Citizen empowerment and political accountability in Uganda

New IGC research carried out over five years in Uganda shows that while increased information on politicians’ performance can lead to more debate about political effectiveness, it does not automatically lead to greater political accountability. This challenges the popular hypothesis that transparency leads more or less directly to improvements in government performance.

Macartan Humphreys (Columbia University) and Jeremy Weinstein (Stanford University), in partnership with the Africa Leadership Institute in Kampala, sought to provide voters with basic information on the activities of Ugandan Members of Parliament (MPs) during the 2006-2011 parliamentary term.

A parliamentary scorecard was produced which captured information on each MP’s activities using clearly replicable measures such as engagement in plenary sessions of parliament and activities in constituencies. Four scorecards were produced over the parliamentary term. In a random selection of constituencies, these scorecards were also either discussed at workshops or distributed to households directly.

Humphreys and Weinstein sought to find out both whether knowledge of the scorecard (and politician’s scores) would make voters more likely to re-elect strong performers and replace weaker ones, and also whether MPs would seek to improve their performance, knowing that scorecards would be distributed in their constituencies.

While the scorecards produced lively debate in the workshops and in the media, and also led to survey results showing that citizens considered the scores to be important to their decision-making, high scorers generally did no better than low scorers at election time and the dissemination workshops had no impact on the re-election rates of MPs.

The researchers also found that “despite high levels of media attention, constituents were largely unaware of the scorecard and how their MP performed” and in areas where workshops were held, citizens were more likely to be aware of the scorecard, but they were no better informed about their MP’s performance than citizens in other areas. In interviews, some politicians described how MPs would actively try to reinterpret the information in the scorecard so that low scores would not influence constituents.

The researchers also failed to find a relationship between the scorecards and the actual performance of MPs who might have been expected to improve their performance knowing they were under greater scrutiny.

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