Transparency and accountability: a mutual responsibility of governments and citizens

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The concepts of transparency and accountability are gaining ground in Africa. Nevertheless, there remains many issues and questions to resolve. The "monster of corruption" is becoming increasingly complex to tackle as criminals become ever more imaginative and have better resources and skills.

These are just some of the outcomes of lively panel discussions on Accountability and Transparency, held on the first day of the Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB), being held this year in Kigali, Rwanda

As the AfDB celebrates its 50th anniversary and focuses on what the next 50 years will hold for Africa, these discussions on transparency reflect one of the main drivers of structural reform across the continent. Several participants, including former President of Botswana Festus Mogae, stressed the need for mutual responsibility between governments and citizens and the importance of government transparency. There is now a pressing need for "rulers to work with their constituents, i.e. their citizens, whatever challenges they face.”

The participants also stressed that other stakeholders, including development partners, have a responsibility to harmonise their practices in accordance with agreed ground rules. Borrowing countries must explain the reasoning behind their projects and their projects’ impact. Where applicable, they must also make compensation payments in cases of absolute necessity when the programmes and projects are implemented.

Where complaints or disputes arise in contentious cases, ombudsmen and mediators must be easily contactable and available. However, the participants stressed that "an institution can only be accountable if it, itself, is transparent".

A number of institutions, including the AfDB, have recognised this need and have introduced an independent inspection mechanism to address complaints from citizens concerning private investment.

As the final arbitrator on all cases, is the judicial system truly capable of independent transparency and accountability? The first argument put forward in this debate focused on the fact that the judicial system has a duty and an obligation to be transparent, as the authority that applies the law and punishes both small-scale and major corruption.  As such, transparency begins with the judicial system.

As for the relationship between institutions and governments, evaluation is an essential instrument that plays an important role in development, covering methodology, effectiveness and performance. Governments can use this tool to produce reports on public policies. These documents may then be used by citizens to scrutinise these public policies.