PEOPLE AS AUDITORS
Democratic governance needs the citizen to be legally empowered to ask questions, file complaints, and be a part of the corrective process. Social audits can potentially become a powerful democratic method by which transparency can be combined with an institutionalised form of accountability to the people.
Understanding Social Audit
The social audit is conceptually simple. Information is to be proactively shared amongst people so that they can “ performance audit” a service or program, from planning, to implementation and evaluation.
Social Audit and RTI
- The RTI Act brought into effect the first prerequisite for social audits — giving citizens access to government records.
- The last 13 years of its use have demonstrated its salutary effect, but also made it obvious that information itself is not enough.
- Contemporary discourse on the RTI reflects frustration when ordinary people are armed with information but are unable to obtain any redress.
- The social audit places accountability in the centre of its frame, and transfers the power of scrutiny and validation to the people: a citizen-centric mode of accountability.
The MGNREGA Case Study
- The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was the first law to mandate social audit as a statutory requirement.
- However, even within the MGNREGA, social audits made painfully slow progress. They faced their most trenchant opposition in Rajasthan, where the concept was born.
- Elected representatives and officials reacted with intimidation, violence and pressure on the political leadership to stall and neutralise the process.
- The notable exception was undivided Andhra Pradesh which institutionalized social audits and drew significant positive outcomes. There have been innovative efforts in States like Sikkim, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand.
Social Audits in Present Times
- Nationally, institutionalized social audits have begun to make real progress only recently, with the interest and support of the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), and the orders of the Supreme Court.
- In what was a social audit breakthrough in 2017, Meghalaya became the first State to pass and roll out a social audit law to cover all departments.
- The Office of the CAG developed social audit rules for the MGNREGA in 2011, conducted a performance audit in 2015, and finally a year later formulated social audit standards in consultation with the Ministry of Rural Development — the first time in the world.
- The Supreme Court has recently passed a series of orders to give social audits the robust infrastructural framework they need.
- An independent facilitation structure needs to be set up, fleshed out, legally empowered and mandated to ensure that social audits are conducted.
- The relationship between the powerful and the powerless has to shift from patronage to rights, and from inequality to equality, making the right to question sacrosanct.
- Specific methods of sharing information, recording comments and acting on findings have been worked out. They now need to be acted upon.
Social audits, if properly implemented, will help address the impunity of the system in delivery and implementation. The system of social audits needs synergetic endorsement and a push by multiple authorities to establish an institutionalized framework which cannot be undermined by any vested interests.
Relevance: GS 2