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Date: 2024-07-21 Page is: DBtxt001.php bk009021000
TrueValueMetrics
ACTION INFORMATION FOR ALL OF SOCIETY
Metrics about the State, Progress and Performance of the Economy and Society
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Chapter 2 - SYSTEMIC DYSFUNCTION
2-10 TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

Accountability

The first step in making the society and the economy better is to get the information that are needed to hold decision makers throughout the society accountable for what they do and what they do not do. This applies everywhere ... not just in government, but in the corporate organizations, in politics, in schools and healthcare, in religious organizations and in sports and entertainment. Everywhere.

I have helped developing country government staff coordinate development assistance. It is not a pretty sight. On the one side there are the local people, some in positions of considerable power who want projects for their own reasons, some good and some not so good. On the other side there are donors who want projects that serve their own set of interests. A prioritization of projects to optimize the use of resources and the realization of development progress is nowhere to be found in most development coordination efforts. It should be. It can be. But not without information that is accessible to the public and accountability that goes beyond anything we are doing at the moment.

There has been a lot of talk about holding government in developing countries of the SOUTH accountable for what they are doing in terms of resource management and development, but there is far less talk about holding the governments and the institutions of the NORTH accountable in the same way. It is my impression that there is a big accountability problem in the NORTH, just as there is in the SOUTH. My educated guess is that the value diversion associated with lack of accountability in the NORTH is an order of magnitude bigger than in the SOUTH. The diversion of moneys from potentially high economic value adding works for the SOUTH to much more “politically acceptable” but far less valuable work is endemic throughout the ODA community. It has been a problem for decades, and became front page news in connection with US plans for reconstruction contracts after the Second Gulf War. As someone who did planning for the reconstruction of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in the early 1990s and participated in the failed advocacy for the continued interest of the United States in the region at that time, I am appalled at the information gap that ensures there will be little enduring accountability for anything. Yes, historians may have a chance at finding out what went on, but what about today's people.

The challenge is simple. There needs to be a universal accountability system that is run independently of government and the official development assistance (ODA) community and international financial institutions and corporations. And this is not really a very big thing. It is not anything like as ambitious as the WalMart data mining system. In its first stages it is quite a modest technical challenge. Depending on “demand” it could evolve into a more highly functional system in the future, but the first steps can be quite modest.

And with this information, there can be accountability.

But more important, with this information there can be improved management.

My most satisfying work was when I was a CFO working with a CEO who understood the economic dynamics of his business, and who used the financial numbers and the operations analysis that we were able to do to confirm the decisions that he had already made. He knew what the company performance had been based on past management information. He made decisions to try to make it better as soon as there was preliminary information that suggested an improvement possibility. He looked to the next set of management information to confirm that his decisions had been effective. If the information suggested something different would be better, then that would be tried. This was excellent use of management information, including the critical aspect of feedback

The opportunity is to do the same thing, but with society as a whole.

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No transparency

Lots of talk ... not much walk

The lack of transparency and the lack of accountability is one of the great shortcomings of modern governance. In the last two decades there has been a great deal of talk about transparency and its importance, but very little action to make transparency the norm rather than the exception.

Instead of reasonable transparency that would allow an interested public to be able to understand how things are being done and what is being accomplished, there is instead a growing amount of selective information ... arguable pure spin and misinformation ... that serves the interest of the people of the organization and not mush the interests of the public. This “public relations” driven transparency is not at all what is needed.

Relief and development fund flows are substantial. In resource rich countries there are other huge fund flows. It is absolutely imperative for there to be a high degree of transparency so that the public can be informed about the use of these resources. Senior people are playing for high stakes, and when the stakes are this big, it is “hard ball” and not smart to get in the way.

No basis for accountability

The great news for the ORDA community is that with no transparency and a weak analysis capability there is no basis for accountability. Performance does not have to be good, because nobody is going to be accountable.

There is strong accountability in the corporate world where failure to live up to profit performance expectations has quick consequences. In a political structure loyalty more than performance has a higher value ... and at the limit, there are many who are involved in governance structures who have loyalty and are held to account for nothing.

More generally, it would be valuable if there is an expectation that there should be an accountability to the public. The public should expect that resources are being used in ways that are effective and appropriate.



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