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Social audit to ensure good governance

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04th-Oct-2018       
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Dr. Md. Shairul Mashreque and Dr. M Abul Kashem Mozumder :
Governance refers to "all processes of governing, whether undertaken by a government, market or network, whether over a family, tribe, formal or informal organization or territory and whether through laws, norms, power or language." It relates to "the processes of interaction and decision-making among the actors involved in a collective problem that lead to the creation, reinforcement, or reproduction of social norms and institutions."  Good governance means the process that is rational, proper and genuine. It is anything but manipulative and injustice. It allows the masses to decide if it comes to the matter of their own and community interests.
The World Bank defines governance as:' the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country's economic and social resources for development.' The Worldwide Governance Indicators project of the World Bank defines governance as:' the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised This considers the process by which governments are selected, monitored and replaced; the capacity of the government to effectively formulate and implement sound policies and the respect of citizens and the state of the institutions that govern economic and social interactions among them.'
An alternate definition sees governance as:' the use of institutions, structures of authority and even collaboration to allocate resources and coordinate or control activity in society or the economy
Social audit is a way of measuring, understanding, reporting and ultimately improving an organization's social and ethical performance. It as a term was used as far back as the 1950s. There has been a flurry of activity and interest in India and neighboring countries since 1990s. It is based on the principle that democratic governance should be carried out, as far as possible, with the consent and understanding of all concerned. It is thus a process and not an event. Civil society organisations (CSOs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs), political representatives, civil servants and workers of Dungarpur district of Rajasthan and Anantapurdistrict of Andhra Pradesh collectively organize such social audits to prevent mass corruption
The mass social audit under the employment guarantee scheme in Dungarpur is the most significant feature of the first phase of implementation of the NREGA in India. Launched on 2 February 2006, the first phase of the NREGA implementation included Dungarpur as one of 200 districts of India.
A district in the poor tribal belt of southern Rajasthan, Dungarpur is also the birthplace of the Right to Information movement in India. Two factors are believed to be responsible for making the social audit a reality in Rajasthan: first, the presence of activist groups that monitored the public money spent on drought and relief works; and second, the involvement of the working class in demanding employment as an entitlement. Moreover, for the first time in a public programme, the NREGA includes transparency and public scrutiny as the statutory provisions under Section 23 and Section 17 respectively These social audits highlight: a significant demand for the NREGA, less that 2 per cent corruption in the form of fudging of muster rolls, building the water harvesting infrastructure as the first priority in the drought-prone district, reduction of out-migration, and above all the women participation of more than 80 per cent in the employment guarantee scheme. The need for effective management of tasks, timely payment of wages and provision of support facilities at work sites is also emphasised.
As has been reported by Wikipedia  "Across all 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh under NREGA, 54 social audits are conducted every month starting from July 2006. The scale and frequency of social audits on NREGA works in Andhra Pradesh are the first in India Under National FoodFor Work Programme(NFFWP), before NREGA, AP received more than 3 million tonnes of rice between September 2001 and July 2002, enough to feed twenty million workers for nearly a year, with a market value of Rs 30 billion or $65 million. Due to ineffective mechanisms for limiting corruption, the 2001-2 NFFWP in AP was a failure. It was recommended that the checks and controls must be built into the design of such programmesSection 17 of the NREGA mandates the regular conduct of social audits on all aspects of the scheme.
In Andhra Pradesh, after DoRD and SSAAT, the management structure consists of state resource persons (SRPs), district resource persons (DRPs), and the village social auditors (VSAs). The SRPs identify and train the DRPs who in turn identify and train the VSAs. While the SRPs manage daily activities like scheduling the social audit, contacting district officials, ensuring follow up and enforcement of social audit findings, the DRPs manage the actual conduct of the social audit, for instance, filing RTI applications, and contacting the officials to organise logistics and public hearing. To conduct the actual social audit, the volunteers among the NREGA beneficiaries are selected from 'gram sabhasor village assemblies by DRPs.
An application to access relevant official documents is the first step of the social audit.
Then the management personnel of the social audit verify these official records by conducting field visits. Finally, the 'Jansunwai' or public hearing is organised at two levels: the Panchayat or village level and the Mandal level. The direct public debate involving the beneficiaries, political representatives, civil servants and, above all, the government officers responsible for implementing the NREGA works highlights corruption like the practice of rigging muster rolls (attendance registers) and also generates public awareness about the scheme. [22]
To assess the effectiveness of the mass social audits on NREGA works in Andhra Pradesh, a World Bankstudy investigated the effect of the social audit on the level of public awareness about NREGA, its effect on the NREGA implementation, and its efficacy as a grievance redressal mechanism. The study found that the public awareness about the NREGA increased from about 30 per cent before the social audit to about 99 per cent after the social audit. Further, the efficacy of NREGA implementation increased from an average of about 60 per cent to about 97 per cent. Finally, the effectiveness of the social audit as a grievance redressal mechanism was measured to be around 80 per cent".
Mashreque (2017) has succinctly analyzed implementation human rights including rights to information NREGA guidelines require that information is disclosed to the public through boards at the village level, and that all information requests related to NREGA are satisfied within seven days. Moreover, all NREGA documents are digitized and regularly uploaded to the MIS at the state and central levels. All the data is available to the public. The key innovation and what has made this a celebrated case study, however, is the institutionalization of Social Audits through which this information is socialized at the local level, effectively allowing citizens to understand and use this information to enhance accountability. The Social Audit process itself is highly participatory: after collecting all the relevant information, village auditors conduct information sharing sessions which help citizens understand the scheme and allow discussion over implementation. Evaluations of the social audit process i showed significant improvements in levels of awareness among program beneficiaries, which have in turn led to improvements in program implementation (in combination with government support of the process, which makes immediate grievance redress possible).
Promoting bottom-up social accountability: includes beneficiaries and civil society becoming involved in key stages of a SSN to hold service providers to account and complement existing accountability mechanisms This involvement can range from beneficiary selection to verification and monitoring. However, such involvement should also reflect on who should be involved and when.

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