Social Audit as Accountability Tool

Sanjeev Arora
Since now Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) are put in place by state government after long 10 years. This may be of tremendous help for popularizing Social Audit for percolating the benefits of state and central sponsored schemes to the poor and marginalized people.
The concept of Social Audit is based on the premise that citizens have the right to both know how they are governed and to participate actively in auditing elected representatives, the services delivered and programmes implemented. Social Audit is thus, a natural corollary to effective decentralization. Under the Panchayati Raj system in India , the Gram Sabha has been given the ‘watchdog’ powers in most States to supervise and monitor the functioning of the Panchayat elected representatives and functionaries, examine annual statement of accounts and audit reports. They thus have implied powers to carry out Social Audit. Development schemes can succeed only by public participation. Efforts to involve citizens in planning and monitoring of development activities are incorporated in various centrally sponsored schemes, but social audit has a statutory basis only in MG NREGS.
Social Audit be integrated into the measures already initiated by Central and State Governments to promote community participation in decentralized participatory planning, implementation and monitoring. This can be institutionalized as an effective feedback mechanism, for sustainable local development and correcting administrative shortcomings
Let the Panchayat do the development work and Gram Sabha undertakes monitoring and social audit. There may be a few shortcomings in the beginning, however this problem shall get mitigated, over time. Gram Sabha Sub Committees could be constituted on education, health, local development, roads, drinking water and prepare report and place the same every quarterly meeting before the Gram Sabha
NREGS has kept Social Audit as mandatory; earlier no scheme had such a method of audit – basically a programme audit. External auditors used to do programme audit, now people are auditing their actions, assets and benefits. Hence, before Social Audit event, a process should be initiated to begin the involvement, ownership and responsibility sharing of the people
The process may include formation of good groups and federations, developing them as institutions for social change and support providers for strengthening Panchayats and schemes. Moreover, local Voluntary Organizations (VOs)/NGOs/CBOs should also be qualified enough and monitored so that effective Social Audit could be done. A common factor always plays and creates barriers- that is vested interest and corruption.
Social Audit in many places is merely being carried out for the sake of completion without involvement of elected PRIs. Although under MG NREGS department of rural development department has recruited social auditors in some of the districts of the state who have not given orientation and training. The purpose is failed to some extent. So, challenge is how to ensure effective Social Audit. As already mentioned, people’s involvement process and appropriate Human Resource (HR) policy and capacity building can minimize the risks and maximize the gain from Social Audit. Obviously, Social Audit should be mandatory as complementary to Financial Audit. But, effective system should be in place – proper Management Information System (MIS),HR policy, capacity building of staff , motivation of people’s representatives (by training and innovative incentive system), supervision of work by an independent group of people at district level and state Level who can monitor the process and should be given incentives by States.
The concept of social audit has been restricted to MG NREGS whereas it should have been looked at in the larger perspective of development programmes and the inter-linkages between them. However, NRHM, ICDS, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Drinking Water Supply (PHE) needs to bottom up rather than top down. (Recently district Samba had carried out social audit of BADP programme through professional consultancy agency).
The challenge is to make the staff honest and dedicated. For the Social Audit, Government can systematize and train staff and incentivize/disincentives staff for good internal audit/Social Audit and good process of development and people’s involvement. Social Audit is a part of process of ensuring quality of work – of course it is a supplementary to financial audit but as a complementary activity too, should be treated like that – where External Auditors and Internal Financial Auditors should verify progress based on the Social Audit that has been done.
I think at first district level institutions like office of DDC, ADDC, ACD etc should be capacitated enough and motivated and for that there may be provision for support from within and outside of the state from specialized agencies. Social Audit Team should not be looked into as an isolated team but within a framework of participatory process and institutional system. I guess Devolution policy (Funds, Functions, Functionaries) has already been made by the Omar led Jammu and Kashmir government, but not effective. Line department staff is not practically accountable to PRIs so, audit of line department should be simultaneously done and integrated into PRI audit system. Audit of PRIs should be like a process (a system to be developed) not one time or event. A software may be thought of for capturing not only crude data but also for checking, verifying and capturing people’s feedback regularly and continuously.
These are rough ideas and I hope they may be useful.