The three case studies have provided some indications of positive links between participation, transparency and accountability, and of reduced illegality in the forest sector. However, it is difficult to attribute these changes to any particular process because of their multi-faceted nature with a number of interacting mechanisms, actors and pathways. This complexity has numerous implications that should be considered by those seeking to enhance accountability.
Firstly, steps towards greater accountability are often incremental, allowing for an iterative approach to reform. One advantage of this is that it allows for stakeholders to accept and adapt to new systems, as was apparent in the development of Ghana’s WTS, for example. It also provides opportunities to change approaches based on lessons learned and to adapt to any new opportunities that may arise. This can also enable progress to be ratcheted up, the implication of which is that it is worth pursuing small improvements even in very opaque and challenging contexts. For example, the case studies highlight the effectiveness of cooperative relationships between civil society and the state in improving accountability, but these relationships were developed over time. In Ghana, consultation processes for the implementation of the VPA, including those on the WTS, provided a means of building trust between government and civil society, which led to more inclusive processes with increased sharing of decision-making. In Cameroon, improvements in participation and transparency are at an earlier stage; time will tell whether the increased engagement of the government with CSOs will result in further improvements and increased accountability. This is not to discount the importance of more antagonistic relationships – civil society advocacy has also played an important part in maintaining pressure on the Cameroonian and Ghanaian governments to fulfil their duties.
Secondly, both the horizontal and vertical aspects of accountability are important. Those seeking to improve governance often overlook the horizontal aspects of accountability. However, both of the case studies from Ghana highlight the importance of this aspect of accountability – the WTS that strengthened systems to reduce opportunities for corruption within government and SRA reforms that enabled improved oversight of government officials. The example of Ghana’s WTS also illustrates that horizontal and vertical accountability can work in concert; thus, pressure from CSOs helped to ensure that a robust system for timber-tracking was put in place, which in turn enabled better governmental oversight.
To ignore the horizontal aspects of accountability would risk missing opportunities for reform and more robust change. A further risk of neglecting horizontal accountability is that government stakeholders are excluded from reform processes, and so their needs and priorities are not considered in any resulting infrastructure. This can lead to a lack of ownership over the reform process, which may subsequently be undermined or never properly implemented. Thus, co-ownership by both state and non-state actors is a critical factor in bringing about durable change.
Linked to the previous point, there are often multiple accountability relationships, involving different stakeholders that operate at different levels, and where interests may not align. The case of Ghana’s SRAs illustrates this, as the stakeholders include the Forestry Commission, District Assemblies, timber companies, CSOs, community members and traditional authorities. A good understanding of the different actors and their interests is needed to design effective interventions.
Thirdly, capacity-building is important, both for those demanding accountability and for those being held to account. In Cameroon, increasing the capacity of CSOs through training and grants has been at the core of efforts to improve government accountability. In Ghana, training of government officials in parallel with the development of the WTS enabled them to make full use of the new system and so fulfil their expected roles; in the case of SRA reform, capacity-building of government officials played a similar role in improving their oversight of the implementation of these agreements, while training of communities enabled them to negotiate more effectively with industry and to demand accountability from government.
Finally, it is worth reiterating the complexity of the processes of change, which is clearly conveyed by the concept of an accountability ecosystem. This complexity needs to be borne in mind when planning interventions. The interlinked nature of the different mechanisms and processes means that they can reinforce each other and provide checks against the reversal of any improvements made. Therefore, pursuing a range of interventions that help to support multiple pathways of change, as distinct from a series of one-off or discrete interventions, is more likely to bring about systemic change.