By: Emmanuel Utibe
Accountability involves justifying actions or decisions within the context of a legal or moral code. It is seen to be synonymous with the term, responsibility. Thus, in a sense, those who are saddled with responsibility – most especially elected public servants – are expected to be accountable. It would seem that the elected officials in Indy are recently being made to believe that they are needed to only be half accountable. This, however, sets a bad precedence. It is like a tobacco plant ready to sprout on a cassava farm if allowed to grow, would cause damage to the whole farm.
In the recent interview with the speaker, it could be deduced that he has quite the strewed understanding of what accountability in public offices should be. For instance, he declared non-disclosure when asked about his plans for the Hall and the administrative house. He made this move clearly to avoid being held accountable by his words. To quote the speaker
I won’t like to disclose it for some reason cause I know anything publicized here, people would read it and I don’t want “but you said this, you said this.” So just let me keep it for now so that if it happens, fine, you would write about it and if it doesn’t, so I just like to keep it.”
The speaker assumed that absence of comment equals absence of evidence and absence of substance for which the hall residents could hold him accountable. It is therefore no surprise that this predisposition to accountability affects the judgment of the house and its recommendations towards situations of public service accountability.
During the last plenary meeting, the house faced the challenge of how to demand accountability from the Executives on the issues that border on financing the hall budget. The decision of the house was to make the executives accountable for just half of the finances since the source is not Hall’s account. The house moved a motion to have the AG accountable for the transactions that would fund the Fresher’s welcome. However, the speaker and the majority, heading to the plea of the AG, gave the executive council an allowance to bring “over 50%”. By implication, anything over half would suffice for the house to audit.
Considering that the hall operates on the ideals of democracy, here are some reasons why this may set a dangerous precedence for the following reasons:
Secret cellars in public mandates; to what end?
According to Wikipedia, “Accountability is equated with answerability, blameworthiness, liability and the expectation of account-giving”. Essentially, accountability means answering questions; it entails being liable for our actions and inactions. Considering that Indy Hall executives are elected officials, it is inherently mandatory that they carry the public along with finances and expenditures.
For instance, here is a scenario with the fresher’s welcome. It is easy for the AG – in the capacity as the hall officer – to have facilitated transactions, and later get certain donations afterward. Considering the policy precedence that the decision of the house may set, he may remit 50% of the total donations for the hall as the predetermined satisfactory level of report. From this, it is evident that what you have is a resolution that perforates a bucket and still expects it to hold water; one that calls for transparency but gives room for opacity. While the decision may have been plausible given the context that surrounds the funding in question, it is a tiny hole with a capacity to widen. With this policy, more avenues are created for politicians to indulge in graft or other corrupt practices with a legal loophole that lets them go free.
Other threats that the lack of accountability may pose to the hall borders on auditing, and record value inadequacy.
The Independence Hall Constitution 2006, agrees with this and thus gives provision for a house committee on audit, responsible for auditing the books and publishing a report at the end of each semester (See article x, section v).
The Audit Committee of the house has its own books where it keeps records, – for comparison at the end of the semester – with the executive expenditure before publishing it for Katangites to see. This was confirmed when an Indy Press correspondent spoke to a member of the Indy Hall house. Seeing that the house’s audit committee has observed a possible problem for record keeping and called it, for the sake of accountability, maintaining this stand and ensuring full accountability should have been the prerogative of the institution at that point in time. If the house allows 50% documentation to aid auditing, then it may be counterproductive in a few years.
Sticking with the scenario mentioned earlier, 50% of a 50,000 naira donation is 25,000. Considering the verdict of the house, the ripple effect is bigger than immediate embezzlement. The bigger picture is the effect it would have on the auditing process, and the corresponding illicitness of funds transfer. This also extends to the sanctity of the house, the sacredness of the constitution, and the weight of the decisions of the house. A house that cannot successfully see to a book-keeping action and bring elected public older to order, would lose political relevance and authority. This is even more pronounced in the constitution; a disregard for accountability on a precedence set in a meeting undermines the power of the constitution and its inherent provision. If this keeps up, corruption may be a prevalent political culture in Independence hall as the law gives more room for inadequacies. If left untouched, the tobacco will fester and damage the Cassava yam.
For posterity and the political future of the Hall, it is important that the house recognises decision loopholes like this, and leans more towards a consideration of accountability in the Hall. The legislature needs to work with the constitutional resolve to impeach elected officer on the ground of corruption, fraud, and mismanagement (See Article XVII j), and this may be compromised when the bookkeepers keep half of the Book.
In conclusion, when asked about the issues around the “above 50%” accountability resolve of the house, the speaker responded that,
“We would be expecting the Administrator General to unfailingly bring the evidences for the freshers’ welcome budget transactions to the next sitting. … If he is presenting above 50%, is he not accountable? … Most of them [items on the freshers’ welcome budget] are subjected to sponsorship, in fact, all of them are subject to sponsorship and he did not remove a dime from the hall’s account, so if he brings over 50%, yes, he is accountable enough since it is subjected to sponsorship.” But as we have seen so far while we may want to make excuse for goodwill, 99.99% of a thing would always fall short of being the whole and half-baked accountability would never turn out right; for the bowels of democracy in our great republic.