Accountability: What is it?

Accountability is a proceso conformado por un conjunto de normas, procedimientos, metodologías, estructuras, prácticas y resultados mediante los cuales las entidades de la administración pública y los servidores públicos informan, explican y dan a conocer los resultados de su gestión a la ciudadanía, la sociedad civil, otras entidades públicas y a los organismos de control.

Why is it important?

Accountability is a basic principle of the democratic system, as it makes it possible to establish continuous dialogues on the work and outcomes of the policies and actions adopted by authorities and public entities to ensure integrity and efficiency in the use of resources and the provision of public services. In this regard, the parliament plays an essential role, namely, to oversee the government’s decisions and actions and ensure that it produces the expected outcomes for the common good. Similarly, within the legislative branch it is also important to continue establishing and/or strengthening mechanisms and initiatives to ensure that citizens can monitor and evaluate parliamentary performance.

There are three types of accountability: vertical, horizontal, and diagonal.

  • Vertical accountability: one of the basic expressions of representative democracy, by which voters sanction or reward their representatives or political parties with their vote. Vertical accountability requires that the voter have sufficient information to assess the performance of their representative. Effective accountability is therefore dependant on transparency and access to public information.
  • Horizontal accountability: occurs among peers, i.e. between state institutions. Examples include the executive branchs accountability to the legislative branch, or the accountability provided by oversight or auditing agencies responsible for investigating, and in some cases, sanctioning officials in cases of misconduct. Although this type of accountability occurs between peers, the institutions dedicated to accountability must have sufficient autonomy and authority to carry out their functions.
  • Diagonal accountability: a series of mechanisms or spaces in which civil society organizations collaborate with state institutions, particularly with oversight agencies, to monitor decisions related to the preparation of budgets and the supervision of their execution, policy formulation, and other aspects of public administration.

Next section: Parliamentary Oversight