Social accountability and leadership

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In this sixth of seven columns on social accountability, I explore the costs of social accountability. The truth is the greatest benefits often ask for the corresponding price. Public policies such as government fiscal stability, land reform, universal health care, education, and the like could require sacrifices borne by different sectors of society. Politics is the dynamic with which people decide how these costs are to be equitably distributed. The problem is that in practice, either these costs are either not equitably distributed, or perceived as so. As revealed in previous columns, this is often the result of ordinary men and women, communities, and sectors of society excluded from, or not participating in, the formal policy-making process.

Dissatisfaction with policy, whether justified or not, is in the end inimical to both governance and community. Only a couple of weeks ago has the country seen what happens when grievances entrench government and society against each other, in the transport and PALEA strikes, and protests in response to budget cuts to health and education. This is indeed a communication problem, but not in the traditional idea of “the people speak, the government listens” and vice-versa (incidentally, that arena is covered by the Freedom of Information Act, which was discussed last week). We must move beyond mere exchange of ideas, interests, and positions into the realm of participation, walking together in each other’s shoes. This is the realm of social accountability.

 As the Affiliated Network on Social Accountability - East Asia Pacific (ANSA-EAP) has learned, an emphasis on mainstreaming social accountability aims to reverse this cycle of policy and protest by involving them in the policy process from the start. Part of the light at the end of the tunnel comes from educating citizens on the costs of policy and policy reform, true to the organization’s “Learning in Action” mantra, by exposing government and civilian parties to each other’s predicaments and perspectives in each stage of the process.

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