Hybrid Forms Of Accountability: Citizen engagement in institutions of public-sector oversight in India

The public sector institutions which are responsible for monitoring government performance are not normally open to citizen participation. Yet there is widespread dissatisfaction with the capacities of states to exercise self-restraining functions effectively, and a growing interest amongst citizens to inform, monitor, or participate directly in the workings of these oversight institutions. This paper examines two citizen-initiated efforts in India to engage with public sector oversight functions. In one case, citizens attempted to engage with administrative accountability institutions (monitoring efficiency and quality in the food subsidy system), and in the second, citizens challenged official auditing systems in local government by producing parallel accounts of local spending which contradicted official versions. Both cases involved citizens breaking away from the ‘vertical’ channels of accountability traditionally open to civil society (lobbying, voting), and insinuating themselves to previously closed ‘horizontal’ accountability functions (the state's internal procedures for administrative review or financial auditing). We argue that for such ‘hybrid’ forms of accountability to be effective, it is important that citizens be given legal standing within institutions of public sector oversight, a continuous presence within the oversight agency's work, structured access to official documentary information, including spending records, and the right to issue dissenting perspectives directly to legislative bodies.

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