You would think that the phrase ‘fake accountability’ was an oxymoron: how can something provide accountability and then fake it at the same time? Well, it is very well-known concept here in Apac. In fact, I was yesterday asked to contribute to it! Fake accountability is when accountability is doctored, made up. It is mainy ‘paper accountability’ – receipts, attendance lists, quotations – that are falsely made up; ‘physical accountability’ is more difficult to doctor as it concerns real things on the ground: whether the contract is performed, whether the purchased item physically exists, whether something is available?
Yesterday I attended a dialogue meeting organised by an NGO. It was a fruitful exchange of ideas (and blame) between CSOs and Lower Local Government officials, both elected and appointed, with the aim of ensuring that Apac district will perform well in the up-coming Local Government Assessment. Every year, Apac fails the assessment, and thereby loses 20 per cent funding from the Ministry of Local Government. Which means 20 per cent less spending on public services. The underlying reason for this constant struggle to pass the assessment’s minimum criteria is the nature of governance in Apac.
Following the end of the Cold War, and particularly the way in which it ended, the donor community and Western governments thought it wise to democratise Africa from below: the invested heavily in a civil society, which was supposed to keep the state in check. As the civil society thereby stands conceptually opposite the state, it is often supposed to be substantially opposite too – but, it is not… Often, the civil society mirrors the public sector, perhaps because the underlying reasons for public conduct are societal.
Yesterday, as I signed the attendance list for the dialogue meeting – a list that would constitute part of the evidence that the event actually took place – I was handed another attendance list. That of another meeting, which never had and never would take place. But for which money was already spent. The list would be presented to the donors as proof of expenditure on transport refunds, lunch and sitting allowances for the participants. Four people had already signed the document, with or without noticing the discrepancy in meeting titles.
The list was never circulated further, and the first sheet was thrown away. Wisely or unwisely. You see, the organiser of the fictitious event is a relatively powerful person in Apac. Paradoxically, the meeting was themed good governance in the civil society sector.