Public Administration, Responsibility, and Accountability
- The meaning of responsibility and accountability in the public sector
- Theories of administrative responsibility
- The importance of ministerial responsibility
- Public Sector Accountability
- Types of accountability
- Importance of Accountability in the Public sector
- Principles for Effective Accountability in Canadian Public Administration
The Meaning of Responsibility and Accountability in the Public Sector
- To be responsible is to have the authority to act, power to control, freedom
to decide, the ability to distinguish and to behave rationally and reliably and
with consistency and trustworthiness in exercising internal judgement.
- Administrative responsibility requires public administration to serve as a
balance wheel among the superior branches of government as they compete
for control over public policy. This means career public officials should resist
action by any superior branch of government that threaten the balance of
power among all three.
Theories of Administrative Responsibility
Conventional Theories: The Friedrich and Finer Debate
- Both identified the sources of burgeoning bureaucratic power as a result of
the rapid expansion of governments service and regulatory functions.
- They, however, strongly disagreed on the method of guarding against abuse
of administrative discretion in order to maintain and promote responsible
- Finer places much emphasis on controls and sanctions exercised over public
servants by the legislature/parliament, the judiciary, and administrative
- According to Finer, public servants should not determine their own course of
- Rather, the elected representatives of the people/MPs should determine the
course of action of public servants to the most minute degree that is
technically feasible. 2
- Finer defined administrative responsibility as:
a. Responsibility may mean that x is accountable for y to z
- The essence or importance is the externality of the agency or
persons to whom an account is to be rendered, and it can mean very
little; without that agency having authority over x, determining the lines
of xs obligation and it terms of continuing dedication.
b. Responsibility may mean an inward personal sense of moral obligation.
- The emphasis is placed on the conscience of the agent/public
- If he or she commits an error, it will be an error only recognised by
his own conscience.
- The resulting punishment would be pains of guilty conscience.
- Friedrich, on the other hand, focused more on the tendency of public servants
to be self-directing and self-regulating, the measure of which was their
responsiveness to the dual standard of technical knowledge and popular
- Friedrich believed that parliamentary responsibility is largely inoperative and
certainly ineffectual and that the task of clear and consistent policy formation
has passed into the hands of administrators and is bound to continue to do
- Friedrich believed that responsible conduct depended to a large extent on
sound work rules and effective morale.
- He, therefore, argued for a change in the working environment of government
employment so as to allow public servants the right to organise into staff
associations and to bargain collectively with the government.
- Both Finer and Friedrich take a negative view of human nature and of
administrators in particular because they agree that without the checks
provided by either the law or the processes of professional socialisation, the
result behaviour of administrators would be both selfish and capricious
Objective and Subjective Responsibility
- Friedrich makes a distinction makes a distinction between the two. Objective
responsibility refers to accountability, while subjective responsibility is
- The responsibility of a person or an organisation to someone else, outside of
self, for some thing or some kind of performance.3
- Entails directions, rules and regulations that directly establish lines of
communication, obligation, and control within government.
- It flows from the decisions of others about what you out to do if you occupy a
particular administrative position.
- It projects generalized obligations for all who fill a certain type of position
without any attempt to acknowledge the individual needs, limitations,
preferences or predilections of a particular incumbent.
- It is close to accountability and answerability. If one phases to carry out
legitimate directives, he or she is judged irresponsible and may be subjected
- In the public service, objective responsibility is accomplished through
membership in a hierarchical structure of authority. A chain of command with
successive delegations of responsibility is the instrument by which the broad
statements of accountability are enforced.
- Public servants have the authority to make decisions of a certain nature of
scope, while other issues or matters must be pushed up the hierarchy to
others with greater authority for resolution.
- Objective responsibility also involved a concern for the quality of decisions.