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Accountability: Idea, Ideals, Constraints

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Accountability is critical to representative democracy. The legitimacy and, perhaps, the stability of the democratic system is, in part, dependent on the extent to which the electorate believes that the government and other public officials are operating in the public's interest. However, in many democracies, there is a pervasive lack of accountability within government and the public departments under their charge. This persists in spite of increased emphasis on the importance of constitutional safeguards, the electoral mechanism, and other checks and balances. Some analysts credit such substandard outcomes to the intransigence of the political leaders and to the lack of political will to demand and insist on change, particularly among the more affected populations. This criticism is not entirely misplaced. However, is there sufficient understanding of the conditions for accountability? Are the strategies designed to build accountability sufficiently reflective of and responsive to the different contexts they are meant to assist? This article addresses these key questions and illustrates the analysis by reference to a case study of Jamaica.

Joy Moncrieffe