|Counting and Identification of Beneficiary Populations in Emergency Operations (ODI, 1997, 110 p.)|
In some situations the power and influence of relevant interested parties - donors, authorities, representatives of the population itself, and/or neighbouring communities - may well determine whether registration is attempted, irrespective of an objective assessment of the probability of success.
The close link that has been created (particularly by donors) between registration and accountability is largely a myth. Even if registration were able to guarantee largely accurate results, there is a tendency for it to be miscast as a substantive measure of accountability. While it is true that responsibility should be defined, in part, in financial or quantitative terms - reporting requirements for the purchase, transport, receipt and distribution of assistance items, in function of a specific number of beneficiaries, are obviously necessary, and are increasingly stringently imposed by donors - this is by no means the whole story. Yet quantitative evaluation and reporting is generally regarded as more attractive, less difficult, and able to generate more immediate results, than qualitative. (This, incidentally, may be a measure of how limited they perceive their options to be for measuring the effectiveness of their donations.)
However, an equally important form of accountability with which registration does not adequately deal is that of accountability to the beneficiary population. As mentioned above, once registration is set as a precondition for access to assistance, then that registration system needs to be run extremely professionally, on a continuous basis, in order to avoid any potential beneficiary being excluded unjustly from assistance (genuine new arrivals, births, movement, inadequate distribution systems, etc.). Regrettably, registration systems in emergencies rarely pass this test of accountability.
A deeper analysis is therefore required of the definition of success or failure. Such an analysis might be based on a concept of responsibility for the general well-being of human beings, rather than the elimination of cheating by beneficiaries and associated populations that are not to be trusted. Accountability is first and foremost about seeing that human beings continue to live, and that they do so in dignity. Such an analysis would also need to define, and apportion responsibility for success and failure to those who have been entrusted with, or have taken upon themselves, the task of protecting the population in question. These groups might include, for instance, leaders of the respective community and any external agencies or personnel involved in the assistance operation. The more decision-making power over resources held by these groups, the greater the need for rigorous evaluation. It is again worth emphasising that the community itself should play the central role in this process of determining accountability.
Pressure for registration sometimes amounts to no more than an understandable attempt to show that reasonable measures towards accountability have been taken. The frustration is that registration may be seen as one of the few options for rectifying a programme that is at best inefficient, and at worst very seriously flawed in its whole design. In such a plight, understandably, pressure for registration may come from donors, or those channelling donations, in the belief that whoever is managing the assistance programme is not in possession of such basic information as how many people they are assisting, and that registration is the only accurate method of solving this priority dilemma. Registration may thus actually serve to perpetuate other flaws, only tackling secondary problems.
It must be said, however, that if registration results in placating donors or authorities, or any actor of importance in influencing the future of the population in question, then it does indeed serve a valuable purpose. This is blatantly clear in the case where the flow of assistance is interrupted until registration is conducted. If registration is required in such circumstances and irrespective of other considerations, then so be it. The decision to register is a recognition that, like it or not, it is the piper that calls the tune; an acceptance of a hard reality, or real politik.