Monday, May 12, 2008

The State We're In

In no place are citizens entitled to think they know the ability and motivation of officials in authority, elected or appointed, unless the authorities explain fully, fairly and publicly:

(1) what they intend that would affect citizens in important ways,

(2) why they intend it, stating who would benefit, how, and why they should, and who would bear what costs and risks, and why they should, and

(3) what their intended performance standards would be for themselves and those they oversee, if permitted to go ahead with what they intend.

Only with this knowledge can citizens sensibly act to commend, alter or halt what the directing minds of the authority intend, yet citizens have not yet required it. Obtaining this information and validating the authority’s assertions is called holding to account. It is simply the application of the precautionary principle.

The logical extension of the principle is that if authorities refuse to account publicly, fully and fairly, they should not be trusted. This applies in both democracies and dictatorships. On the other hand, authorities that “default to the public good” can show that they do so through the quality of their public explanations. For example, published financial statements, which are usually the only public accounting required by current law, are only a part of the information needed and are not explanation before the fact,

Simply hoping or writing “urging” letters to officials rather than holding them fairly and relentlessly to account will not assure fairness in society.

Friday, April 18, 2008

About This Blog

This blog is linked to the web site of the Citizens’ Circle for Accountability (CCA) at and is based on the principles and standards for public accountability given in that site.

The purposes of this blog are to:

1. Give citizens, elected representatives and governing bodies the basic knowledge to understand commonsense accountability obligations that go with issues, responsibilities and events of concern to citizens.

2. Give examples of public accountability “horror stories” in accountability and propose who had what public accountability obligations

3. Allow citizens’ groups to exchange their views, experiences and strategies in seeking full and fair public explanations from governing bodies and other office holders. This means explanation by those responsible and accountable for preventing performance failures important to citizens or dealing competently with those that occur.


Submissions to the blog will be reviewed by the blog Convenor, Henry McCandless of the CCA. Rejections will be rare and there will be no edit changes to those that are accepted. CCA responses will accompany postings that call for response.

Public accountability and holding to account: what they are and why they are important

Public accountability means the obligation of authorities to explain publicly, fully and fairly, before and after the fact, how they are carrying out responsibilities that affect the public in important ways.

If citizens don’t trust the authorities they put in place or allow in office, society doesn’t work properly. Public trust doesn’t come with occupying an office, regardless of its status. Public trust has to be earned. Performance observed as good will earn trust, but when major performance failure occurs it is too late, as in the Enrons of the world or in acts of the directing minds of authorities who see themselves as having power of attorney until removed.
Adequate preventive management control is largely a function of having to explain before the fact what that control is,

The major issue in society in public accountability is full and fair public explanation of authorities’intentions before the fact, stating who would benefit from what is intended, how, and why they should benefit, and who would bear what costs and risks, and why they should. Only then can citizens act more sensibly and fairly to commend, alter or halt the intentions. For example, ritually-produced public financial statements after the fact are too late.

Holding to account means the process of exacting the needed public explanations from authorities and validating them for their fairness and completeness.

While letters to editors and protest rallies can help create a climate of opinion on an issue, they do not necessarily change the underlying intentions of authorities, who usually anticipate them. And letters to officials are basically supplication, usually earning belated “We treasure your thoughts” responses.

The importance of holding publicly and fairly to account is that the obligation to account publicly produces a self-regulating influence on what authorities actually decide, and do. The public reporting obligation (it cannot be rejected in a democracy) serves the public good because what the authorities are required to assert can be publicly validated for its honesty This audit by knowledgeable groups can cause irreversible loss of officials’ credibility.