Supervisory accountability refers to relations between organizations where one organization acts as principal with respect to specified agents. For instance, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are subject to supervision by states, and by institutions within states, such as courts. These supervisory relationships are more or less democratic as states are more of less democratic. Indeed, courts in democracies could demand that international organizations such as the IMF and World Bank follow procedures that meet due process standards of international law (Stewart, 2003, p. 459). Advocacy groups within states can put pressure on such organizations as the IMF and World Bank through domestic political institutions, as environmentalists did with respect to World Bank loans for dam projects in the 1980s (Fox and Brown, 1998). Firms also hold state agencies accountable, through the political process, for their policies in international organizations, such as the WTO, whose decisions are relevant to the firms’ interests.
Fiscal accountability describes mechanisms through which funding agencies can demand reports from, and ultimately sanction, agencies that are recipients of funding. This form of accountability was fundamental to the emergence of parliamentary power in England during the 17th century, and is particularly important for international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank, which rely on government appropriations to fund substantial parts of their activities.
Legal accountability refers to the requirement that agents abide by formal rules and be prepared to justify their actions in those terms, in courts or quasi-judicial arenas.
Public officials, like anyone else, can be “held accountable” for their actions both through administrative and criminal law. Courts do not have the broad general authority