Insights into Editorial: The People Are Watching
The recent report of a joint task force on social audit has made unanimous recommendations that have opened the possibilities of social audit becoming a vibrant, independent and citizen-based monitoring system. The Supreme Court too in an ongoing PIL has taken a note of these recommendations and is exploring strengthening social audit as a systemic solution in law.
What are social audits?
Social audits refer to a legally mandated process where potential and existing beneficiaries evaluate the implementation of a programme by comparing official records with ground realities. The public hearings that social audits conclude with remain its soul. The proceedings cannot be scripted, and the entire social audit is often a dramatic process of redistribution of power based on evidence and fact. These audits were first made statutory in a 2005 Rural Employment Act.
Objectives of Social Audit:
- Accurate identification of requirements.
- Prioritization of developmental activities as per requirements.
- Proper utilization of funds.
- Conformity of the developmental activity with the stated goals.
- Quality of service.
Benefits of Social Audit:
- Involvement of people in developmental activities ensures that money is spent where is it actually needed.
- Reduction of wastages.
- Reduction in corruption.
- Awareness among people.
- Promotes integrity and a sense of community among people.
- Improves the standard of governance.
Need for social audits:
- In the course of a social audit, individuals and communities get empowered and politicised in a way that they experience the practical potential of participatory democracy.
- Since more than 50% of the government’s budget goes towards welfare schemes, it’s important to track how, and how much, money is diverted away from intended recipients. Social audits serve as a better monitoring tool for these schemes.
- The impact of continuous cycles of social audit in deterring potential corruption is beyond quantification. They serve as an important tool to detect corruption and influence redress.
- The social audit process was recently endorsed by the public finance watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. The CAG said: “All over the world, there is a growing perception among the supreme audit institutions that it is important to partner with civil society to ensure the latter’s participation in service delivery and public accountability.”
Why social audits are losing their relevance in recent times?
- Lack of support from government machineries has side-lined social audits. The lack of adequate administrative and political will in institutionalising social audit to deter corruption has meant that social audits in many parts of the country are not independent from the influence of implementing agencies. Social audit units, including village social audit facilitators, continue to face resistance and intimidation and find it difficult to even access primary records for verification.
- Lack of any legal proceedings for not following social audit principles. Unless there is a stringent penalty on authorities for not implementing social audit, they will not give up control because it reduces their kickbacks and authority.
- Lack of education among the common masses. Since common people are not that educated, they do not know their rights, let alone get them enforced.
In an age where phrases such as open data and open government are used in any conversation around governance, social audits should serve as a critical point of reference. An open and transparent system involves the presence of real platforms for people to be informed by official statements and records, with an opportunity to compare that with ground realities.
Social audit is no longer a choice. Along with other transparency and accountability platforms, it is a legal, moral, and democratic necessity. The government can decide to use these interventions and harness peoples’ energies in facing the vast challenge of implementation and monitoring.