Behind the World Bank's ringing declarations of “social accountability”: Ghana's public financial management reform

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Accountability has become integral to many African development reforms and permeated the World Bank's (WB) policy discourses, with “social accountability” as a major plank in its development orthodoxy. Since the 2004 Word Development Report, the Bank's leadership has been declaring its commitment to social accountability. This paper excavates what lies behind ringing declarations of commitment to social accountability in the context of Ghana's Public Financial Management Reform Programme. Empirically, it draws on four months’ fieldwork into the accountability practices this programme brought about and an extensive analysis of WB discourses on public sector reforms and social accountability. Theoretically, the paper draws on Foucault's governmentality and the notion of agonistic democracy central to the recent democratic accountability debate in critical accounting circles. The paper argues that WB's social accountability crusade hinges on the neoliberal concerns of efficiency and fiscal discipline rather than creating a democratic social order, which then questions the very notion of social accountability that WB is propagating, especially its discursive and ideological “short-circuiting” of democratic processes. The paper finds that the dominant and dominating accountability forms that facilitate WB's financial hegemony are privileged over potentially emancipatory ones. The findings highlight that as the local governments become responsible to international development agencies through the “social accountabilities” that WB is promoting they become less socially and democratically accountable to their own populace – the very place where social accountability should truly rest.




Alawattage, C., & Azure, J. D. C. (2021). Behind the World Bank’s ringing declarations of “social accountability”: Ghana’s public financial management reform. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 78.

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