In his recent speech to Parliament, King Mohammed VI recalled the imperative to apply the rules of good governance, while insisting on the critical nature of adopting the principle of accountability for the success of any plan or project.
* By Moulay Idriss Aziz
This major royal directive against actors in public life proves the voices that are raised, in particular on the occasion of the publication of the reports of the control bodies, to demand justice to the public, to sanction the bad managers and remove them from the sphere of the state. These voices, which are amplified more and more in social networks, often have as their essential reference the charter of the legal order, which is the Constitution.
Compliance loses sight of the strategic
Let us first evacuate the obvious. Actions and omissions likely to constitute reprehensible criminal acts must be detected and punished. Let it be understood that the State has no excuses in this area, because legal security and the sustainability of public order are at stake. That said, despite its mobilizing nature of popular interest and public debate and despite the special treatment reserved for it by criminal legislation, the accountability of the public manager whose object is regularity should not obscure the rest.
In fact, there are no defensible reasons why in 2020, the accountability mechanisms in Morocco will again focus on its financial dimension and on the risks of “delinquency” and financial indiscipline of managers. public. The issue of accountability should not focus excessively on orthodox compliance with administrative legal rule because, in the Moroccan context, men and institutions are organizing themselves as best they can, to comply with “CODES”, whatever ‘they are. This state of affairs gives rise to at least two major concerns.
First, while keeping its founding character of any accountability system, compliance in Morocco does not represent a significant issue since the norms and standards in force are weak and not very restrictive. Even perfect compliance will be useless to the system and to the construction of public order until standards are upgraded.
In the second place, the diagram of the organization of the rendering of accounts in our country is intended to be practical and operational (practical accountability) and emphasizes the evaluation of inputs, processes and outputs. In addition, when the receiving authority for accountability mentions performance, it calls out who has the right to short-term results and is not sufficiently interested in performance in carrying out the missions of men and institutions.
Yet, with the series of budget reforms undertaken in recent years, accountability should be used primarily to improve the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of public management. Public managers should be heard, essentially, on the impact of their management.
The lack of strategic, long-term and impact accountability limits the use of the popular voice and, therefore, does not increase the power of citizens-voters-taxpayers-clients to influence sustainably and significantly on the agenda of public managers. Neither does it allow us to focus attention and resources on what generates civilizational progress. The lack of accountability over the strategic can, to a certain extent, precipitate deep crises in development models.
The attribution of the responsibility: to the policy certainly, but to the technician manager too.
It is not easy to attribute the responsibility for a poor performance of a public action since, in modern governance, public decision-makers are multiple and isolated and rarely act alone with the full exercise of their powers. Added to this is the methodological difficulty of establishing direct and indisputable causal links between public interventions and the results recorded in given time and space scales and in a complex economic and social environment.
In this situation, accountability, which cannot be shared with others, is concentrated. Responsibility, which can be individual or collective, is often diffuse. How to assign, then, effectively accountability and accountability when roles and responsibilities are not clearly defined in legal supports (explicit partnerships)? How to link accountability and responsibility when individual action is exercised in complex decision-making processes? What to do when the scope of the action is not institutionally identifiable? who is accountable? Who to hold accountable for failure or to whom to attribute performance?
Above all, we must not give in to ease by always holding politics responsible. If it is true that the political responsibility rests with the elected officials regardless of who initiates, designs or ultimately provides the public service and that the politician is responsible for the adequacy of the public results with the wishes of the citizens, the fact remains that the manager-administrator-technician must be questioned about his action.
There is always a balance to be made between the accountability of the politician and the manager because behind the failure of political leadership, there can be a failure of managers. A secretary general or a central director of a ministerial department can be as responsible for the failure of public action as his minister.
How to account, tools or processes?
Institutional accountability mechanisms are full of mandatory or voluntary means of accountability. Generally, two main categories of accountability means are distinguished, namely tools and processes. The first should, in the long run and through reforms, lead to the installation of the second.
In the Moroccan context, among the most used tools for accountability are upward institutional communication, the publicization of information and the periodic publication of control, audit and evaluation reports.
Contrary to what one might think, there is still a lack of use of the tools provided for in the mechanisms in force, but, above all, a lack of installation in the administrative mores of the processes characterizing modern public sectors, namely self-regulation, accreditations and participatory reporting. The initiatives of public managers who voluntarily follow these new channels of top-down reporting remain rare, if not non-existent.
Moreover, it should be noted that technological advances have offered new possibilities for increasing transparency and accountability that, unfortunately, successive governments in Morocco have failed to seize. E-government initiatives allow citizens to interact with civil servants in a simple and inexpensive way, to better understand and participate in government activities, to monitor them and, if necessary, to sanction them. E-government initiatives offer considerable and preferred potential for integrating innovative methods of promoting accountability.
Accountability is better when the incentive is internal
Public managers and those who advocate for strengthening public integrity should consider the established fact that accountability is more effective and more productive when it emanates from managers themselves, i.e. as part of accountability. governance of their institutions either within the framework of national or international sectoral self-regulation.
It is in no way justified that the primacy in the public debate be given to the external incentive to the rendering of accounts which materializes by the encouragement of the conformity with the legal provisions establishing the tool or the process of accountability. This incentive fosters the observation of a rendering of accounts deprived of meaning because it is motivated by the fear of loss of status, reputation and trust or by the fear of exposing false achievements.
Accountability is relevant and credible when the incentive is internal, when it is understood as a potential learning tool and an organizational value that promotes performance and the achievement of the mission. Consequently, what should be called for more is not the external incentive to account, but the establishment of governance frameworks that promote self-regulation, self-control and accreditation.
Without integration and consistency, the system will run in circles
There is no common framework for accountability systems. Countries have no choice but to design and build their own models on the basis of supranational recommendations in matters of representative democracy, the sovereignty of the law, the fight against corruption, public integrity and open government.
This being the case, the accountability of public managers should, nevertheless, be systemic and be based on coherent and integrated sub-systems dealing with compliance, justification, transparency and sanction. These subsystems should work in synergy and in complementarity at the risk of rendering the entire system ineffective, or even counterproductive.
A door will also have to be kept wide open to the future. As the country sheds the bureaucratic administrative model and its culture, various forms of innovative and more effective accountability will take hold. It is an obligatory process because there can be no viable development model without governance, nor governance without accountability.
This 21st century governance will certainly involve other actors than elected officials, civil servants and “officials” as soon as the barriers of distinction between the public and private sectors are lifted. The scope of accountability will broaden further to cover shadow governments, third party contracting parties, partners in public bodies, parties outside, associations, communities and ordinary citizens. Those who demand today that we go to the end of the accountability process should tomorrow set an example, adopt responsible behavior and be held accountable for their actions.
Until then, public managers should reassure and reassure themselves.
*Researcher specializing in transparency and accountability systems.