocracy. By constantly quoting from the World Bank and other international agencies, eulogising the UK and the US for democracy and denouncing totalitarian countries for their lack of accountability without any discussion on the co-relation between democracy and accountability, the author has left readers no more enlightened on the links.
The main problem with this book is that the author has provided indices galore – the Global Integrity Index, Doing Business Index, Global Competitive Index, Global Gender Gap Index and so on – but too little discussion on their direct relevance to accountability. For instance, in the Gender Gap Index, India scores low but that surely is not the reason for the low accountability in India. India certainly shows a poor rank in the Infant Mortality Rate Index, which reflects the poor health of the population, but the author does not say anything about the relevance of this index to accountability. The author also does not explain why China and Russia have a better score in the Infant Mortality Rate Index but very low governance and competitiveness and democracy indices.
The author defines awareness as the search for the reason for the accountability deficit. He begins with the proposition that low per capita income leads to bad governance. Accountability through the executive, the legislature and the judiciary has been described as horizontal accountability — more meaningless jargon. While describing executive accountability, the roles of the CAG, the CBI and the CVC and Lokayukta have been described in a very short compass.
Actions to improve accountability comprise six initiatives: information, impartiality, implementation, infrastructure, independence and involvement. Desai has rightly pointed out that some progress has been made towards improving accountability. That is due to the introduction of panchayati raj, mandatory disclosure of information by election candidates, the Right to Information Act, declaration of assets by judges of high courts and the Supreme Court, UID-Aadhaar and so on, though much remains to be desired in terms of implementation.
There are 72 charts containing figures, indices and diagrams in a book of 192 pages. The predominance of data has restricted the scope of detailed discussions on the subject. Overall, this is a very informative and purposive book. But the basic point, how public accountability will improve, has not received anything more than superficial coverage. A curve to indicate the “Valley of Despair” and “New Equilibrium of Accountability” will probably impress the casual reader but it does not serve any purpose beyond that.
ACCOUNTABILITY: ANGST, AWARENESS, ACTION
Jay P Desai