The Politics of Accountability and Participation: A Case study of Samoa's Land Reform
The objective of this study is to advance understanding of the politics of accountability and participation in a development context. Both the accounting and development literature have highlighted the limitations of the ‘neoliberal development’ paradigm’s methods for accountability and participatory practices which often neglect and exclude less powerful voices. This study addresses this shortcoming by reconceptualising accountability and participatory initiatives through a critical dialogic accounting lens and providing a framework for evaluating these practices in the context of Samoa’s land reform. To achieve this, the study draws on the work of critical dialogic accounting scholars (Brown, 2009; Dillard & Vinnari, 2019) and of development scholars (Cornwall, 2008; Goetz & Jenkins, 2005; McGee & Gaventa, 2013; Newell & Wheeler, 2006) working within the ‘deepening democracy’ paradigm. In a case study of Samoa’s land reform project, the study employs both semi-structured interviews and documentary analysis of media reports and policy documents to critically examine accountability and participatory practices, examining the political contestation between dominant powerholders and marginalised voices. It also considers the potential of critical dialogic accounting to contribute to the ‘deepening democracy’ paradigm in fostering more democratic and participatory governance in the Pacific context. The findings indicate that current approaches to accountability and participation are shaped by the ‘neoliberal development’ paradigm, favouring more powerful actors over other interested groups and consensus-based methods that stifle debate. These findings extend current accounting research that highlights the possibilities of critical dialogic accounting to critique neoliberal approaches and to facilitate democratic participation within the context of developing countries (Alawattage & Azure, 2019; Tanima, Brown & Dillard, 2020). In surfacing the political contestations surrounding Samoa’s land reform and drawing on Dillard and Vinnari’s (2019) proposals for responsibility networks, the study also provides a basis for developing more effective ways of ensuring accountability to, and participation of, less powerful groups.