Transparency, Accountability and Doing The Job



Joern Berglund Nielsen, Consultant, Greenland Homerule Government



Kia ora - Joerni-mik ateqarpunga. Aaqqissuisunut qujassuteqarusuppunga.


My name is Joern and I want to thank the organisers from The Foundation for Indigenous Research in Society and Technology (F.I.R.S.T.) for inviting me to contribute to this very important seminar and I also want to thank the people of Aotearoa for making it possible for me to come here no one mentioned no one forgotten. It is indeed an honour for me to talk to and meet all of you highly knowledgeable persons. To meet the distinguished representatives of Maori is impressive and makes me very humble.


The issues that are on the agenda are huge and deeply rooted and I hope to see a constructive discussion revealing new insights.


It is the second time that I have visited your beautiful country so to be honest it is only a somewhat brief impression and insight to your natural and spiritual treasures and societal structure that I have gained hitherto. But I also want to say that I look very much forward to a future together with you since we now are getting a little more acquainted. In the same token I also want to stress that I will resist from evaluating the societal situation of New Zealand in specifics.


My background is that I am born in Maniitsoq in Kalaallit Nunaat or Inuit Nunaat known internationally as Greenland.


I have ancestral roots in both, an indigenous hunter, fisher culture and a Nordic peasant and trader culture. In Greenland we live in a somewhat harsh and hostile environment where nature and tradition have taught us to be both respectful and cautious of whatever might confront us.


My Inuit background comes through my mother. Her father was brought up as a hunter but he also became a carpenter by trade. My maternal grandmother was a midwife. On my mothers side I also have some Swedish ancestry dating back eight generations to 1786.


My grandparents on my fathers’ side where Danes from a peasant tradition and my grandfather also became a tradesman.


In my still relatively short life I have worked as an educator, researcher, director, administrator and consultant at various institutions in Greenland since I finished my university degree in Eskimology - the Science of Inuit Language, History and Culture at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark in 1989.


I do not know too much about the internal governmental and societal affairs of New Zealand. That lack of familiarity will keep me from making direct reference to the New Zealand societal scene. On the other hand I want to emphasize that I have noticed and I have been informed that there are many parallels and even similarities between Inuit and Maori. In Greenland we too live in close relation with Nature and the people who came to colonize us, live in close association with us, just as the people who colonized you. So we share the fate of being an indigenous population living together with a non-indigenous population.


I will now turn to the headline or subject that has been giving me to talk about is: ME KITE, ME RONGO, ME MOHIO KI NGA WHAKAHAERE, ME TE MAHI I TE MAHI.


Which translates I am told into transparency, accountability and doing the job. Please correct me if I am wrong.


I am still in the process of what some might refer to as putting the finger into the soil so I will try to keep from offering direct solutions or ready-made implementation plans. These are in your own hands.


I repeat I do not yet know much about the substance of Aotearoa governance and societal issues but I understand that New Zealand has grown to be a multi-cultural society confronted with the blessings and problems that comes with such a reality. Nor do I know much about Maori culture, but what I know I have come to love.


I also realize that I do see some parallels and differences in the relation between the non-indigenous peoples of New Zealand and the Maori people and the relation between Inuit and the non-indigenous peoples of Greenland.


The presentation for tomorrow has the open headline: case study - examples from the circumpolar region. Here I will focus more on the macro level which is about Greenland in the international context international seen in the perspective of indigenous governance and accountability.


I will try to restrict my presentation to examine the two concepts in question in more general terms.


The first of these two concepts, transparency are of importance in civil society need to be understood, and readily used.


How can transparency and accountability be defined? One way is to look at how these terms relate to each other and how they function separately and in conjunction. This I hope will shed some light on how these concepts or notions work together, in other words:

“that the mechanism of transparency and accountability impose implicit costs on politicians and bureaucrats for violating rules and thus can make their commitment to the rules credible”


So “doing the job” has a lot to do with strengthening local authorities. So governance in other words relates to how decentralisation happens and succeeds and secondly how administrative praxis can be enhanced.



Transparency and accountability


You can look at both of these concepts either from bottom up or top down. The central question being: How are decisions made? The higher the transparency level the better the population can hold politicians accountable.


When you look at the concepts from the top down the main tool is legislation through which central authorities hold local authorities responsible. In other words how the central government governs local government e.g. through accounting, auditing and financial regulation of expenditures and grants etc.


The central questions are then is how can local government be kept accountable? and what is the role of central government in this?


When you look at the concepts of transparency and accountability from bottom up you take the perspective of the individual human being. In other words what can the local citizen get insight into? e.g. accounting and auditing practices which are transparent. I will return to both of these processes later.


So the central processes are the public governed linkages: which can be grouped into two main categories:

1) regulative linkages


2) facilitating linkages:


The regulative linkages could be legislation on how local government or self-government are regulated. In Greenland there is a commission or council that oversees how local governments are governing. This entity is called the “Kommunit nakkutilliisut” or in Danish “kommunernes tilsynsråd”. This overviewing council has the power to suspend local decisions. In other words it has some veto control over local government decisions. An extreme example exists in Nepal where central authorities are able to dissolve a local authority. They can decide so by a simple majority.


Facilitating linkages are also often controlling – as an example, how are funds transferred from central to local government or authorities. Other facilitating linkages could be how technical or advisory support is provided.


Here is an example of the State facing civil society. In other words the central power confronting the individual human being. This has to do with all levels of authority and institutions between the Government and the individual citizen. The central question is “what means do citizens have and how do they exercise political influence?


Other important linkages to consider are the linkages between the State and the private (generally the commercial sector) which I will look into next.


As previously mentioned transparency can be generated and promoted by strengthening local government or self-government. This is done by allocating resources and moving competence and decision-making closer to the individual human being or the citizen. This is the principle of subsidiarity spoken about in the Catholic church.



Parameters of Transparency and Accountability:


1a) The extent and importance of local government: the level of participation of women and Indigenous Peoples in local government?


1b) The perception of the level of influence on decision making at the local level?


2a) The extent of resources allocated to local governments, rather than kept by central government, these include staff, money, advisory assistance, training and education.


2b) The extent that facilitating linkages exist which also includes decentralised resources, local councils and their influence on local development and the actual legislation facilitating this


The democratisation process has shown that corruption and other misconduct have become more visible, e.g. it is possible to read about such behaviour in the newspapers.


Decentralisation is one way democratisation involves the individual citizen. This might result in or be caused by changing cultural and economical values, changing norms and practices.


Change of cultural values is a generally touchy matter: This might involve shifting central decision-making to decentralised decision-making. It may involve the removal of discriminating mechanisms, the breakdown of hierarchies or the changes in loyalty networks, shifts the informal networks and structures that control the economy to more formal networks and structures that are safeguarded by high levels of transparency and accountability.





When you decentralise it is hard to keep up and safeguard accountability:


The World Bank has taken one approach: that central government relations with local government on a day to day basis are handled by bureaucrats on ministerial directives. This is the top down approach. Meanwhile of course politicians also have to be accountable to voters through elections that come up ever so often. This goes for the local governments too which also face a top-down relationship with voters as well as a bottom up relationship in respect of central government.


Transparency can be secured through the concept of good governance, the possibility of local insight into decision-making and involving and activating individual citizens through their participation in local councils and meetings, including school-boards etc.  In other words by creating an active civil society.


Decentralisation is another theme to be dealt with later on and in-depth. The theory points in two directions the political school and the instrumentalistic school.


1.      "The political approach says that the frame should be changed via decentralisation - that it is central to all political questions i.e. who should be in power?


2.      "The Instrumentalistic approach" also called the "administrative approach" says that privatisation is also a form of decentralisation but it is centred via the market - that politics has or should have a minor role.




Much evidence proves that there is a great potential for development through the strengthening of civil society. Decentralisation can lead to democratisation.


In order for such process to be facilitated resources needs to be allocated to local levels. Thus it can be justified that there is a great potential for development through strengthening of local government. I would also like to suggest that this thinking should include the creation of self-government be it Homerule Governance as in Greenland or other ways of Indigenous Governance, such as recognition of indigenous authority over indigenous lives.


Qujanaq - Thank you