Political Accountability for the Performance of Institutions

It is advisable to have political accountability for the performance of institutions so that the public can have some influence over them

Within a country, institutions – such as a central bank, the law and the armed forces – play a part in governance and affect its overall acceptability.  In many countries, the institutions can act autonomously but their terms of reference and regulation are nonetheless under political control.  Politicians are then wholly accountable for the framework within which those institutions operate, and they have a regulatory responsibility for how services are delivered.

One important justification for holding politicians accountable for the performance of institutions is that they often control the funding.  If they reduce the funding, the institution might not be able to perform as well as previously:

●  It is hard to see how the British Home Office, under Theresa May, could not have anticipated the effect of police budget cuts, as in the National Audit Office findings reported in the BBC article Police funding: Ministers ‘unaware of cuts impact’.

●  Ted Cruz drew derision for having ‘No Defense’ for Lone Star State’s Crisis during a harsh winter storm in Texas, and then flying to Cancun to escape the discomfort.

In both the above examples the politicians concerned could be criticised for their decisions.  Where politicians don’t control the funding, though, there is no political accountability for the performance of institutions.  In both Egypt and Iran, the army is more powerful than the politicians because it has access to independent funding through its business interests.  The Egyptian army example can be seen in two BBC reports: Egypt’s army in control of vast business empire, and Egypt crisis: Army ousts President Mohammed Morsi.  In Iran, the elected government is arguably less powerful than the military Revolutionary Guard under the religious Supreme Leader – as described by the Washington Post under the heading How do Iran’s supreme leader and president split power?.  In most other countries, the army is under political control and is dependent on public funding.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6335.htm.