Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Public and Private Watchdogs

Watchdogs that keep on eye on how public officials behave arose out of the need to preserve ethical conduct and accountability. Without watchdogs, democratic nations would have experienced tremendous abuse akin to what is usually found in authoritarian countries where a select few enjoy unfettered access to anything unconstitutional. Watchdog organizations, whether in the private or public sector, exist to defend certain causes that can have tremendous effects on society if not contained. Keeping watch over the private and public sector may seem to some as an act of violation of inalienable rights, breach of trust, and outright dictatorship, yet, if left unattended, certain acts may have consequences that cannot be remedied. Rao (1998) argues that there are many watchdogs out there to protect consumers, the welfare of women, children rights, civil rights, animal welfare, and the environment. Hibbs, Rivers, and Nasilatos (1982) argue that the performances of public officials tend to be evaluated relatively by the public and not absolutely as expected. Democracy will remain a mere framework in paper form in the absence of accountability and increased incompetence of public servants (Bovens, 2005).

Public and private watchdogs, if effectively managed, can help alleviate many problems associated with public and private official corruption and as well save the dignity of organizations that would otherwise have been left to suffer in silence. The case of the Watergate Scandal is a prime example of a scandal that received wide publicity. Public awareness of scandals like that of Watergate opens avenues for healthy discussions and deliberations. In recent years, according to Goel and Nelson (1996), exposure of government officials engaging in corruption has significantly increased in the U.S. due to the hard work and determination of academics engaged in strenuous research. In the U.S., excessive government spending has been the major cause of the explosive corruption witnessed in the military and the defense industry (Goel and Nelson, 1996). Bovens (2007), in a research on accountability in the European Union, perceives enormous deficit in accountability practices within the EU governing body resulting from poor policies.


Bovens, M. (2005). The Oxford handbook of public management. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bovens, M. (2007). Analysing and assessing accountability: A conceptual framework. European Law Journal, Vol. 13, No. 4, July 2007, pp. 447–468.

Goen, J.K. and Nelson, M.A. (1996). Corruption and government size: A disaggregated analysis. Public Choice 97: 107-120, 1998. Kiuwer Academic Publishers, The Netherlands.

Hibbs, D.A, Rivers, R.D., and Vasilatos, N. (1982). The dynamics of political support for American presidents among occupational and partisan groups.  American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 26, No. 2 (May, 1982), 312-332.

Rao, H. (1998). Caveat emptor: The construction of nonprofit consumer watchdog organizations.  American Journal of Sociology, VOL. 103Issue 4 (Jan., 1998), 912-961.

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