Holding Intergovernmental Institutions to Account
Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 17, No. 1 (Spring 2003).
ABSTRACT: How can governments and peoples better hold to account international economic institutions, such as the WTO, the World Bank, and the IMF? This article proposes an approach based on public accountability, advocating improvements in four areas: constitutional, political, financial, and internal accountability. The argument for more accountability is made with two caveats: more accountability is not always good––it can be distorting and costly; and, enhancing the accountability of international institutions should not justify increasing their jurisdiction for the sake of reducing the role of national governments. Constitutional accountability poses limits on how the institutions expand their activities, requiring the active consent of all members and particularly those most affected by their activities. Political accountability requires that those who make decisions in the organizations are directly answerable to all member governments and not just to the most powerful ones. The institutions’ uneven record and structure of financial accountability is addressed through a model of mutual restraint. Finally, the internal accountability should ensure that technical decisions are distinguishable from political decisions. A better matching of the right kinds of accountability to the activities of the organizations would improve both their effectiveness and legitimacy.
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