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Public disclosures help hold politicians accountable
By Rebecca Stropoli – A common problem in democracies is that, once elected, politicians may fail to address the needs of their constituents, especially the poorer ones. But is there a way to empower the electorate by holding officials accountable for their actions?

MIT’s Abhijit Banerjee and Harvard’s Nils Enevoldsen, Rohini Pande, and Michael Walton examined the effect that publicizing politicians’ records had on electoral results in the 2012 municipal elections in Delhi, India. They find that being issued public report cards caused politicians to shift their spending priorities.

With more than 18 million people, Delhi is the world’s second-largest city, behind Tokyo. Poor people living in slums form a significant share of the Delhi population. Slum dwellers, in fact, account for an electoral majority in many of the city’s 272 single-member wards, each of which elects a councilor to the municipal government every five years.

The anticipation of media reports did influence the policies of politicians representing poorer areas, the findings suggest. Councilors in high-slum wards whose report cards were published shifted their spending priorities to better match the needs of their constituents.

The “effective spending” on the needs of the poor by these councilors over two years increased by about $5,000 on average, or more than 13 percent, Enevoldsen says. more>

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