NRGF: Social and Environmental Accountability Working Paper
This paper explores the principle of accountability, particularly the accountability of powerful actors for the social and environmental outcomes of their decision making about natural resources. Powerful actors are institutions with decision making powers and influence over management of forests, fisheries, land, water, and extractive resources. While it focuses on government and the private sector, accountability is a principle common to all governance systems. Accountability is the requirement for powerful actors to accept responsibility and answer for their actions; it could be vertical and characterized by a hierarchical principal-agent relationship, horizontal where accountee is not hierarchically superior to the accountor, or diagonal and inclusive of citizen initiatives to hold powerful actors accountable. When vertical, horizontal and diagonal accountability practices are primarily civil society or citizen driven, they are referred to as social accountability initiatives (SAIs). There are five dimensions or aspects to accountability namely transparency, liability, controllability, responsibility, and responsiveness. The main questions being asked by the paper are: why is accountability an essential principle for natural resources governance; how has it been recognized internationally and by whom; and what are the key challenges and good practices related to holding powerful actors around the world to account? The paper finds that government has primary obligation for accountable management of natural resources on behalf of its citizens who are right holders over these resources. However, government is often reluctant to unreservedly hold powerful actors to account, especially business, preferring to allow business to opt for voluntary mechanisms of accountability or to self-regulate. This has given rise to citizen driven SAIs as external means of holding powerful actors to account, while contributing to strengthening formal internal accountability procedures. Thus supporting citizen driven accountability practices in vertical, horizontal and diagonal accountability systems, is a reliable way to ensure that powerful actors in natural resources management are held accountable for the social and environmental outcomes of their decision making and actions.