Accountability is a concept in ethics with several meanings. It is often used synonymously with responsibility, answerability, enforcement, blameworthiness, and liability. As an aspect of governance, it has been central to discussions related to problems in both the public and private (corporation) worlds. Governmental Transparency is an important element of accountability.
Accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, products, decisions, and policies, and encompasses the obligation to report, explain, and be answerable for resulting consequences.
Political accountability is the accountability of the government, civil servants, and politicians to the public and to legislative bodies.
Voters do not usually have any direct way of holding elected representatives to account during their term. Additionally, some officials may be appointed rather than elected. Constitution, or statute, can empower a legislative body to hold their own members, the government, and government bodies to account. Inquiries are usually held in response to an allegation of misconduct. These procedures vary from country to country. The legislature may have the power to impeach, remove, or suspend individuals from office.
Internal rules, as well as independent commission, hold civil servant within the administration of government accountable. Within a department or ministry behavior is bounded by rules and regulations and civil servants are accountable to superiors. There are independent watchdog units to scrutinize and hold departments accountable; legitimacy of these independent commissions is built upon their lack of conflicts of interest. Apart from internal checks, some watchdog units accept complaints from citizens.
With the increase over the last several decades in public service provision by private entities, especially in Britain and the United States, some have called for increased political accountability mechanisms to be applied to otherwise non-political entities. With respect to the public/private overlap in the United States, public concern over the contracting out of government services and the resulting accountability gap has been highlighted recently following incidents involving the Blackwater security firm in Iraq.
Accountability has become an important topic in the discussion about the legitimacy of international institutions. Because there is no global democracy to which organizations must account, global administrative bodies are often criticized as having large accountability gaps. One problem is that institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are supported by wealthy nations and provide aid, in the form of grants and loans, to developing nations. These institutions are generally held accountable to the nations which support them, rather than to the people they are designed to help, which are traditionally marginalized populations and developing nations.
Accountability is becoming an increasingly important issue for the non-profit world. Several NGOs signed the “accountability charter” in 2005 and individual NGOs have set their own accountability systems.