Thursday, September 21, 2017

Government Accountability - It matters regardless of where you reside on the political spectrum.

It is inherent in the mechanics of our political process that all actors avoid accountability. You say, but they are elected and voted out, that is accountability enough. The challenge is that there is no clear reporting on outcomes and so no clear means for the public to assess the success or failure of a given piece of legislation. Due to this reality, we are constantly getting spin because politicians attempt to conceal errors from the electorate. The process that emerges out of our present governance distorts the public’s perception of what legislation has worked and what legislation has failed. Absent clear reporting by a truly objective party it is impossible for the public to reward good work or punish bad work with their vote. As a result, legislation keeps getting propagated or remains in place when it should be altered or replaced. Worse, however, it drives fundamentally dishonest discourse, disingenuous discourse and misleads the public, people see this and government loses moral authority and credibility. 

In business we have a “dashboard”, it consists of a collection of indicators that are generated by a set of metrics that are derived from a mission or intention for any give business initiative. The dashboard gives a clear indication if our decisions were correct or incorrect. The government needs such a mechanism for the public that is reliable.

Every piece of legislation comes into being with an intended outcome. That intended outcome should be clearly stated in a plainly worded mission statement at the top of every statute – stating the intent of the legislation and the “spirit” of the legislation. There then should be a clearly stated set of metrics for that specific legislation and the indicators should be developed and documented as well. In this way, at the point of actuating legislation, there is baseline data (where we are) and where we are intending going.


The next stage in the process is reporting, clear, concise and objective reporting. This task needs to occur at arm’s length from the government by an accountability officer. The accountability officer would be responsible for processing the metrics, updating the indicators and reporting the data to the public in an accessible way via a website. The outcome would have every element of government operation available to the public facilitating transparency. The accounting systems in government are electronic, so a member of the public should be able to access the “income and expense” sheet for any ministry or sub-department thereof. The accountability officer would be responsible for making this data available on the website.

We are working toward a more “democratic” electoral process that will eventually bring more “parties” into play in the political process. The outcome will be more minority governments and generally more responsive government – THIS IS A GOOD THING. Like many good things it comes with a side effect, in the majority of cases, it results in government growing relative to the economy, because, government attempts to please people by spending; a phenomenon that accelerates in politically competitive circumstances. This is just a reality to be managed as opposed to an argument to make government any particular size. There is an optimum size for government, the “right” size, the determination of the size of government is outside the scope of this communication, but accept if you will, that some limit on the size of government is warranted – I make this case with the average family giving up nearly half of their earnings to government now. 

The second task of the accountability officer would be to report on the size of government relative to the economy and to have the authority to constrain spending should government attempt to exceed optimum a given size as has been predetermined through input from various sources society-wide. There needs to be a degree of flexibility to allow for counter-cyclical spending and the like, this brings to life a similar function as the central bank – the central bank has a clearly defined mandate as it relates to inflation, it functions at arm’s length from the government. So to would the accountability officer have a clearly defined mandate which would permit opening and closing the fiscal tap depending on economic conditions as prescribed by their mandate.

The combination of these two functions at arm’s length from the government will usher in a new more effective and more responsive government. Myths will no longer govern, results will.

Please notify me if you have suggestions or direction - thank you.


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