The duty to inform and explain matters or questions under one's responsibility. However, unlike accountability, there are no sanctions (positive or negative) for performance of responsibilities.
(Hurley, 2006, p. 128)
For a more expansive explanation of answerability, see Harmon, Michael M., Responsibility as Paradox: A Critique of Rational Discourse on Government (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1995), 12-33.
Ministers are answerable to Parliament for arm’s-length corporations and agencies, but are not accountable for their decisions. Public servants are answerable to parliamentary committees, but not accountable and subject to discipline or sanctions by such committees. A function of the Government is to manage the Public service, including the imposition of discipline or sanctions, and to be accountable to Parliament for such management. A function of Parliament and, in particular, of the House of Commons is to hold the Government accountable for the management of the public service, but not to manage the public service itself.
The concept of answerability often refers to a reporting function, whereby Ministers must answer to Parliament on the use of powers by bodies that report to parliament through them. There is no suggestion of sanction or blame against the Minister. Public Servants are answerable to committees, but they are not to participate in political discussion as it risks undermining their political neutrality.
Answerability can be understood as the duty to provide information and a factual explanation for events. Answerability is a means to the achievement of accountability, but it does not represent the real thing because it omits the implication of consequences for mistakes or non-performance (Thomas, Forthcoming).
There is often confusion surrounding the relationship between answerability and the more frequently discussed concept of accountability. Aucoin and Jarvis discuss this confusion in their Modernizing Government Accountability: a framework for reform, where they write:
“We should conclude this section by noting that the terms accountable and answerable are often used interchangeably, even occasionally when discussing the distinction between the two! Confusion, not surprisingly, is often the result. ….. Those who are confused by the use of these terms, with their various meanings, should perhaps be excused for their confusion. Those who should know better have not done everything necessary to help sort things out.” (Aucoin & Jarvis, 2005)
Hurley, J. 2006. “Responsibility, Accountability and the Role of Deputy Ministers in the Government of Canada,” pp. 115-155, in (Gomery) Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program and Advertising Activities, Restoring Accountability, Research Studies, Volume 3. Ottawa: PWGSC.
Aucoin, P. & Jarvis, M. 2005. Modernizing government accountability: A framework for reform. Canada School of Public Service. Available online at http://www.csps-efpc.gc.ca/Research/publications/pdfs/p131_e.pdf