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Article

Public Reason and Contemporary Political Theory  

Steven Wall

The publication of John Rawls’s Political Liberalism put public reason squarely on the agenda of contemporary political theory. Ever since, it has been a central topic in the field. Although Rawls developed a distinctive account of public reason, his account is but one among many. Indeed, some commentators have insisted that public reason is a very old notion, one that can be found in the political writings of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant, for example. Public reason has a distinctive subject matter. It applies to the common good of a modern political society and the political institutions that serve that common good, and it contrasts with forms of reasoning that apply to less inclusive associations and communities that exist within a modern political society, such as churches, voluntary clubs, or professional associations. Public reason also contrasts with applications of reason that are not transparent and/or acceptable to adult citizens of modern political societies. The demands of transparency and acceptability have proven to be complex and contentious, and rival articulations of these notions have generated rival accounts of public reason. Public reason informs public political justification, and proponents of public reason often hold that public, political justification of at least the fundamental political arrangements of a political society is necessary for its political order to be legitimate. The reasons for insisting on public reason and the reasons for rejecting it are diverse. Common to all defenses of public reason is the thought that it represents a fitting response to the fact of intractable disagreement in modern political societies.

Article

Rewards for Being a Senior Public Servant: Principles and Issues  

B. Guy Peters

Governments must decide how much to pay their civil servants as well as what sorts of other rewards they should provide to those employees. These governments are faced with the need to attract high-quality personnel to government while also maintaining some frugality for political as well as fiscal reasons. The amount and manner in which public servants are rewarded varies markedly across countries. Some of these differences are a function of economic factors, but a number of other factors such as political cultures and the centrality of the public service to economic management of the country are also important. Public servants receive their pay and benefits while employed, but in many instances a good deal of their lifetime income is received after they leave government and are employed in the private or the quasi-public sector. Further, in some political systems public sector pensions are generous and consume a significant proportion of the public budget. The question of rewards for being a public servant is both empirical and normative. A number of contending principles can be used to guide decision makers when choosing patterns of regards, but politics is often the dominant factor.

Article

Transparency in Public Administration  

Tero Erkkilä

Transparency is one of the keywords of contemporary governance. It is often associated with democratic accountability, but it also carries connotations of market efficiency. Though transparency is a key concept for economics and politics, its ideational roots lie in access to government information. Transparency holds promises for increased democratization and economic performance, but these may also stand in contradiction. Coinciding with the rise of transparency as a token of responsible governance, we have witnessed rapid global diffusion of information access laws. In debates on public accountability, transparency appears as an element of both deliberation and performance, which is peculiar as these are often seen as complementary types of accountability. Moreover, increased transparency is often assumed to lead to increased citizen trust in government, but the relation of trust and transparency is more complex. Transparency also implies access to public information, which can consist of various types of documents and registries. Through digitalization, public information has become a pressing topic of interest, including as raw material for a knowledge-based economy. Public administration also manages significant amounts of personal data of citizens, raising additional concerns for privacy. While transparency and privacy are not antonyms, there is a trade-off between them. Nevertheless, transparency also appears as a means for holding government accountable for its use of registry data. Finally, transparency has become a measured element of governance indicators that are themselves an instance of transparency. As a key concept of public administration, transparency is relevant for both democracy and efficiency of governance, but it is ambiguous and even paradoxical by nature.

Article

Auditing and Accountability  

Jenny de Fine Licht

Auditing is frequently justified in terms of accountability. By virtue of their strong formal independence, supreme audit institutions (SAIs) are expected to scrutinize public spending and actions, thereby forcing authorities to explain themselves and take actions against malfunctions. In the end, auditing is supposed to contribute to an efficient and well-functioning public sector. The presumed link between auditing and accountability is, however, not evident. Information generated through auditing is far from pure statements of facts about the operations and results of an actor or organization. Rather, they represent an intricate combination of the presumptions, expectations, and professional boundaries of auditees and auditors alike. Further, this information is not necessarily comprehensible and actionable, and even if it is actually used to pose critical questions or deliver sanctions, improved performance cannot be taken for granted. Concerning the possibilities for the public to use audit results for demanding accountability from their representatives, the picture is even more complex. It is far from obvious that the public actually receives the audit information and, if they do, that they are willing or capable of acting on it. The last decades’ development of auditing from traditional record checking and verification of compliance to performance auditing has narrowed the boundaries between auditing and evaluation. This has made auditing more relevant for public administration performance and reform, but at the same time has made the process of accountability more complex. In some cases, it has even sparked a return to more traditional compliance-focused auditing.

Article

High-Value Natural Resources and Transparency: Accounting for Revenues and Governance  

Levon Epremian, Päivi Lujala, and Carl Bruch

The increase in demand and prices of most high-value natural resources over the past five decades has resulted in massive income gains for resource-abundant countries. Paradoxically, many of these countries have suffered from slow economic growth, weak political institutions, and violent conflict. To combat corruption, increase accountability, and promote government effectiveness, the international community and advocacy groups have been promoting transparency as a remedy to the misappropriation and mismanagement of revenues. Consequently, advocates, officials, and diplomats increasingly focus on transparency as the means to better manage revenues from high-value natural resources in developing countries. The linkages between transparency, accountability, and management of revenues from high-value natural resources require careful examination. This article presents the issue of transparency and accountability in the context of natural resource revenue management, discusses how transparency is conceptualized and understood to function in this context, and assesses the existing evidence for the proposition that increased transparency leads to more accountability and improved natural resource governance. The article concludes with a discussion on the evaluation of transparency policy initiatives.

Article

Information and Communication Technology, Transparency, and Accountability  

Catie Snow Bailard

Information and communication technologies (ICT) are rapidly, profoundly, and simultaneously changing three structural properties that define contemporary communication systems. How we encode information, the means for transmitting this encoded information, and the networks that determine who can send and receive that information have changed dramatically with the advent of the Internet and mobile technology. Although the political events, outcomes, and behaviors precipitated by the political opportunities created by these ICTs are neither uniform nor automatic, this dramatic reshaping of contemporary information landscapes does have clear consequences for the quantity and range of information available to citizens across the globe. There are also evident effects on the communication costs that are integral to political organization. Additionally, there are indisputable implications for the informational relationship shared by governments and their citizens. Each of these sets of effects creates new opportunities for accountability and transparency in the electoral process and for the processes of governance more generally, in the context of developed democracies but also in developing and non-democratic countries.

Article

The Ordinary Legislative Procedure  

Maja Kluger Dionigi and Anne Rasmussen

The ordinary legislative procedure (OLP), previously known as co-decision, has marked a significant milestone in the development of the European Union (EU) and transformed the way its institutions interact. What was initially seen as a cumbersome decision-making procedure subject to considerable criticism ended up being quite successful. The workings of the OLP have gradually developed, including both informal and formal rule changes to ensure a smoother functioning of the procedure. While the EU Council is still seen as the strongest body in the interinstitutional balance, the European Parliament (EP) is a co-legislator in most policy areas. After introducing the option to conclude legislation at first reading, so-called early agreements have become the norm in the OLP. The increase in early agreements by means of trilogues has speeded up decision-making but has not come without costs. Concerns have been raised about the transparency of trilogues and the accountability of the actors involved. Not surprisingly, these concerns have led to a shift in the research of the OLP from an emphasis on the powers of the different EU institutions to early agreements and their consequences for democratic legitimacy. Our careful review of the EU institutions’ own rules and practices governing trilogue negotiations shows that the rules and procedures for the conduct of negotiations have been adapted significantly over time. While there is a continued need for the EU to keep enforcing openness in its procedures, OLP interinstitutional bargaining does not operate in a rule-free environment. Yet most democratic scrutiny has been directed at the internal decision-making processes in the EP rather than at maximizing openness on the Council side or with respect to input from interest groups in the negotiation processes.

Article

Real Property Tax in Local Public Finance  

Yilin Hou

The real property tax (RPT) is a major, stable revenue source for local governments to provide basic public services. The quality, quantity and reliability of public services in a locality are key indicators of the living standards. The service responsibilities require local governments to maintain stable revenues. RPT is a tax on owning and holding land and structures on land, and RPT is a very old tax, dating back to ancient times when land and products thereof were the most important assets. RPT has been used by governments of all countries throughout history, although with huge variation in formats and ways of use. Despite numerous pitfalls in its design and administration, RPT has remained a pillar of local revenue, accounting for a high percentage of total local revenue. Thus, it is important to understand RPT and its roles in local public finance. RPT was mistakenly dubbed the worst tax, a misnomer that has caused misperception of the tax that should be corrected. RPT is one essential pillar of a modern tax system. The design and maintenance of an optimal RPT should follow six principles. The complexity of RPT is with key aspects in its administration, with the weakest link in property value assessment. Exemptions and limitations add to the complexity of RPT, causing unintended consequences. From a panoramic view, RPT has adapted to changes of the society and economy; it still holds prospects as an optimal tax and remains the cornerstone of accountable and sustainable local public finance.