Case Study on Accountability

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Case Study on Accountability

Introduction

Across the globe, there are two main forms of government or governance. These are democratic governing systems and non-democratic ones. The former is characterized by the influence of the majority’s sentiments while the latter is characterized by the making of unilateral decisions from a central position or institution where power is concentrated rather than separated equally among different players. While this is the case, the application of these governing systems varies from place to place depending on the configuration of specific government decision making organs. As a result, a system that is considered democratic may exhibit some highly undemocratic policies while a traditionally non- democratic government may also exhibit strong democratic tendencies. For many, democracy has been seen as an efficient tool for ensuring that checks and balances are maintained in a desirable manner (Davis, 2013). The drive for this is mainly motivated by the concept of accountability and the importance it has in good governance.

Accountability can be defined as the quality of being in a position obligated to account for one’s use of resources as well the results of the different activities that will have to be carried out in the course of a given exercise. With  respect to governance, accountability can be described as the state of a government or governing authority being obligated to account for its use of the different resources and powers afforded to it by the constitution. Resources at the government’s expense mainly include the revenues generated through taxation and also public amenities. Powers on the other hand refer to the ability to hire/fire state officers, execute the law and also formulate new laws through legislation. The main parameter that is used in determining the level of accountability being practiced by an organization such as government is the level of transparency that accompanies the presentation of information regarding its activities.

Transparency’s root word is ‘transparent’ which refers to the quality of a medium to allow light to pass through. In the context of accountability in governance, transparency will therefore refer to the degree to which activities of government can be audited and the scope of people who are allowed to audit the same.

There are several ways in which accountability can be manifested in the governance of an administrative unit such as a state. These include the areas of procurement, legislation, remuneration of state officials and also human resource management for the different government departments.

In the area of procurement, governments get to invite several suppliers to bid for the tenders. Accountability in this regard will be seen through the clear outlining of the selection procedure as well as the allowance for independent observers to oversee the internal processes that were followed before a successful applicant got the tender. In the area of legislation, accountability can be seen in the deliberate effort by the state to put in place laws that will facilitate easy inspection of the government departments’ operations while ensuring the safety/security of different ‘watchdogs or similar committees.’ At the same time, it is essential for the exercise of law making to be subjected to rigorous processes and varied opinions so as to guarantee the public of quality laws which they can easily abide by without having any qualms about being short changed by ‘the system’. In remuneration, salaries and allowances being paid to state officers need to be justifiable. For human resource management, accountability will mean transparent recruitment and termination procedures which are done in an objective manner (Associated Press, 2013).

One form of democratic governance that poses a major bone of contention with respect to accountability is known as ‘Unicameralism.’ Unicameralism comes from the root word ‘Unicameral’ which refers to the situation whereby an administrative unit has only one legislative chamber. The word itself is derived from two Latin words ‘uni’ and ‘camera’ which refer to ‘one’ and ‘chamber’ respectively. Regions whose parliaments are run through Unicameralism are often relatively small or fairly homogenous thus negating the need for an extra chamber (Massicotte, 2001). In discussions touching on accountability in governance, they get to be compared to places that practice multicameralism which consequently refers to the use of more than one legislative house such as a senate or the use of an upper and lower house. These are often included in governance to increase the scope of contributors to legislative matters (Subramaniam, 2013).

In this exercise, the main focus will be Australian state of Queensland which unlike other states in the country, lacks a senate thus effectively making it a unicameral state. The implications of Unicameralism in the state’s accountability will be looked into by focusing on recent acts that have been forwarded into law by present Campbell Newman government. For a practical look at this state’s accountability, recently enacted laws namely the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013 and the Criminal Law Amendment (Public Interest Declarations) Amendment Act 2013 will have to be diligently analyzed.

A Snapshot of Queensland’s political system

Unlike other Australian States, Queensland is unique in that it practices Unicameralism. This has been the case since 1922 when the Queensland Labor party abolished its legislative council in protest against the colonial connotations it carried. The decision makers of the time did not see the need for the extra politicians in the appointed council and thus abolished it, effectively leaving only one chamber for the discussion of legislative matters. The recent series of events that have dominated the news in Queensland are the numerous challenges that have resulted from this move. The Newman- led administration has been on the receiving end of harsh criticism for the way they have been handling governance and accountability in this state of Queensland. In the final quarter of 2013, the government passed two controversial pieces of legislation that have been seen as deliberate attempts by the legislature to undermine the principles of checks and balances as well as separation of power. These have been seen by a section of the stakeholders as policies which undermine the judiciary.

The Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013

This was passed in October of this year and it seeks to mete out severe punishment to members of criminal organizations who will be found guilty of committing offences that are deemed serious. The scope of offenders is widened in this piece of legislation since there are also people who are considered as ‘office bearers’ and the burden of proof will rest on them to show their innocence so as to absolve themselves off any blame for a formal or informal role in a said crime. The organizations can be legal or illegal.

Other than office bearer, an accused person can be declared to be a ‘vicious lawless associate’ if their actions constituted the aims of a particular criminal association and this then warrants an additional sentence of 15 years above what the association’s members have received. The act consequently lists the offences that are considered to be serious (Government of Queensland, 2013).

The Criminal Law Amendment (Public Interest Declarations) Amendment Act 2013

This law grants the state’s Attorney General power that was once held by the courts. Sexual offenders who were previously given finite sentences can now be kept imprisoned indefinitely by the Attorney General until a time when the convict is deemed fit to return to society. This therefore subjects persons of interest (the dangerous prisoners) an annual review by psychiatrists who then forward a report concerning their general behavior as well as preparedness to rejoin society. This report indicates the level of risk for the a relapse of the individual’s sexual offences. What then results from this is a decision on whether or not the person’s imprisonment should continue. When the risk level is found to be low enough, the Attorney General then lifts the application of this act on the prisoner thus warranting his release (Government of Queensland, 2013).

With respect to objectivity, these two acts seem to be in public interest. This is because they seek to protect the public from organized crime as well as sexual predators by ensuring all those found guilty are severely punished for their offences. For organized crime, direct and indirect contributors to serious crimes will be punished by receiving additional years to the sentence already given to the organizations. The scope is also widened by taking into consideration the acts of both legal and illegal groupings. The second one on the other hand strives to ensure that a reduction in sexual offences being committed by repeat offenders through keeping those likely to do so in prison till a time when they will be considered as less of a risk to society.

The challenge with this scenario however is that it effectively renders the state’s judiciary obsolete since these are decisions that are ordinarily made by a panel of judges in the courts.  When this happens, the judiciary’s influence becomes greatly downplayed instead replaced with the demands of the legislature being carried out by the executive. In this light, Unicameralism seems to limit accountability since the attorney general takes up the role of ‘judge, jury and executioner’. This leaves very little room for accountability to be practiced.

It has often been mentioned by media outlets that these two bills were passed in a hurried manner and this is a very strong indication of the doubts that people have in the efficacy of these laws and their quality. This then casts doubts on the unicameral system that Queensland’s parliament has. The policy makers seem to be beyond reproach due to the fact that the current opposition is extremely weakened since it is barely a tenth of the total population of the house. This means that the opposition has been denied the much needed political muscle which is used to keep the majority accountable. Being prepared in a short time means everybody involved simply agreed to it without any demands for clarification on some parts of the bill as well as requests for amendments. As a result there are bound to be a host of unintended consequences that will have far-reaching consequences.

The law is commonly termed as the anti bikie law due to the fact that it targets criminal biker gangs who have been terrorizing the public through their crimes such as the sale of drugs, manufacture of drugs and also violent tendencies. It stipulates that they should not travel in groups of more than three. The challenge with this is that it exposes the general public who commute using motor cycles to harassment by the officers. At the same time it insults the legal system by reversing the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ By laying the burden of proof of innocence on the accused, this law effectively practices an extra-judicial principle of ‘guilty until proven innocent.’

This law limits the independence of the judiciary since its mandate is to handle all cases of a criminal nature, conduct trials, give judgments and subsequently sentence or free the accused persons. This cannot happen in the current setup since the law transfers these functions to the judiciary to the executive who are then supposed to implement the new regulations in an irreproachable manner. Given that the law took effect as soon as it was enacted, little time went into the specifics of how it would be implemented and as a result, many innocent citizens have already began complaining of harassment as they rode their motor cycles to work. The threshold of a being an associate of the gang had to be urgently amended by the government in a bid to avoid a backlash from lawyers who would fall into the same trap while meeting their clients (Solomons, 2013).

Other mistakes that the law has are the proscribed properties and groups that are purportedly associated with these gangs. The scorpions’ gang which is listed as an illegal outfit has never existed in any part of Australia. At the same time, a property owner recently came under media scrutiny due to the fact that the land he bought once housed the premises of a convict who once ran a mechanic business. This is in lieu of the fact that the property in question had changed hands. The impact of such mistakes is to draw criticism and ridicule to the government for its hasty preparation of the act. This demotivates the police officers who are charged with the responsibility of enforcing the law of the land. It also creates a rift between officers of the law and their employer the government since they are the ones who are left to deal with the hurdles of implementing such a law (Solomons, 2013).

The move by government has the potential to open a can of worms in the form of unethical practices by officers of the state and the state itself. Corruption would easily creep back into the police force due to the newfound power they have. This will lead to increased opportunities for bribery and blackmail as people seek to get out of the dragnet that lacks the ability to differentiate criminal elements and innocent citizens (Misa, 2013). Crime may also increase due to the fact that the operations of officers seeking out criminals will be thinly spread across the entire biking population rather than the empirical format of investigation that has higher chances of netting in actual criminals.

Such blunders in legislation would never have seen the light of day if there was an upper house to provide a platform for the matter to be discussed further in details. The recent actions of the Queensland government have served to highlight the ills associated with a unicameral system of law making. If the current situation is anything to go by, it is essential for the State to put in place measures of returning the upper house to the law making framework. The mistake that was made with Queensland was doing away with the additional chamber without putting in place measures to compensate for the loss of an upper house (Aroney and Prasser, 2007). This planted the seeds for an impending legislative fiasco if the matter is not solved once and for all. The current dominance by Newman’s administration in the house effectively results in a situation of ‘Dictatorship by the majority’. Basically the party can change the laws as it wishes without worrying about any individual or institution holding it accountable for its current actions (Associated Press, 2013).

This is why the current Attorney General has been quoted on more than one occasion defending the actions of the Queensland government. Powers that once rested with one of the most respected institutions of the land, the courts, now rest with individuals thus greatly narrowing the opportunity for impending decisions to be debated upon, clarified and amended where there is need. The act of government giving such responsibilities to individuals such as police officers and the Attorney general make it nearly impossible for accountability to take place since all the laws demand from these people is decisions such as arresting, recommending and sentencing without clearly stipulating the decision making process or having a watchdog committee to hold such people accountable (Legal Research, 2013). The government effectively infringes on the judicial system making it toothless when it comes to making decisions that are universally left to courts in the democratic world (Legal Research, 2013). Alienating the judiciary will be a grave mistake since this is the body that legitimizes the state and its constitutionality.

 

 

References

Aroney, N., & Prasser, S. (2007). An upper house for Queensland: an idea whose time has come. Democratic Audit of Australia, Australian National University. Retrieved from http://www.researchgate.net/publication/43479063_An_upper_house_for_Queensland_An_idea_whose_time_has_come on December 24, 2013

Associated Press (2013) Campbell Newman government sacks parliamentary committee. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/22/campbell-newman-government-sacks-parliamentary-committee   on December 24, 2013

Davis, F (2013) Queensland versus Democracy. UNSW Australia. Retrieved from http://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/law/queensland-versus-democracy  on December 24, 2013

Government of Queensland (2013) Criminal Law Amendment (Public Interest Declarations) Amendment Act 2013. Retrieved from http://www.qld.gov.au/law/laws-taxes-elections-and-complaints/queensland-laws-and-regulations/new-criminal-bikie-gang-laws/ on December 24, 2013

Government of Queensland (2013) Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013

Legal Research (2013) New Queensland Laws allow Attorney General to override the Courts, Retrieved from http://www.timebase.com.au/news/2013/AT729-article.html on December 24, 2013

Massicotte, L. (2001). Legislative unicameralism: a global survey and a few case studies. Journal of Legislative Studies, 7(1), 151-170. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/714003865#.Ust91fQW2nw on December 24, 2013

Misa, E (2013) Thousands Protest Australia’s Anti-Bikie Laws, Cries Harassment, International Business Times. Retrieved from http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/526620/20131202/australia-bikie-motorcycle-law-harassment.htm#.UrlBffQW2nw   on December 24, 2013

Solomons, M. (2013) Queensland anti-bikie laws target property with no criminal connections, club that does not exist in Australia. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-30/qld-bikie-laws-target-club-that-is-not-in-australia/5059202  on December 24, 2013

Subramaniam, N., Stewart, J., Ng, C., & Shulman, A. (2013). Understanding Corporate Governance in the Australian Public Sector: Using A Social Capital Lens. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 26(6), 3-3. Retrieved from http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=17094045 on December 24, 2013

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