Accountability in democrac

"Debate of the Last Thursday of the journal Temas, dedicated in this month of May to “Accountability in Democracy.”

Puede leer aquí la versión en español de este artículo.

* Debate of the Last Thursday of the journal Temas, dedicated in this month of May to “Accountability in Democracy.”

May 27, 2021                      

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Invited Panelists:

Patricia Arenas Bautista. PhD in Psychology, Specialist in Psychology and Organizational Development. Director of the Human Change Group (Grupo Cambio Humano – GCH) of the Center for Psychological and Sociological Research (Centro de Investigaciones Psicológicas y Sociológicas – CIPS).

Víctor Hugo Leyva Sojo. MSc. Professor of Journalism, Universidad de Oriente. Director of University Extension. Vicepresident of UPEC in Santiago de Cuba

Gastón Martínez. Professor, Dept. of Social Anthropology, National Institute of Anthropology and History (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia – INAH), Mexico City.

 Yassel Alejandro Padrón Kunakbaeva. MA in Bioethics, Specialist in the Ludwig Foundation. Blogger.

Eduardo Reyes. Delegate of the [National Assembly of the] People’s Power. President of the Colón ward of Central Havana.

Rafael Hernandez. The main topic of this panel is to inquire to what degree the mechanism of accountability and the concept itself, are considered important in all types of institutions and organizations – not only political bodies, structures, governments, parliaments, etc.

 What does accountability mean? Is this practice applicable to social and political organizations, associations, institutions such as schools, the communities? To what degree is accountability a condition for them to be democratic?

Our panel is comprised of a battery of “400 hitters”, in baseball terms. We aske them to answer the questions and invite you to listen to their answers and comment on them.

Patricia Arenas. I ask that you think of it, in the first place, from the individual perspective to the collective. Accountability is an obligation, a responsibility, a limit to our actions. It is considered a necessity for any interrelationship between two or more persons. It entails clarifying the motives, the possibilities, the uses, aims and results of actions. Therefore, accountability should form an inseparable part of any collective action. As a limit, it would always be linked to some discomfort for how other people might get back, criticize, challenge us for what we have done and for our motivations. Seen from the other side, it constitutes a form of personal and collective protection. It is a form of feedback that provides us with an appreciation of our work. As a behavior, it needs education to attain responsible conduct, starting in the family, school and all groups or organizations in which we are involved.

This contradiction between discomfort and protection, as well as the possible shortcomings between the multiple forms of education, entails the need for the establishment of judicial norms that facilitate and sanction the development of human interactions. It cannot simply be left to spontaneity and good will; interactions require a system of regulations.

The elements mentioned in this definition imply the consideration of accountability as a continuous activity, present in the management of all groups or human organizations. It is one of the conditions of democracy, but also, beyond that, it is a condition of all activities that entail coordination: a good government, high efficiency to achieve the goals, collaboration and the benefit of the results. The more important and necessary organizations of all types and levels are, the more clarity and coherence they need to have towards those they are responsible for. On an individual basis, the higher the level of the people and their responsibilities, the clearer their accountability reports should be and, therefore, the higher will be the recognition received by the organizations and people that practice it, as well as their resonance in a reassuring and stimulating process: confidence.

Here it is appropriate to mention Che, as a conveyor of an essential aspect that accompanies him: his personal example. Just review his answer to a journalist with bad intentions, at the beginning of the Revolution, about his setting his home in a luxurious mansion. His life example became a symbol of my generation.

Eduardo Reyes. Accountability of one’s actions before one’s electors is a truly democratic act on the part of the delegates of the People’s Power of Cuba, and it represents the strongest, and at the same time the broadest link with the population of their territory. At this time a dialogue or profound exchange must be achieved, open and respectful between both sides; on the one hand, the delegate offers an important amount of information on various aspects of the economic, political and social life of the district and, especially, how their area is reflected in these plans—be it at a greater or smaller scale—during a particular period. It also indicates what the responses have been to the proposals of the population with respect to the previous processes until now, and what the responses have been to the main dissatisfactions, as expressed in complaints, criticisms and requests. On the other hand, the electors express their opinion and debate these aspects.

It is good to indicate that a delegate is not a functionary or administrative representative of the government, but a political being who, from her/his experience, knowledge and preparation, carries out an evaluation of each proposal, which may have been solved, or not. It is vital to a good understanding, knowledge and full command of every situation that is presented, for which the delegate should have communicated beforehand with the administration that has the responsibility for the topic, and should have discussed all the different possibilities for solutions or their alternatives. It is inexcusable to improvise on matters proposed by the people, or to shield behind the administration when presenting them in meetings of accountability, since this is a legitimate action for the delegate, and not for the administrations. It is the delegate who is accountable for his actions, which does not mean that he cannot let the administrative representative speak, to clarify any kind of doubt that may come up.

Also accountable are the president of the Popular Council —before her/his delegates , the president of the government—before the municipal Assembly which elected him—and so successively all elective bodies before their respective electors, including the President of the National Assembly—before the deputies.

Being accountable is an act that requires all the training, capacity and bravery of those who were elected, given the objective conditions of the economic crisis that the country experiences.

Gastón Martínez.  I am, let us say, a neophyte in the specific matters of accountability; however, I do want to give you my point of view. It seems to me that, in the first place, it is a fundamental tool that enhances the democratic life of a nation and which, moreover, in countries in which the so-called representative democracy—in this case, the capitalists—in reality generally drives the people away from the taking of decisions, is a fundamental means in the creation of regulatory mechanisms that force public servants into a continuous practice of accountability, as well as the State bodies in charge of collecting reports. This tool can make possible the control over the influence of specific interests or of groups with interests in making public decisions.

But accountability should not just be carried out by the State; it should also be a practice that includes political, economic, and social representative bodies, and all public functionaries and servants. And accounts should also be rendered to the population.

Víctor Hugo Leyva.  Accountability is a process by which those who make decisions on a specific action fulfill the duty of making public—or responding to the people who elected them and who designed or are the recipients of the tasks—the results of the work they have carried out in a specific period.

Although it is defined as a public act, in organizations of the social or private type, it forms part of a trend that can be related to human activity in general, inasmuch as people—both their own actions and the actions of those in their immediate environment—need to take stock. Even for the making of personal decisions, there is normally a review process of the actions, results, deeds, and facts relating to the issue.

In a more general setting, these accountability actions are produced not only in situations of popular elections, but they are also related to the management of government agencies, business entities and those that have a public character, social organizations, and the whole organizational environment in which the actions and results that are achieved by one individual in a network of interdependent relations, determine the results and actions of others.

The nature of the accountability is determined by the environment in which it is carried out, in a general sense, and by the actions of one individual or institution, but it is made specific by the characteristics of the latter—whether it be political, economic, financial, scientific, educational, or social.

This process has been identified in some way as being a guarantee of a democratic way of functioning, and this is true by how it makes possible certain levels of management transparency and of respect towards individuals or people who depend on this transparency, but this is only true if the interest is the common good, and if the personal or the political is not put before the collective. When information is being hidden, carrying out this process makes no sense.

Yassel Alejandro Padrón K. As an institutional political practice, accountability is the requirement for representatives to respond to those they represent about the use of their powers and responsibilities, to act as a response to the criticism directed to them and to accept responsibility in case of errors, incompetence or deceit. Does this mean that there is only one form of accountability? Not at all.

Accountability comes in many forms, related to different factors, like who is accountable, to whom, and in what conditions. In this sense the literature on the topic distinguish between a vertical and a horizontal form. The first case is the paradigm for representatives at the high level of the governmental system, who are accountable to those they represent—in this situation, the citizens. The second case is a form of inter-institutional control, like for example what the Comptroller General of the Republic could exercise on any business.

As we can see, the concept of accountability leads us to delve deeper in another one, which is closely linked: that of control. When this is carried out in an institutional setting, it is classified as being external or internal. The external one, which can be perfectly related to the example of the Comptroller General, is what one institution exercises over another in the institutional network of the State. The internal one, which almost always is complemented by the external one, is exercised within one institution or business, and includes the possibility that the functionaries or employees are accountable to their superiors. However, none of this replaces the importance of popular control, which is carried out on the institutional network by the citizens.

The accountability of all those who have a public responsibility is an excellent democratic tool, but other forms of direct democracy that might make it superfluous at some specific level should not be ruled out.


Rafael Hernandez: What are the requirements to make it functional? Transparency, revocability, availability of information, public access? The obligation to respond to complaints and questions? A specific frequency, or regularity? What other practices complement accountability? Can they be replaced by audits or other administrative controls? Why?

Patricia Arenas. To begin with, we need to identify and make known what is to be done, the ways to monitor the actions, the standards and the forms of control involved in their realization. It must follow a continuous search for the accomplishment and adherence to a high level of transparency. It must hinge on the ideology that all people, social groups and organizations are important, and it must favor the most efficacious mechanisms, to incorporate them into the conception, execution and control of what needs to be carried out. All questions are valid, and the answers must be consistent.

Together with definition and clarity, it is necessary to prepare legal norms that will oversee the whole process, the penalties and the achievement of the results. To raise to the standard the fundamental steps that make up the process and the obligation to respond on the part of those who have the responsibility to direct, standardize, execute and control. To establish penalties for not fulfilling the responsibilities, matching the levels and responsibilities. It is also necessary to make known the mechanisms that stimulate good actions and their results. To guarantee flexibility for the analysis of the punishments, and the good practices, and to establish simple and manageable mechanisms for the opinions of the population and their means of feedback.

It is also necessary to establish time limits for the different steps, and moreover to be creative in implementing new ways in which criteria can be gathered and responded to. The causes and mechanisms of revoking those who carry out the different responsibilities must be established. It is necessary to study all the possibilities that our high connectivity and the digital media now offer. And linked to all that, we have to develop social control and responsibility for those who speak out.

In all organizations different control mechanisms should be considered in order to guarantee accountability, in organizations as well as in corresponding external bodies and their audits, and endeavour to guarantee the separation between the judges and those who are judged. But this should never mean that the one can be replaced by the other; they are complementary mechanisms.

The whole process should be based on facts and data, more than on speeches and pep talks. First, the information should be presented by the one who is accountable, then provide some time for his/her recipients to process it in small groups, and finally, feedback should be given on the results.

Eduardo Reyes. In the specific case of what the delegates of the People’s Power do, the act should be presided by the national symbols, the flag, the shield, and the anthem; in addition to the delegate, representatives of the mass organizations, and formal and informal leaders of the ward should also be present. So as to achieve appropriate order, social discipline and a precise and coherent dialogue, the meeting should not exceed 120 people.

The information to be offered should be clear, opportune and precise, and acted on with all transparency and sincerity. The topics to be broached should be of public or common order; the private or specific ones should be processed in the delegate’s office. If an elector proposes some new component, and the delegate does not have all the information, the most sensible thing is to gather the proposal, clarify it with whoever is appropriate, and then give an answer to the elector, or arrange a meeting between the parties involved on the topic, for their attention and response.

The reports of the delegate constitute a legitimate, solemn, public and political act, and cannot be replaced by any control, audit or administrative process.

Sometimes the problems and interests of the population of a particular region don’t coincide, or the complexity of the social situation deserves more than one meeting.

Gastón Martínez. The requisites for accountability should be based on the knowledge and experience of several countries, especially related to the historical conditions that are present and that have built a particular type of State, and based on public practices according to the realities and social needs of each country. International guidelines that do not identify with the historically generated reality of each State should not be applied; therefore, accountability is specific, it has to be based on concrete historical-social situations, and established according to the conditions of every country.

In spite of similarities, every State—as in Latin America, for example—is different, because it has its history, it has been formed in a different way, and its conditions and structure, its organizational form, its development, depend on the characteristics of its population, its chosen forms of development, etc.

Víctor Hugo Leyva.  The first issue is truth as an indispensable condition, as well as the real definition of its subject, indicators, periods, reaches, causes and consequences. This provides the possibility of precision and to not get sidetracked with superfluous elements that confuse the comprehension and the result that the process should have.

As is logical, if there is a question of the analysis of an administration, it should be submitted to the scrutiny of the recipients, so that they will be able to challenge, ask questions, clarify and even to disagree, if they have information on the topic.

In the timetable of political or governmental bodies, it is important to define the time-line in which accounts should be rendered, always in harmony with the complexity of the issue that is being analyzed.

Other requirements to be taken into consideration for accountability are transparency, precision, the definition of consequences, the level of the results, the weaknesses that would have an impact on whether the goals can be achieved and, especially, the definition of solutions, strategies or other means for the accomplishment of the task.

Although it is not applicable to all cases, it is important that a corrective mechanism be established in a process of accountability of any type of organization, which could be related to administrative control, interviews, or other measures, and should complement the effectiveness of the process. I add this factor because the process includes levels of efficiency and relevance, and when it involves individuals, their capacity, their levels of preparation and commitment, a parallel mechanism that allows for the reliability of the information is useful.

Yassel Alejandro Padrón K. The main requirement for effective accountability, in my view, is that it is complemented with a practice of transparency in public administration. It is not enough that the directors offer information on the progress of their management if the citizens don’t have any way to compare it. This practice includes the existence of open sources, public access to information and the tools that guarantee its trustworthiness.

Other mechanisms could be added to give strength to the process of accountability, for example stipulating a timeline of their development and the obligation to respond to questions. Mechanisms can also be created to monitor the proposals, but the main thing is always the interrelation with the presence of a climate of transparency.

Accountability cannot be replaced by audits and administrative controls, because whatever the level of commitment that the functionaries should have before the law and their superiors, their main responsibility lies with those being represented, those that have placed with them the power to take charge of the shared issues and, as such, those represented are charged with evaluating the officials and, ultimately, to repeal them if they do not fulfill their duties.

Moreover, accountability as a mechanism of participatory democracy allows for making the most of the creativity of the citizens in the process of public management.

Rafael Hernández: What role does accountability have in a socialist system? In what way does it differ from its function in a capitalist system? What influence does it have in encouraging aspects not usually connected to it, such as economic development, prosperity, sustainable development, the interaction between managers and employees, control from the bottom up?

Patricia Arenas. Accountability, as a necessity and a human mechanism, is valid both in a capitalist society and a socialist one. But its essence and form change between one and the other. In what follows I will refer specifically to what concerns us, a socialist society, a small country under attack and blockaded.

As a system, socialism guards the common good of the majority. Its aim is to contribute to justice and social equity beyond money and the dominance of people with power. It therefore requires a more mindful action. With this I’m referring to decisions that transcend individual interests. Therefore, in this type of society, accountability must be systematic, and guarantee a broad participation in which the mechanisms will function both from high to low as the other way, which would demonstrate democracy.

Sustainable development and national independence have a continuous need for effective accountability, because in order for this commitment to exist, people have to see and feel that they are being taken into consideration, and that they are being informed of any decisions made.

Accountability should include the most important issues; among them: the government’s strategy, the economic, financial, political and judicial aspects, the guarantor of health and of living conditions, that of security and defense, of culture—among others.

The various political and popular organizations, as well as the civic ones, are a means for the discussions and exchange at ground level, for transmission from the bottom up and vice versa, but their functioning needs to always be analyzed and modified in order to avoid their stagnation or bureaucratization.

It would be ingenuous to deny that the character of a country that is under blockade and aggression sometimes influences the spread of information, but this should rather be transformed into an element that encourages the constant search of a higher level of creativity and effectiveness in accountability. [It is necessary] to struggle at all times so that this aspect will not become an excuse for the clarity that guarantees trust.

Eduardo Reyes. In a socialist social system like ours, accountability makes clear in the first place who is the true owner of the wealth and the power, and shows that no one is above the law and above the people’s control. The very process involves not only reporting problems through proposals, but also, and as an essential element, that the people participate in resolving them. Committees of neighbors are created in order to deal with certain situations that affect them, or processes are carried out with the people’s participation. Popular control is consolidated over the administrative processes and their managers; a qualitatively superior level is achieved in the relationship between the people and the administration, in the context of public administration.

The most important thing is that the people recognize and exercise their authority, that accountability is a mechanism, a political tool that allows them to exercise this authority, through the figure of the delegate and of the People’s Council as representatives and observers of their interest, of their power and their true authority.

Gastón Martínez. The supervision of the bodies of the State and of the public officials and servants should be greater and in strict fulfilment of socialism because, in contrast to what happens in many capitalist countries—and especially in Latin America—representative democracy in socialist countries should be strengthened, and to a large extent be subject to the participatory one. That is to say that the people not only have the right to know but also to decide on questions of State and, based on organizations of the people themselves, to regulate the behavior and the decisions that affect everyone, and that at times are taken by a region or by some public functionaries.

As I do not live in a socialist country, I don’t want to make more comments on these processes and mechanisms of decision-making that I don’t know about, but it seems to me that in socialism these should be a systematic, daily, and profound practice that has to do, directly and fundamentally, with governing by obeying.

Víctor Hugo Leyva. In principle, accountability should fulfill the same function in any kind of system; its necessity and relevance, together with the fulfillment of a particular function or administration, is useful and feasible in any society. Of course, the form in which it is undertaken and organized, its impact and result, as well as the scope that it could have beyond the institutional settings, and the political connotation that it can be given, can make a difference, like the fulfillment of the requirements for its development.

As a method, in our society not only are the bodies of the State administration accountable at the parliamentary level, but also other structures at the state and business level, or in the political organizations themselves. The most visible case is the accountability of the delegates of the People’s Power, but it is not the only one.

I consider that this mechanism, together with others, can facilitate the monitoring of the administration at any level and, with the proper controls, can improve the levels of activity in any area. Participation, not only of the people that are directly involved but of the people who receive the effects of these results indirectly—by the knowledge of this effort, its strengths and weaknesses—can guarantee better levels of commitment, including the possibility of a wider spectrum of solutions.

If this has an impact on the improvement of the economic activity of an executive, political or social character, then there is the possibility of leading to a better development plan.

Looking at it from an ideal situation, the relation that exists between the different hierarchies of the social and economic structure and the people can find in accountability an opportunity for interaction, and if that occurs with the necessary levels of trust, truth and service vocation, democratic socialism will be greatly facilitated.

Yassel Alejandro Padrón K. When we speak of a socialist system we undoubtedly refer to a society in socialist transition, meaning, it is guided by a project that includes the total democratization of social relations.

In contrast to capitalist societies, in which we expect public power to exist juxtaposed with the great private powers—which escape its control, and actually dominate over them—in socialism everything is subordinated in the first place to the public good, beginning with the economy. In general, it is considered that there exists a relation of total complementarity between the common good and that of each individual person; therefore, in a socialist system accountability as a mechanism of participatory democracy should be present in all environments, beginning with the sphere of labor, with the accountability of business directors before the workers’ collectives. If there exists an environment in which accountability cannot be absent, it is at the economic level. Here the process should happen at all levels, in the agencies of the People’s Power, in the political organizations, the unions and, in all these, with the assemblies of the workers.

In a socialist system one must be more forceful in the search for participatory democracy than what could ever be proposed in a capitalist context. In a liberal system, the democratic aspects of the system are progressively neutralized by a weakening of the political side; in socialism, on the other hand, all opportunities to activate popular participation should be maximized, because just that, exercised conscientiously, and as a way to appropriate reality, guarantees cultural victory, and in this authentic democratization, tools like accountability have a fundamental role.

We do know, however, that in the practice of socialism, as it has existed historically, there has not been sufficient advance in terms of democracy and the socialization of power. In many contexts this is related to the entrenchment and abuse of the logic of the vanguard, and so a creative search is necessary for new models of relations to be established between directors and employees, relations that should be based on popular control.

In the Cuban context, a good first step to move in this direction would be to develop the mechanisms of accountability—which already have some support in our institutional setup—to the utmost.

Rafael Hernandez: What problems affect accountability in Cuba and in other countries? Formalism, responsiveness, credulity or recognition, authority, disinterest, bureaucracy, verticalism? The problems are determined by political, legal, economic, psychological, cultural factors, or resistance to change, the so-called old mentality, inertia? What major consequences can occur when accountability does not work?

Patricia Arenas. The psychological mechanisms at the individual, group, organization and social levels need to be studied very well in relation to accountability and the dynamics of interaction for each of these levels. Given the considerations that I mentioned in the definition of accountability, human activity has different mechanisms that can lead to moving away from them, or that they transform into formal activities, straitjackets, external mechanisms that can be mocked.

If one follows the political speeches outside of Cuba in their campaigns, knowledge of principles and values accepted by human beings and meant to attract votes and partisanship jump out. This rests on the promise to satisfy the needs of human beings, which is a universal issue. In Cuba, we have freed ourselves of the whole financial and propagandistic set-up of those who base their power in money. But the existence of people and organizations that intend to use the possibilities of speeches to evade responsibilities is obvious.

When the mechanisms are formalized and bureaucratized, when the responses are outlined, verticalism is practiced, different pressure tactics are used to silence and sanction those who speak up, and short-term feedback is weakened. But in the long term its effect is more devastating, as it erodes confidence and legitimacy, and increases the lack of interest and commitment.

Not long ago I heard a bank teller saying: “A lot of money is collected daily in the country, and I don’t know where this money goes.” The answers to these kinds of comments should come from systematic, transparent accountability, and also produced in a language understood by a diverse public. Sometimes, information offered in the newspaper is presented in a language so sophisticated that even for me, a scholar in the social sciences, it is incomprehensible.

Clarity, simplicity, sincerity and examples that can be understood by the population are key elements for the improvement of accountability, in addition to the use of media and new technologies. Those who have a responsibility at any level should follow the example of President Miguel Díaz-Canel and establish a physical and continuous dialogue with the people they direct and to whom they are accountable.

Eduardo Reyes. There are many elements that affect accountability and which, in fact, are produced systematically, and generate discouragement, a lack of credibility and social recognition of the delegate in the community and in the political process itself. Among these are bad organization and preparation of the meetings, with a low convening power—which does not stimulate popular participation—a poor preparation on the part of the delegates on the topics that will be debated—which makes it impossible for them to face the dialogue and exchange with the people in an appropriate manner, and result in erroneous improvisations, and incorrect answers to the people’s proposals.

Other problems that affect the accountability processes and that provoke negative opinions, lack of confidence and credibility by the people in this important political process are the evaluation of the solution of certain problems by the delegate himself, ignoring or discrediting the popular and administrative participation in the process; expressions of populism; setting up meetings with little or excessive popular participation, which in any of the cases does not guarantee that the necessary information reaches the electors, nor an appropriate debate  or discussion of the topics presented; cancelling or postponing scheduled meetings; changing the location of the meeting without notice and not processing the agreements adopted in the meetings.

Gastón Martínez. I will abstain from responding specifically on Cuba and other Latin American countries because I don’t have sufficient material, but I do want to give my point of view on Mexico. In my country, in this new situation, the political regime is undergoing profound changes; private interests are being removed from decision-making. There is a sector composed of tens of thousands of functionaries and millions of public servants, who exercise resistance to these new rules which have as their principal objective the struggle against corruption, and the dominating presence of private interests in the so-called public sphere. That is already being reversed. In Mexico, a “revolving door” is what we call the way in which business people became participants in government positions and how in this neoliberal era many public officials—and even ex-presidents—would, at the end of their term, place themselves into the highest positions of national private monopolist consortiums, and even transnational or international conglomerates, and benefit in some way from information they already had because of the area in which they had worked. Now, with the government of López Obrador, who has already been there for two and a half years, a constitutional modification was made which could bring a lifetime ban or even prison to the officials who carry out these practices. Today, with the newly enacted laws in this new development phase in Mexico, corruption is a serious crime.

Víctor Hugo Leyva. One of the problems that affect the usefulness of accountability is related to the lack of truth of the information. This, together with the levels of formality with which it is carried out, undermines the objective of improvement of this type of process. And to that we need to add the lack of systematization and feedback on the deficiencies that can be seen in their exercise. Sometimes an analysis is made and in those areas they are satisfied with mentioning the problems and, what is worse, with presenting justifications that make solving them difficult. When terms like “the cause of the lack of solution was explained” are used, as it happens in the accountability of the delegates to their constituents, it means that they will not insist on resolving the situation.

Add to this the fact that when the case deals with a question affected by factors external to the official or body that is being held accountable, and no possibility is established legally for these institutions to respond in the same area, a sort of circumstantial limbo is created that obscures any previous result.

When I had the opportunity to be a delegate of the People’s Power and the proposals of my constituency were related to businesses or institutions that did not show up during the process, the feelings of impotence persisted, which translated itself to the electors as a perception of incompetence.

The causes, like the explanations that are offered about the problems, are grandiosely misinterpreted when—trying to not create a state of mind of disenchantment or dissatisfaction—possible political problems are put forward in order to hide the deficiencies, or there are claims of economic problems in order to cover them up.

It is indispensable to understand the need for transparency, efficiency and a real sense of self-criticism, whose analysis should have development as its final aim. If the process is well organized, if sufficient information is gathered, if it can be proven, if feedback is given and all factors that have an impact on the question are considered, then no dissatisfaction will be generated and, therefore, there will be a guarantee that the process will be a road towards perfection and development.

Yassel Alejandro Padrón K. The problems that plague accountability in the Cuban context are numerous. Many of us have the experience that it has become an empty formality, just one more element in a political ritual that has little to do with an effective participation of the citizenry. So we can define that as the first problem.

Directors and employees have ended up considering accountability as just one more step, something that they have to do because it was so established, without really worrying about something that should be in every thought on this matter, its quality. Among other reasons, this happens because of a political culture leaning toward bureaucratism, because it does not consider the people, and because of the desire to comply with what has been established.

One of the main problems that have an impact on the low quality of accountability is the lack of transparency. Since there is no institutional and judicial plan that shores up its practice in the public process in an efficient, continuous and satisfactory way, the quality and the capacity of the citizens to be able to compare the information is affected in such a way that in the majority of cases, there is no other solution for them than sticking to the version presented by the directors.

To this we must add a record of problems posed in the accountability meetings which have not been resolved. This can have many reasons, going from badly managing the process to the lack of resources at the various levels, linked to the problems that the US economic sanctions produce. However, the general bottom line is that, for one reason or another, problems are not resolved, which strengthens the idea of the mechanism being a mere formality.

Perhaps another problem is the weakness of the mechanisms that provide feedback on the proposals posed in the accountability meetings, which could be an excellent tool of participatory democracy.

Any intent now to bring back the original meaning of the accountability meetings clashes with a mentality stuck in something that we could call apathy. Citizens show their fatigue because of the lack of hope at the time of using the democratic mechanisms available to them. This is an attitude in which “the snake eats its own tail”, because it consolidates the formality that creeps up on these tools and allows for the production of a situation of low democratic participation. However, it would be silly to just blame the citizens for their apathy, since it is the result of structural problems like the ones we mentioned before—as well as others.

In general, the lack of involvement in the shared issues, and the decline of the public sphere are recurring consequences of situations in which there is a low effective and real participation in the making of decisions. It is there where we have to find the cause of the situations in which apathy is produced, and also towards where we have to look in the search for solutions.

Rafael Hernandez. Finally, I ask the panelists to tell us how do we guarantee the functioning of accountability? What actions should be adopted for this process to fulfill its role? On whom do these actions depend?

Patricia Arenas. Many of the things I have mentioned contribute to ensuring a better functioning of accountability in the short term. The information collection mechanisms need to be oiled and participation of everyone is needed; we need to have an ear to the ground and produce appropriate answers by means of all channels. On this point, I single out as the most fundamental mechanisms the circulation of prior information, the concession of time so that people can process that information, first at an individual level and then in small and medium groups, as a preamble to exchange and feedback.

The treatment of the pandemic in Cuba and the circulation of all information related to it is a clear and good example of good management by the government, with effective accountability. It is necessary to take this as a model and take it to other levels, as a form of regular behavior by people, groups, social, political and business organizations, and civil society.

In addition, to improve accountability it is important to deal with the steps to be taken for the long term. It is necessary to understand its nature as a system, and its complexity, the integration of all the factors that pass through it: economic, socio-psychological, political, legal, cultural and technological—among others.

The first link for improvement in the long term is that accountability should be brought into the teaching and learning process from a young age. This would require the preparation of teachers, so they can do this from experience.

A change in human culture is also required; we are used to live very grounded in the search and punishment of wrongdoing and this tends to all energy circling around the problems, and to people and organizations developing mechanisms of evasion and concealment of information. The step towards a culture that focuses on appreciation, on the search of what functions well, and on the prize as part of life, can lead to a change in people, in groups, organizations and society as a whole. This should be accompanied by a broad process of inquiry and exploration, by a search for the fundamental elements, an understanding of what other people are asserting, to achieve a system of communication that is constituted by effective communication, which is definitely the basis of accountability.

Eduardo Reyes. To guarantee a process of effective accountability meetings is not easy; in general it is quite complicated, because it is the result of daily, systematic and consecutive work, which entails commitment, preparation, delivery, responsibility, empathy with the people, personal, social and administrative demands, courage to confront the problems and to explain. It entails modesty, humility and discipline, among other characteristics.

To ensure its functioning, before all we should have the courage to do and say what is necessary, though it may not be nice or it may hurt. Even when the responsibility is personal or cannot be delegated, accountability should be worked as a team, from the personal to the collective. Meetings should be organized and prepared according to a timetable, with preparatory meetings by sector and routes through existing proposals and problems; possible solutions or alternatives to the urgent problems would be investigated, with the collaboration of the administrations and popular participation; a plan for periodic check-ups is prepared, and its highest expression is based on its systematic link with the electors.

Contacts should be established with the delegates with the greatest experience, accompanied by the main administrations that have an influence on the sector, as well as integrated community working groups which include all the recognized formal and informal leaders, who could support and contribute to the process. Good results should be encouraged, as well as criticism of everything that has turned out badly.

The process of meetings of accountability constitutes a valuable and important weapon if it is organized and conducted correctly to achieve effectiveness in the work of the delegates and the system of the People’s Power.

Gastón Martínez.  In Mexico, one additional element are the now very popular “early briefings” [mañaneras]: every day for approximately two hours, President López Obrador appears before the cameras of public television and other various digital media, and provides information on the situation of the country, having to do with security, energy producers, problems of legality and illegality, etc. In these appearances there is a sort of circular dialogue in which journalists who agree with the process of change, and others in clear and open opposition, and government critics, participate expressing objections and indicating issues. It is very interesting because the entire population can see the problems of that moment. This was done basically because the conventional information media in Mexico are in the hands of private monopolistic enterprises; many of them are among the richest in the country, which in addition possess very economically successful businesses. A large part of these media depended on the support of the State, which bought publicity from them in large quantities, and even paid the journalists. There was a long list of journalists to whom monthly payments were made, supposedly to support them in their work, and it was the way through which they were bought. Today the “mañaneras” are the main means to counteract the information offered by the large media, with other material coming directly from the government. Participants are officials, even from the army, the national guard, the marines, those in charge of agriculture, energy, etc. All have to go through this and give systematic information on what is being done and how, how much is being spent, and on what, etc. It is an experience that has the Mexican right-wing on tip-toes, meaning that they are swinging from the chandeliers, very annoyed, because they say that the work of these “mañaneras” is to advertise the government. In my opinion, it is something that was needed in the country, and it is one of the most interesting mechanisms that has sprung up in Mexico.

And finally, with regard to who should guarantee the functioning of accountability, I think that in the first place, it should be the government itself. However, the legislative bodies should function as true popular representatives, and stimulate the practice of responsible objections. Nevertheless, popular action and social organizations representative of the majority of the population, and the sectors which have non-majority expression—like for example cultural workers—can, with their actions, guarantee the functioning of real accountability. That means that this process also has to start from the ground up, has to open up to the possibility of the participation of all bodies, of the people, the journalists, the culture people, of absolutely everyone, in order to present the national problems, those that pertain to all the social activities and sectors, and present them, discuss them openly, so that the functionaries, the government and the representatives will therefore have the obligation to be systematically accountable. Not only from the ground up, but mainly from the ground up is how one can compel this to be transformed in a daily, systematic, normal practice, so that everybody knows clearly and absolutely transparently everything that is happening in the environments to which they belong, as well as in the national environment—which belongs to everybody.

Víctor Hugo Leyva. In the first place we need to update the regulatory structure that establishes these kinds of processes, not only through the reordering that the country’s political systemis undertaking, but in its entire social structure, in order to determine need and relevance as the method to consider the process, while facilitating the obligation of its correct organization and functioning.

In the second place, in response to the characteristics of our society, its methodological conception, its general parameters, its sequence of execution, the feedback methods, its frequency and adaptation to the different environments need to be established. In addition, when there is a question of a specific issue, the mandatory nature of the participation of everyone involved needs to be defined.

In the third place, it should not only be organized based in the institutional hierarchies, but a mechanism needs to be established so the subjects of the accountability meetings have the capacity to request it when elements for the analysis of a particular case are present. For example, the delegates and the deputies render their accounts on an issue, but only at certain times of the year and on specific occasions. There should be a possibility for the people to request an accountability process of any functionary or public body, if this is a need for the community.

In this whole process it is necessary to analyze the results of the accountability process, the actions that derive from it, the agreements that are proposed to give feedback and the consequences for a particular body or institution, including when the final result of this action shows the failure of the tasks for which the functionaries or institutions were appointed.

It is very important to guarantee that public information transcend the limits of the meeting in which the accountability is performed. If there is an element that affects this process it is secrecy. Everyone knows what delegates do, but outside of the bits of information that get through, the results of the management of the functionaries and institutions are often unknown at other levels.

Yassel Alejandro Padrón K. I really don’t think that there is a simple answer to this question, because around the question of accountability there exist established conditions and multifactorial structural problems that are difficult to solve.

It would be necessary to make a clear diagnosis of the situation, to recognize the problems from which it suffers, and the distance from the model we wish to reach. So in the search for solutions we cannot underestimate the actions that the political authorities themselves can take with reference to the transformation of the institutional set-up in order to create appropriate conditions for quality accountability.

The context of the constitutional reform is ideal for achieving democratic transformations that are necessary in this area, “from above.” However, nothing can replace popular mobilization because the democratic mechanisms only become effective when the people, the citizens, take ownership of them; this is a process that can be driven by the political organizations, but for this to be organic it needs to include popular self-organization. It is the mobilization context by popular demand that guarantees the efficient development of these mechanisms.

On the other hand, accountability can function as an effective medium of the organizations of civil society, for example the social movements that fight for ecological protection, for the rights of the minorities, etc.

And finally, we cannot forget the role of the press as an indirect but very effective mechanism, through which the citizens exercise control over the established powers.

Rafael Hernández: Many thanks to our panelists for their very complete and multi-layered responses regarding this assortment of truly complex problems, with different origins and aspects. Based on the concrete experiences of each of the panelists, they have shown us how we can approach them.

In the first place, Patricia Arenas in her occupation as psychologist, mentioned the fear of exposing oneself to criticism, and Eduardo Reyes, delegate of the People’s Power, also spoke of needing to have the courage and the capacity to place oneself in the role of being a representative, being able to render accounts, and doing it correctly. How to learn how to do this? Is it possible that it can be part of the training, of the education of the directors, the broad topic of the education of those who direct, although it would only be at the highest level? To learn how, in practice, is something that, in order to develop it effectively, is inevitably put together along the way.

Others related accountability not only with democracy but also with the efficiency of activities that involve coordination—like good government, like the achieving of particular objectives. To what extent can an economy develop effectively without an accountability process? To what extent can there be economic efficiency without accountability? Are these two different things?

I particularly noted the presentation on what can authorize the directors, or the higher levels, to share or to listen to opinions expressed by the lower levels, in relation to the solving of problems. How can we achieve that the issue of who will find solutions and implement them is presented—including in a hierarchical order, and in which there is accountability?

In addition, one of the panelists referred to avoiding putting the personal and the political before the collective. What does that mean—given that in a democracy the collective would appear to be fundamental?

Professor Gastón Martínez, our Mexican panelist, stated that the concrete historical conditions and the particular characteristics of each country are inseparable from the forms of accountability and their way of being applied. Is it possible to learn about accountability and about other issues of the mechanisms—especially local ones—of democratic functioning amid countries with different histories and cultural traditions? Or is it impossible to draw lessons from them because of their particular characteristics?

Finally, there a point to which Eduardo, the delegate, referred: “It is about bringing to the accountability processes the questions that have to do with the collectivity, not the ones that deal with the individual—those have to be resolved by a lawyer.” In a system such as ours, what is the line that separates institutions—like for example the People’s Power, the Party? Many people resort to them to solve problems, instead of going to the tribunals. This clear line that separates them, especially in circumstances such as those of Cuba, has to do with the functioning of the system as a whole and not only with a mechanism. This is a problem that would be interesting for the panelists to comment on.

So now I would like to give the word to the comments and questions of those who participate in our group as part of the public.

Noris Tamayo Pineda: (Director of the Center of Public Administration Studies – CEAP [Centro de Estudios de Administración Pública]—of the University of Havana, and vice-president of the Cuban Society for Public Administration). I would just like to endorse the idea that, in my opinion, in the environment of public administration, accountability should be seen as a process in which all citizens observe, control and evaluate the responsible actions of the  public servants, assuming the principles that are inherent in public administration itself, like transparency, and control. Therefore, the absence of accountability tears into basic democratic principles, equality of the citizens on the one hand, and on the other, popular control. From this we can conclude that an accountability that is inadequate or non-existent, deeply damages the democratic life of a State of Laws.

So this topic acquires strong significance in the current Cuban context, in a process of structural and functional transformations, as a manifestation of the updating of our economic and social model, in which we position ourselves to raise those constitutional proposals that support the motivation to build a socialist society that is prosperous and sustainable to their highest expression. Therefore, the challenges to be faced are many, which flow through everything that the panelists have mentioned, including the motivation of a tradition of debate and deliberation, of greater transparency, achieving greater social sensitivity and responsibility of our public institutions and, of course, advancing and increasing citizens’ knowledge, which leads to a better training of our public servants.

Renier Garí Angulo (Soldier in the Active Military Service and student of Philosophy at the Universidad Central de Las Villas). With respect to democracy, institutional accountability to the citizens—a fundamental topic is surely the creation of democratic culture as a whole. I believe that this culture can be separated into two sides: first, how to build a citizenry that questions, that makes demands of the institutions; and then also how to build institutions—because these are not buildings and documents, but citizens with responsibilities—with a democratic culture. How, starting from these same creative areas of contents, information, universities, magazines, and institutes, can we train people, institutions and citizens towards a democratic culture?

Society is very diverse, from a range of ages, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. How can we communicate these same democratic essentials of the institutions in the forms and the ways they operate? I mean, there are meetings in the constituency in which accountability is rendered, but what other methods may exist? I would like the panel to propose others, which could reach wider groups.

Manuel Alonso Machado (Economic consultant). I would like to refer only to the accountability processes of the People’s Power, which are periodically and regularly celebrated in Cuba. Its rituals and ceremonies are well conceptualized, organized and planned. After they are held, copious information is made public, in which we are informed of the number of meetings held, the proposals made by the citizens and the responses offered; generally the percentage of the participation is not disclosed, nor any solutions to the problems.

I take an active part in the accountability process of my district, and eventually in that of the People’s Council of my area. From there on, everything becomes a total mystery until national television mentions some intervention or other in the sessions of National Assembly of the People’s Power.

I remember the words of the Comptroller General, Gladys Bejerano; in one of the most recent meetings of the Assembly, when she referred to the results of the verification of the internal sector she said more or less the following: “Until when will we keep on talking about the same thing and we still don’t solve the problems for good?”

There is ever less participation in accountability meetings because for a long time urgent problems have remained without solution—like housing, food acquisition, food coupons, the lines, the bureaucracy which makes an agony out of any solution for the simplest things, the abuses of authority and the corruption, the water leaks, the management of garbage, and the list goes on. With the passing of time these meetings have been stripped of their important and essential function through the complacency of some functionaries who seem to be only interested in appearances and not in solutions, who blame others for all their problems, and not their own incompetence, because they enjoy an almost absolute impunity. It is vital that they retake their true function in our society, as part of the social control, to contribute to the health of our country.

Daniel Rafuls (Professor, Universidad de la Habana). Not to have accountability at any organizational level—of the Party, the government, the administration or any social grouping, whether it be national, regional or local—is a consequence of a pyramidal democratic understanding of the managerial processes, in which the directors, the bosses, whether they be real or a formality, believe in their own capacities and strengths and not in the collective intelligence.

In a process of social construction such as socialism, which occurs in a spontaneous way, with faith in the individual capacity and intelligence of the appointed or elected person, or in the glorified natural virtues of the market—and not in the conscious or thoughtful actions of the people—accountability by the authorities is essential, because it is the moment in which the explanations that the representatives or functionaries offer about their actions come together with the anxieties, concerns or demands of those they represent.

Is it possible in a process of socialist construction—which, in contrast to capitalism, should be considered and constructed with the collective intelligence of its main beneficiaries—to have public representatives and functionaries whose promotion to these positions is not a result of policies so designed that they avoid spontaneity? Or, saying it another way: Together with the necessary improvement of the organizations and of the legislative apparatus of which we have been talking about in this panel, is it possible to guarantee authentic and efficient accountability processes in political, state, social and mass organizations, at the national, sectorial or local level, without an appropriate policy of cadres that promotes public offices not necessarily to those that are always ready to show them off, but those that have ethical, professional and human qualities to integrally carry out these responsibilities? And if it is not based on these assumptions, that is, a policy of cadres much more efficient than the current one, how can we achieve accountability for public representatives with a higher level of ethical, professional and human training?

José Alejandro Rodríguez (Journalist, Juventud Rebelde). Accountability as a social practice cannot be an occasion or a condition because it runs the risk of becoming a formality or losing its democratic essence; it should constitute the intrinsic method, the reason-to-be of any public management of organizations from the top down and vice versa, so that they don’t become a repetition of the story as synthesized by popular humor. The excessively verticalist and centralized model of our society—which we are trying to make more horizontal for a more complete and democratic socialism—fashioned habits and practices that were extremely authoritarian and unidirectional in its methods of management; the chain of command moved mostly from high to low.

Accountability, with its transparent aeration, its invigorating sincerity and its stimulus towards the systematic revision of every public subject, strengthens the participation that is so necessary to socialism; when this two-way road is bureaucratized and becomes clumsy, social frustrations pile up—like in the old song. For it to be effective, a leadership that is much more real than formal is required every day at the government level and in the popular bases of society, a Guevara-style leadership, based on example, on the mastery of the issues, on the capacity to convince and discuss, on a culture of dialogue and debate—so imperative today in our social network so that at this point others, who might take advantage of our gaps and holes, won’t come with their stories and wicked intentions.

For there to be accountability two well-prepared groups are required: those who pay tribute without fear and concealment to the goodwill and the opinions of society, and those who request accounts with firmness, social commitment and a high sense of public responsibility. Both need rules and standards that stimulate more than they oblige, as well as authentication structures and spaces.

In the conflict between what we hope for and what really happens, between what should be and what is, the only way to exorcize our errors, deviations and mistakes is to submit them to public opinion and confront them among everyone. Accountability is not seen as a healing phenomenon of society without social communication and information, a right, and a right of everyone, high up, down low, and along the sides.

And in order not to go beyond the time-limit, I will close with this observation made by a journalist in the daily section of complaints, proposals and worries of the citizens, “Acuse de recibo, of Juventud Rebelde, who also reveals and analyses the responses of the institutions that are mentioned. In these, he sometimes sees the outmoded noggin spewing an irate, elusive, justifying and dishonest reaction of more than a few institutions. There are those who render accountability, yes, but in their own image and their position, and in denial of their function of public service—watch out for that.

I have learned a lot in this forum with the interventions of the panelists and the participants, to conceptualize much more my concerns on the topic of accountability. I propose that everything discussed here be communicated to the world of the institutions and organizations of the country, so that this forum does not become a mere soliloquy.

Elvira Edwards Vázquez. (Cuban Cultural Research Institute Juan Marinello [Instituto Cubano de Investigación Cultural Juan Marinello]). My comments have to do with question three. Accountability in a social structure constitutes a relationship that includes multiple components, and can be the object of considerations from diverse fields of knowledge. I propose a perspective from the cultural-political angle, and I ask myself: What practical operational meaning does this perspective have for a critical approach to the practices in a socialist order?

The operational meaning is found in the fact that, in accountability as in democracy, people, their behavior, their assumption of power positions, constitute subjects of the cultural and also the political practice—which is the object of our analysis. Accountability and its democratic capacity reveal the degree of maturity of the political culture of the participants in their processes and their possible impacts on the reconstructive potentials of a society. So, what would characterize a social dynamic in which accountability is profiled in a democratic environment? The answer to this question has as its core the culture of power and of the diverse popular collective subjects in the structure of political participation and its results in the type of social action it generates.

From this I distinguish three characteristics of accountability in a democratic environment. In the first place, the capacity of the political situation to place the limits and the compass of power in the flow of the social project, in the constituency in which the consensus is being expressed and in the diversity of the forms of understanding and desiring this social project of the country—ridding oneself of attitudes of monopolistic representation. In the second place, the sustained attention on the part of the power structures toward possible areas of the people’s needs that are not being heard or taken into account. And finally, the potential of individual and collective popular subjects for promoting developmental practices of a citizenry with the capacity to exercise power, to manage the public space.

The foregoing explains that democracy is supported by the degree of citizen participation in political life, by the diversity of spaces and levels of decisions, by the networks created for the generation of an accountability dynamic and by the opposition encouraging feedback on the degree to which the sociopolitical project of the country responds to the expectations of the collective imaginary.

Yunier Rodríguez Cruz (Digital Government Study Center, Faculty of Communications, University of Havana [Centro de Estudios de Gobierno Digital, Facultad de Comunicación], Universidad de la Habana). During the last few years, the impact of the ICTs [Information and Communication Technologies] as well as the access to information and the focus on e-government, are having an impact on the mechanisms of accountability of the State and the government. As a result, at the international level, a set of standards, regulatory dynamics, and articulations with some mechanisms of administrative transparency are becoming evident, and there is a greater use of public data, especially in these new environments or spaces of popular sharing and participation.

All of this has facilitated seeing accountability as a process in which the social actors know and check how public management is being carried out by governmental agencies and their officials and, indisputably, it is presented as a mechanism that leads to avoid or combat administrative corruption, but also to reveal with total transparency how the processes related to public governance are being developed.

I believe that even the Constitution explains the participatory nature and the importance of this mechanism for Cuba now, but evidently the technological development and the digital transformations offer new challenges and threats. How could these new digital, information and communicative scenarios in Cuba have an influence on accountability?

Ovidio D’Ángelo  (Center for Sociological and Psychological Reserarch [Centro de Investigaciones sociológicas y Psicológicas]). I would like to comment on some of the points that I see as relevant. First, that accountability is part of the system of sociopolitical relations and diverse institutional contexts. That means legitimizing citizen participation in all of them, with concrete results, so that they can be really effective. The need to encourage a thoughtful, collective culture of dialogue implies preparation, education, and training, because these are systems that are not managed at the conversational level and by common sense.

Another aspect would be the representativity and the responsibilities of the coordinators of the accountability process, who should be carefully selected by the communities, on the basis of well-defined criteria, and not only by their autobiographies. The representativity of the social sectors at different levels of the institutions in the country, which show the diversity of the population, also involves other forms of election by the citizens and the workers.

The systematic incorporation of the work of the social organizations, the community worker groups and the institutions with perspectives and alternative views of the problems—and all this at different levels, with stable and systematic workers’ commissions—needs systematic group work. And this also implies a change in the manner and content of the social organizations of the country, which need to be modernized in a path towards the democratization of society.

Wilder Pérez (Researcher [Investigador], Instituto de Filosofía). I will comment on accountability in socialism, and I will emphasize some of the ideas that have already been mentioned. Tomorrow we commemorate a century and a half of the end of the Paris Commune, an event that, as a prescription of government, linked the binding mandate to socialism. Since then, the studies and practical references to this topic have grown.

As an idea and as a practice, accountability points to the core of every process of socialization, to the bases of a socialist self-government, to the collective control on acts and decisions that determine life in society, that have an impact on various public situations, that outline the common good. On the one hand, accountability implies an obligation; on the other, a right. It obliges rendering relevant information, the submission to public scrutiny of acts and decisions of a management or a government. It also implies a responsibility, to answer before someone, to comment on the reasons for these decisions, to be exposed to critical dialogue and to awkward questions.

It can therefore be seen as a process determined by a series of oppositions: in the face of secrecy, there is public access to information and the possibility of permanent monitoring of management; in the face of verticalism, there are the collective deliberations on decisions and issues relevant to society; in the face of corruption, there is the existence of standards and practices that make popular control over all elected or designated officials viable.

In Cuba it is usual to allege that the structures are adequate, but that their functioning is deficient. Do our standards and institutions make accountability a pillar of our democracy? Without a system that regulates all power structures, from top to bottom? That establishes explicit procedures on who is accountable, to whom, in what ways, with what frequency, and that provides sanctions for not fulfilling their responsibilities? Without educational and communicative strategies that encourage a robust civic culture? Without guarantees for the political interventions of self-organized social forms (like associations, syndicates, communities, social movements, etc.)?

Yan Guzmán Hernández (Professor of Constitutional Rights [Profesor de Derecho Constitucional], Universidad de la Habana). I would like to concentrate on two issues of the topic we are discussing. From the constitutional point of view we should not forget that there are two important regulations related to accountability. The first is that the institution is understood to be a principle of the organization and functioning of state organisms, and it was so regulated in the Constitution of 1976, and again in 2019. Again, both texts also offer the possibility that institutions have a life, an importance and transcendence in the frame of the workers organizations, of the accountability to which the administration is responsible before its workers—this being of great importance in a socialist state economy like ours.

And related to how to achieve a better accountability, we must remember that an institution has a set of structural principles. These are: contradiction, bilaterality, information, transparency, a timely and established regularity and, of course, participation—at whatever levels in whatever institutions where it is produced.

And finally, something that I know is being developed, there is the need for a methodology, that is, a process which is as clear and detailed as it can be, that will allow for accountability of management to the workers, as is the case of the delegate with his electors, and that the process, as it takes place, will follow specific norms that guarantee its objectives.

Yohanka de León (Investigadora, Instituto de Filosofía). Accountability is a procedure of every consultative practice, in order to promote the participation of the recipients of the activities and conduct of the public servants, whether they be people or institutions. It is an indispensable method for democratic action, and essentially participatory.

In Cuba there are places for accountability. However, the concerns lie in its functioning or efficacy or, in some cases, in the lack of a vision which is binding and standard in public life. For some institutions, it is inconvenient and a nuisance, and that’s why it is reduced or postponed, or people forget to bring all the strength and potentiality to it that institutions have in their proceedings.

The question is why it seems to be absurd, if it is vital for a society that is building a social project for the benefit of the poor majority and because of them. I think that for our thoughts to situate us in a positive perspective, we need to think and propose ways and forms to communicate, to inform and educate about accountability. Because it is not only the desperate cries or the whispered murmurs of dissatisfaction, the failures, the laziness or the inappropriateness of the public services and its employees; it is the way of putting together the aims, the possible actions of the community or the communal. This is not spontaneous; it has to be learned and understood, because modern logic—even the colonial and underdeveloped one of our society, in addition to being blockaded—individualizes, and even in the solidarity we have lived for sixty years, the egoism and apathy with asymmetries is greater than the common goals to be built. It is necessary to make our actions more radical, that is to say, go to the roots.

William Espronceda (Professor, Departamento de Sociología, Universidad de la Habana). Inspired by the interesting reflections articulated by the panelists, I would like to express some thoughts, mostly theoretical. In the first place, the study of accountability as one of the mechanisms or instruments of the expansion of democracy has grown with some strength during the last decades, in part as a response to the current crisis of political and administrative representation, at a global level; from the point of view of its precision, on the other hand, accountability has been much more set aside.

It is not enough to have good leaders and public servants; it is also necessary to have mechanisms of control and transparency that can establish a constant vigilance on the ways in which the public good is managed. So accountability is crucial. At the same time, by itself it does not guarantee an effective democracy; there would have to be a case of high level political and citizen culture that would allow for the questioning of the representatives. An account rendered over a citizenry that is not critical or not interested, that is complacent and ignorant of its rights becomes a formality and is hardly effective.

I therefore want to emphasize the active role of the recipients of the accounts rendered; that is, there has to be a transparent and operational system on the one hand and, on the other, a citizenry with critical ideas and effective power to achieve social change—and both these practices are interrelated. An effective system of accountability is not the one that has the most controls and standards—because that would just lead to more bureaucracy and less transparency and effectiveness. The key, I think, would be in the decentralization of the system in order to realize greater performance and effectiveness between the representatives and those that are represented.

And finally, I would like to add that the aim should be to limit the levels of political-administrative representation to the maximum, and to increase those of direct participation. In this way society would not have to control, or at least very minimally, its representatives, but it would self-govern or self-represent. Beyond the fact that this does imply difficulties in practice, its proposal is legitimate. Representation and control have responded to certain existing social forms, and self-management is also a socio-historical construct.

Ricardo Machado (Sociologist). Accountability is an act of control, that is, a function of the directive cycle that interacts with three others: planning, organization-direction or management and, lastly, control or accountability. In quite a few of our institutions these are disconnected. The culture of the country regarding issues of management or administration are probably the lowest in Latin America. President Díaz-Canel has said that the schools of the PCC [Partido Comunista de Cuba] would have to teach administration. This means recognizing that there is an essential deficit. This reality affects accountability. We have to ask ourselves: what accounts? If there is no precision in the accounts, how are they going to be evaluated?

Yosley Carrero (Journalist. Information System of Cuban Television). I would like the panelists to particularly clarify how the public media, especially the digital platforms or the social network scenario, could help in the exercise of accountability, and how they could serve as a tool, a mechanism for the public services to provide better management of the accountability, and not only at the national, but also at the local level. In other words, how can the transparency of public information in the different institutional spaces or platforms of communication be made more effective? Sometimes we find that important data and information is not published, and that websites are completely useless, or even that interaction with the users is not possible and that people are not permitted to write their comments on a specific topic. In the case of Cuba, what can be the role of the public media in accountability? How can they influence the social networks and the digital platforms from their own experience of establishing a socialist system?

Daybel Pañellas (Professor. Faculty of Psychology, University of Havana). I have three questions for the panel. Taking into consideration that “accountability” is also an expression often used as a synonym for revenge, do you think that it carries a burden of stigmatization? And if this is so, would you change the term for another? And which could that be? Assuming that in any case we have verticalist structures, and that we continue to have a mentality that functions from a supreme authority and some form of subordination, how do you think we can contribute to the circulation of information without filters and gaps? And finally, I would like you to go more in depth, beyond the Constitution, on what the factors are that point to a favorable scenario for appropriate accountability in our context.

Rafael Hernández. Before letting the participants begin their comments, to respond to the questions or refer to what other members of the panel have said, I would like to add three specific questions, which came to me as I was listening to the dozens of excellent interventions on the part of the public.

How do we combine the power of the bureaucracy, which is not accustomed, trained or educated, which does not have a culture of accountability at the lower levels, with the supposed obligation of doing so before structures that are not of their supervision? Is this something that can be resolved through education, instruction, the application of methods of management, or is it an issue of power? Because if it is, there is a question of politics that cannot be handed over or that are unlikely to be resolved solely through a management method.

The second observation is also very specific. How does the mechanism of accountability relate to the politics of cadres, about which so much is being talked recently? How does it relate to the economic planning, of which also much is being spoken—in terms of doing it differently? Is it possible to formally integrate it into the process of cadre designations for specific positions, as well as of the setting up of an economic plan that is not only viable, technically well set-up by—if not rooted in—those that actually have to do it? Could an articulation be developed formally between accountability and the cadre politics and the planning?

And finally, since some organization institutional areas do render accounts, and others do not—and this is not only a question of the business world or of the State institutions but also of the social and political organizations—is the idea of accountability viable when it divides up the political institutional and social system in this way? And when it considers that there are divisions in this system in which accountability would work and could be applied, but in others this would not be the case?

Patricia Arenas: I think that rather than questions, there have been interventions that complement each other and that show the different nuances that all these aspects can have. In the questions and answers there is, as I see it, a high level of agreement, and a great interest on the part of the people, for this topic to be taken into consideration as having the great importance that it has for the country, with which, therefore, we all have a strong commitment.

Without a doubt, the first issue would be to create a document containing these concerns, and bring it to the country’s leadership, because it is from there that this topic would have to be assumed, in the same way that it is being done with the pandemic now. Once this is done, it would be at the national level that methods of control would have to be established so as to achieve better accountability. What needs to be done in the short term and in the long term needs to be considered. I would note the importance not only of setting it at the level of the nation, but also of each citizen—men and women. Based on the culture that we have been creating, we are always awaiting answers from above, instead of encouraging them from the base. I am talking about the importance that personal action has, beyond the actions taken by the government.

The other question that would be important is the use of the digital media. This exercise that we are doing is a good example of how the way in which we can communicate with each other today is qualitatively diverse and different from the forms we used before. Therefore, we need to improve our own ways of seeing these media and achieve accountabilities that are much more effective, and not bureaucratic.

Eduardo Reyes: This is an experience I had never shared and it has really inspired me a lot, and even more when I can appreciate that my reflections had receptive ears, which generated very interesting comments. I would like to comment, based on my experience in the People’s Power.

Many issues of an individual or personal nature of the electors are a delegate’s job, to which he must pay close attention, with the responsibility not only to guide the elector, but also to accompany him in his paperwork, down to the final resolution. But accountability is something else, more defined towards the social, the joint, or the collective. And that is its democratic essence or nature—when the delegate renders an account of his management of the problems and difficulties which have an impact and concern us all, the majority.

Here I remember Professor Susana Acea Terry, when she mentioned that the delegate is “the only public functionary who every six months stands up in front of the people to ask what problems they have.” One has to have courage to face this moment. And I don’t believe either that all the individual problems have to be aired with a lawyer, because not all are of a judicial nature.

Víctor Hugo Leyva: I think it has been very interesting to hear so many and such diverse principles. In the first place, we have to keep on insisting in being crative regarding the accountability process—whichever it may be. Not the one of the delegates, which everyone knows, but the institutional one. To persevere in the possibility that this will be an element and a factor that will be properly carried out at all levels of the hierarchic structure: in the institutions, the businesses and the organizations—as a space to make transparent the management that is being done in all these places.

It is very important to create this cultural space of preparation, so that people will not see it as a punishment but as a necessity, as something that also has to facilitate the efficiency of the public management in all areas and environments in which people are developing.

It seems to me that the cultural problem is also related to the fact that people speak of accountability only as related to the role of the delegates; it is worth noting that they do not understand that there are other options, other possibilities and other spaces in which this process can and should be produced.

It should also be remembered that accountability is just a brief moment, but—as one of the colleagues commented—the results of public management should be a continuous public control; there should be a system of information that keeps people and other institutions informed on how management sectors are doing, without it being an account rendered, although it can be summarized in meetings, at specific times.

There is an element that was introduced in this panel, related to the topic of the new technologies. I think that there is a very important power that has to do with the input of continuous information on public management, which can be done through the social networks. An appropriate possibility could be the electronic government—“on line” as they say—that establishes the spaces of exchange with the people in order to conserve this information. The use of technologies to broaden participation at this level also has to do with accountability. It is very important, as long as the control mechanisms that we know are established with the precision of the details, the range, and the levels of information that need to be given to people so they can express their opinion.

The question—and I think Rafael mentioned it—is that when one establishes a process of cadre politics, there has to be a complete system for its preparation; it cannot be spontaneous, because that is the reason we have problems with efficiency. One of the elements for which the cadre needs to be prepared is to understand the process as being a necessity, and the importance it has in being more efficient in public management. It is not only necessary to organize it better. In addition to accountability, all public institutions—which owe their management to the people, as established by the Constitution—should have a mechanism for control and knowledge about this management. It is not only a question of organizing hierarchically or institutionally, but also that there be a mechanism through which people, a community, or a group of workers can make requests at a particular time. We won’t speak of the already famous union assemblies, in which there is a report of the administration that should practically be an account rendered of what has happened in the institution, and that today doesn’t really constitute a space in which people can exchange opinions.

I think that accountability is very important if it is well organized, if it guarantees the level of participation that is needed, the follow-up that it is supposed to have, and if the people continue to understand it properly as a mechanism that facilitates levels of efficiency, to solve problems and to also guarantee levels of real participation by the people who deal with the functioning of a particular institution, and not just as a formality.

Yassel A. Padrón: Accountability is without a doubt one of the most important elements on the road to a participatory democracy. In Cuba the tensions that exist at the social level can be seen, and which have to do with the conservatism, with the malaise of the different sectors, and all this is related in a way that needs more democratization of the institutions and of the social relations; an accountability process, that exists at all levels, that can build the tissue of democracy and that can have a fundamental role in overcoming many of the problems in which we find ourselves as a society.

I would like to add the possibilities that the collective academic thinking—in law, in the social sciences—has on the possibilities, the times, and the development that may be necessary when we come to the moment to think of accountability. It is also important to take into consideration the experience of the regions; that of someone who is located in Havana is not the same as that of someone from a Santiago de Cuba municipality or from Villa Clara, or in a rural context.

Gastón Martínez: I have heard some of the interventions with great interest; I believe they are very important, very significant. Their nature leads me to speak specifically of the case of Mexico. I can really only refer to Mexico because I don’t know what is being done in this field in the sister countries in Latin America and, of course, with reference to Cuba I am also a neophyte because I don’t have more information that what you are offering me.

Even if in accountability several national states participate, what we must keep in mind is that general rules cannot be applied, fundamentally because the information that needs to be communicated depends in the first place on the type of state. And this is historically and socially shaped; in every country there are different conditions.

In Mexico, accountability began to be exercised from procedures and methods which transformed into a bureaucratic process in which people in the end did not really participate. It was carried out within the official constituencies themselves and the people did not have great knowledge, only when they intervened directly to request some pieces of information.

During the last two years, with the current government, we are in a process in which the question of accountability has been substantially modified. It had been identified with a procedure that was to be done through mechanisms that were often bureaucratized, and this inertia was disrupted to a certain extent. And then something happened: people began to require their direct participation and demand, and so what followed is that accountability has been informally included in the “mañaneras” [sic]. Each morning from Monday to Friday the President appears on public television and radio—because the government is barred by the private channels—to give information on the state of affairs. There has been a radical change; there is now a kind of circular dialogue in which journalists, academics, etc. question and even denounce the fact that this or that functionary has not done something. And this has resulted in the improvement of the bureaucratic situation towards the people.

Accountability has to occur in the State itself, but aimed towards the people. In the case of Mexico, ways have to be found for the people to express themselves and make demands, criticize, confront, and denounce, because this, in every case, is always going to be very important. There are daily complaints, and people say: ”This will be solved on Thursday—go on, Government Secretary , let’s see Energy Secretary: solve this.” The Secretaries of State and the functionaries that are responsible for each case have to be present when there are important issues like security, or administration in general.

It seems to me that in Cuba important progress has been made on this issue for decades, but I did want to provide you with what motivates the people of Mexico at this moment, as related to the way in which problems are now being dealt with there, from the bottom up.

Patricia Arenas: With respect to how to relate the mechanisms that are established with bureaucratization, and the forms that these mechanisms take, I do insist on taking into consideration the importance and need to understand what the psychological aspects are, from the social, organizational and personal, that really lead to bureaucratization. We cannot just consider one quintessential mechanism, but as was mentioned in one of the interventions, we must first give ample information, and then provide some time for the people to process everything. The existence of mechanisms for small groups to discuss the issues and to broaden them is important, so that all opinions will become part of the efforts of what is being accomplished.

I also really liked Gastón’s last intervention, related to the importance of the high level of the country’s direction needing to assume this aspect as a regular issue. That’s why I would like to conclude by mentioning again the importance of the personal example, incorporated in Che Guevara: how the public servant conducts himself when doing things—beyond what he says in his speeches—must be a priority at this point for the governance of the country.

Rafael Hernández: We have now reached one year of doing the Último Jueves programs remotely, through WhatsApp. We generally assess them through a combination of good panelists, active participation, the number of interventions focused on the topic and, of course, the quality of these interventions and their diversity. From this perspective, this panel achieves the highest qualification because, thanks to their generosity and their desire to assist in a debate of this kind, we have been able to have Patricia—a researcher who has dedicated many years to the study of the functioning of organizations. Also with us has been Víctor Hugo Leyva, a journalist who has had very concrete experience in the People’s Power and who has academic responsibilities as well as being a member of an organization like the Union of Journalists of Cuba in Santiago de Cuba—because Cuba is not just Havana—and the quality of his interventions helped us greatly to call attention to the enormous intellectual collective that we have in the whole country. We also enjoyed the contribution of Yassel Alejandro Padrón, who is a Master of Bioethics, but is also a lucid political analyst and a discussant of conceptual problems to do with the theory of socialism; and he brought a youthful view from the cultural perspective. We have also had the privilege to have a professor of Anthropology, Gastón Martínez, who has given us the view of the Mexican experience, which has provided depth to the problems we dealt with, and which has allowed us a gaze that is not at the Cuban navel but one of contrast with other realities. We had the participation of Eduardo Reyes, a delegate of the People’s Power in this concrete geographic area that is the Colón People’s Council [Consejo Popular Colón] in the heart of Central Havana. And we had the privilege of having an extraordinary public, with fourteen interventions that have given this debate a wealth of issues and of truly exceptional perspectives.

Very many thanks to all for having assisted us to set the problems on the table. We always say that the Último Jueves debates are worth more for the problems that they pose than for the answers given. From this point of view, they are a collective exercise of knowing and learning. Thank you to all for helping us to achieve this.

Translation: Catharina Vallejo


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