Columnists

Integrity in public life: Transparency, accountability

KELVIN Siwale.

Analysis: KELVIN SIWALE
GOVERNANCE cannot be talked about without mentioning two of its pillars, namely transparency and accountability. The

two terms are commonly used in the field of governance. They entail promotion of the rule of law, appropriate management of public affairs and property.
As a subject for today, we shall focus on the meaning and importance of transparency and accountability in public life.
According to the national Anti-Corruption Policy for Zambia, transparency means the principle that those affected by administrative decisions should be informed, and the duty of civil servants, managers and trustees is to act visibly, predictably and understandably. This simply means carrying out transactions in line with the law and guiding regulations and in a manner that is open to scrutiny within and outside the organisation. Decision-making in our organisations should take a course that is open to those that will be affected by the decisions so that they don’t just see things happening. This means unilateral decisions are not encouraged. Even where the law gives discretionary powers to some public officers to make decisions, such decisions should be in public interest.
Further, transparency in public expenditure is important, according to international best practices and financial regulations. Every financial transaction is expected to be carried out in a way that leaves an audit trail. It is not expected to have financial transactions processed without any accountable documents such as payment vouchers. For transparency’s sake, documents like payment vouchers are a must and should clearly narrate what the payment was meant for, to whom it was paid, who approved, who compiled and who checked the payment. These provisions are necessary ‘evils’ and should be adhered to as they are what constitute transparency in financial transactions. Departure from these measures is a red flag which should alert managers/controlling officers about likely financial irregularities in an organisation.
Transparency is very important in corporate governance as it instils a sense of belonging and responsibility in the followers, when leaders involve them in decision-making processes. A bottom-up approach to management is ideal if we are to achieve transparency. It is not easy to engage in corruption in this kind of environment because lower ranks are involved in management and, therefore, will offer checks and balances. Management’s transparency will always translate into employees’ transparency because leaders are leading by example and have nothing to hide. In view of this, for leaders, the best way to protect public or institutional resources is by yourselves accounting for every single coin. This leads me to the pillar of accountability.
According to the Anti-Corruption Policy for Zambia, accountability means the responsibility of an individual, institution, official or politician to carry out a given mandate and to justify decisions and actions according to applicable rules and regulations. So we can simply say accountability is about being responsible for the decisions we make. On this one, whether we like it or not, decisions that we make have to conform to the guidelines, rules and regulations which guide our organisational operations. Officers, both in public and private sector, should endeavour to make decisions which they can own even after years of implementation because they made them out of conviction and within the confines of the law. All those in public offices as well as private institutions are encouraged to make decisions that are in the interest of their organisations and, above all, that of the country. We should always make sound decisions.
Remember, abuse of office is all about decisions we make. So, whenever you are about to decide, ask yourself if the pending decision is within the confines of the law and in public interest. Right decisions are the easiest to make because you won’t struggle with your conscience. According to Celia Moore’s theory of moral disengagement, an individual goes through a process until they reach the stage of moral disengagement before an immoral decision is executed. In view of this, an individual has an opportunity to do what he knows is right but morally disengages to do wrong.
In conclusion, public life should be characterised by transparency and accountability. Decision-making should be transparent and decision-makers should be responsible and bear the consequences of the decisions they make. Sound decision-making helps us to avoid being caught up in abuse of office because, in most cases, we deliberately make unlawful decisions for either direct or indirect personal gain. A combination of transparency and accountability in your dealings will never get you in any trap. If you discard these two pillars, know that poor corporate governance will be your tag and you will fall in the trap of abuse of office.
The author is an anti-corruption specialist.

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