[Answered]What do you understand by the term ‘Social Audit’? Discuss how it aids in good governance.

Demand of the question

Introduction. Contextual Introduction.

Body. How it aids in good governance? Related issues.

Conclusion. Way forward.

Social Audit is the critical assessment of government programmes and activities by the community with active involvement of the primary stakeholders. The people in coordination with local administration conduct social audit. It includes audit of the quality of work being executed at different levels along with the details of disbursements made, the number of labourers employed and materials used. Social auditing creates an impact upon governance. It values the voice of stakeholders, including marginalised/poor groups whose voices are rarely heard.

How it aids in good governance?

  1. Reduces corruption: Social audit uncovers irregularities and malpractices in the public sector and maintains oversight on government functioning, thus reducing leakages and corruption. Civil society organisations, political representatives, civil servants and workers of Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh collectively organise such social audits to prevent mass corruption under the MGNREGA.
  2. Monitoring and feedback: It monitors social and ethical impact of decisions and provides feedback on the work. Official records obtained using RTI are used by the public to identify irregularities an thus monitor an organisation and give feedback which help in better performance.
  3. Accountability and transparency: Social audit ensures accountability and transparency in working of local government bodies and reduces trust gap between people and local governments. Social audit measures enhance transparency by enforcing the Right to information in the planning and implementation of local development activities. Transparency in public schemes reduces corruption and increases outcomes.
  4. Encourages community participation: Social audit creates awareness among beneficiaries and providers of local social and productive services. Local community becomes important stakeholder in success of public welfare schemes thus improving outcomes through periodic evaluation of outcomes of policies. For example, in MGNREGA, social audits led to proper entries in job cards, increased knowledge about the wage payment slips and visible improvements were noticed in worksite facilities.
  5. Empowering marginalised: It is important that marginalised social groups, which are normally excluded, have a say on local development issues and activities and have their views on the actual performance of local elected bodies. Through social audits these groups can have an impact on policy implementation and thus increasing outcomes.
  6. Policy evaluation: Social audit plays an important role not in policy implementation but also policy evaluation. Thus social audit also assess the physical and financial gaps available for local development thus improving policies and outcomes.
  7. Strengthens the local government: Social Audit gives voice and influencing power to the Gram Sabha, the lynchpin of rural governance structure. It boosts professionalism in public bodies by forcing Panchayats to keep proper records and accounts of the spending made against the grants received from the government and other sources.

Issues in social audits:

  1. Rules not followed: In many states Social Audit Units don’t seek record from Gram Panchayats regarding execution of works and expenditure (CAG report). Social audit reports are either not prepared or not made available to gram sabha in local languages.
  2. Not institutionalised: Government has not mandated institutionalisation of social audit, thus making auditors vulnerable to implementing agencies, who face resistance and intimidation and find it difficult to even access primary records for verification.
  3. Apathy of implementing agency: The implementing agency requests for postponement of social audit, fails to provide documents on time, does not send independent observers for the Gram Sabha, and fails to take action on the findings of the social audit.
  4. No incentive to participate: Lack of interest in people about the village activities due to their livelihood reasons.

Way forward:

  1. Support of implementing agencies: Rules must be framed so that implementation agencies are mandated to play a supportive role in the social audit process and take prompt action on the findings.
  2. Using Management Information System (MIS): Usage of MIS to track details of schemes at all levels to streamline the life-cycle of programme planning, implementation and feedback.
  3. Civil society participation: People including students from different universities should be encouraged to participate as Village Resource Persons.Example, Jharkhand has instituted a formal mechanism by inviting prominent civil society representatives to be part of the SA panel.
  4. Role of media: Media should also take responsibility to reach to the rural areas and spread the awareness through their designed programmes focusing on the issues of the rural concerns especially Gram Sabhas and their powers of social audit.

The Social Audit process is intended as a means for social engagement, transparency and communication of information, leading to greater accountability of decision-makers and officials. The Meghalaya state brought a Community Participation and Public Services Social Audit Act in 2017, which should be followed by all states as a model. The Social Audit holds tremendous potential in bridging gaps between policy objectives and its outcomes.

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