The Language of Accountability in Pakistan

Author(s): Fayyaz Yaseen
Date: June 30, 2021
Country: Pakistan
Language(s): English

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Almost all the words referring to accountability one way or the other – for example, responsiveness, transparency, participation, inclusion, accountability, rule of law – are used as they are (as English words), despite the fact that there are stronger Urdu corresponding words that can spell out an even stronger meaning that also relates to local context. For example, the Urdu word for ‘responsiveness’ is ‘jawabdahi’, which means that one is not only expected to respond in a timely manner, but is also accountable for doing/not doing so. Similarly, the term ‘rule of law’ is understood as ‘qanoon ki hukmarani’, which explicitly distinguishes between rule of law and rule of lawmaker/implementer (which is often the case). ‘Transparency’ means ‘shafaf’ or ‘shafafiat’ – meaning transparency in entirety and not in parts, which happens when a government, in the name of transparency, just displays its decisions on the internet/websites once they are made, and does not open up about how the respective policy issues were identified.

‘Transparency’ means ‘shafaf’ or ‘shafafiat’ – meaning transparency in entirety and not in parts, which happens when a government, in the name of transparency, just displays its decisions on the internet/websites once they are made, and does not open up about how the respective policy issues were identified.

In 2010, a few civil society organizations (CSOs) started using the term ‘social accountability’, and it has taken seven years to introduce and infuse a relatively more neutral, bottom-up meaning of accountability in the society. People in media who want to speak about accountability usually refer to the broader term of ‘good governance’.

To promote improvements in health service delivery, state actors have been promoting upward accountability measures, while CSOs (and their international allies) are promoting downward accountability initiatives. For example, the government appointed district monitoring officers (mostly retired army officials) to monitor and report on the presence of doctors in the village-level public health facilities. The government also used electronic attendance machines (which are easily dodged both by the doctors and the monitoring officers, so the government has been only adding to monitoring layers). Lately, the government opted for direct citizens’ feedback in Punjab through mobile phone messages – called the citizen feedback model – again an English language terminology. Had the program used the local term ‘Awami Jawabdehi ka Nizam’, the directionality of the accountability would have been clearer by referring to the accountability of the health service providers to citizens.

ABOUT ACCOUNTABILITY KEYWORDS

Key terms in the accountability field often have different meanings, to different actors, in different contexts – and in different languages. This project addresses “what counts” as accountability, analyzing the meanings and usage of both widely used and proposed “accountability keywords” – drawing on dialogue with dozens of scholars and practitioners around the world. The project includes both an extensive Accountability Working Paper and more than 30 invited posts that reflect on meanings and usage of relevant keywords in their own contexts and languages. To share a post about a keyword that interests you, send us a proposal at arc@american.edu.

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Fayyaz Yaseen 

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Fayyaz Yaseen heads the Pakistan office of the Accountability Lab. He holds a Masters degree in economics and M.Phil in international development studies. He can be reached at fayyaz@accountabilitylab.org; and through his twitter handle @fayyaz_yaseen.

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