Accountability is one of the five governance principles HELVETAS believes to be the ‘core structure’ of governance in international cooperation: efficiency, non-discrimination, transparency, participation, and accountability.
When reading this impressive study on Local Accountabilities in Fragile Contexts, I realised again how the aim of strengthening accountabilities (as part of ‘governance’) in development cooperation, is a matter of transformation of values. That is, those values behind such principles as respect for others, justice, equal rights and opportunities for all members of society. This means not only values of our partners and societies, but also values and behaviour in our own culture, even our own organisations.
This is also evident in development cooperation itself and the choices and priorities that are made. In this context, the authors conclude that the current trend towards results-based management approach in international cooperation risks diverting our priorities from ‘things we should be doing’ to ‘things we find easy to demonstrate we are doing’. Investing in thorough analysis of visible and invisible power, for example, is one thing we all should do more, in order to be in a position to identify allies among power holders and local elites, who share a vision of including poor people’s perspectives in their decision making.
The case studies from Nepal, Bangladesh and Mozambique provide ample evidence of the importance of adapting strategies to local contexts. Particularly in fragile situations, marked by a lack of trust in state representatives, openly promoting public accountability in unaccountable states could be too risky for NGOs and citizens. Promoting transparency by sharing and providing information might be a better strategy.
It would be a platitude to state that supporting development efforts by intervening in ‘governance’ is a complex issue. Of course this is true, but it also accounts for all other fields of cooperation, be it ‘water’, ‘natural resources’, ‘education’– you name it. Developed citizen–state relationships should provide the value basis for country specific, complex accountability systems, which integrate domestic institutions, donor interventions, and local populations. This study offers insight into rich experiences that can inspire us beyond the three country cases analysed.