Basis of social audit
Social audit as a term was used as far back as the 1950s. There has been a flurry of activity and interest in the last seven to eight years in India and neighboring countries. Voluntary development organizations are also actively concerned.
Social audit is based on the principle that democratic local 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.
What is a social audit?
A social audit is a way of measuring, understanding, reporting and ultimately improving an organizations social and ethical performance. A social audit helps to narrow gaps between vision/goal and reality, between efficiency and effectiveness. It is a technique to understand, measure, verify, report on and to improve the social performance of the organization.
Social auditing creates an impact upon governance. It values the voice of stakeholders, including marginalized/poor groups whose voices are rarely heard. Social auditing is taken up for the purpose of enhancing local governance, particularly for strengthening accountability and transparency in local bodies.
The key difference between development and social audit is that a social audit focuses on the neglected issue of social impacts, while a development audit has a broader focus including environment and economic issues, such as the efficiency of a project or programme.
Objectives of social audit
Advantages of social audit
(a) Trains the community on participatory local planning.
(b) Encourages local democracy.
(c) Encourages community participation.
(d) Benefits disadvantaged groups.
(e) Promotes collective decision making and sharing responsibilities.
(f) Develops human resources and social capital
To be effective, the social auditor must have the right to:
This requires transparency in the decision-making and activities of the implementing agencies. In a way, social audit includes measures for enhancing transparency by enforcing the right to information in the planning and implementation of local development activities.
Box 6.1 Public documents for social audit
Several states have declared all Gram Panchayat plan documents related to beneficiary selection, budget cost estimates, etc. to be public documents. A daily notice to be posted at the site of all development works, lists names of workers, wages paid, cost and quantities of material, transport charges, etc.
However, social audit arrangements have mostly been ineffective because there is no legal provision for punitive action. States should enact legislation to facilitate social audit by the Gram Sabha.
Appropriate institutional level for social audit
The most appropriate institutional level for social audit is the Gram Sabha, which has been given watchdog powers and responsibilities by the Panchayati Raj Acts in most States to supervise and monitor the functioning of panchayat elected representatives and government functionaries, and examine the annual statement of accounts and audit reports. These are implied powers indirectly empowering Gram Sabhas to carry out social audits in addition to other functions. Members of the Gram Sabha and the village panchayat, intermediate panchayat and district panchayat through their representatives, can raise issues of social concern and public interest and demand an explanation.
Box 6.2 Right to information for members of Gram Sabha
Some States have already passed Right to Information Acts. Notwithstanding some weaknesses, the Acts have opened the way for transparency in administration from the State to the panchayat level.
The Right to Information Acts specify the modalities for obtaining information and provide penalties or failing to furnish or supplying false information. The Acts facilitate social legislation such as on minimum wages and gender rights and, more importantly, pave the way for public debate on government development projects.
However, none of the Acts have defined the right to information to include inspection of works and documents, and the taking of notes and extracts. This is needed to make the social audit by the Gram Sabha more effective.
The Gram Sabha should have the mandate to: inspect all public documents related to budget allocations, list of beneficiaries, assistance under each scheme, muster rolls, bills, vouchers, accounts, etc., for scrutiny; examine annual statements of accounts and audit reports; discuss the report on the local administration of the preceding year; review local development for the year or any new activity programme; establish accountability of functionaries found guilty of violating established norms/rules; suggest measures for promoting transparency in identifying, planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating relevant local development programmes; and ensure opportunity for rural poor to voice their concerns while participating in social audit meetings.
Social audit committees
Social audit can also be used for auditing the performance of all three PRI tiers with a social audit committee at each level. These committees should not be permanent, but can be set up depending on the nature of programmes/schemes to be audited.
Social audit committee members can be drawn from among programme stakeholders. It is advisable to use the services of retired functionaries of different organizations, teachers or persons of impeccable integrity living in the Zilla Panchayat/Block Panchayat/Gram Panchayat jurisdiction. Both facilitators and social audit committee members can be trained by social audit experts.
Steps in social audit in local bodies
Key factors for successful social audit
How to enhance local capacities for social audit
Social development monitoring (SDM): a social audit process
SDM is a periodic observation activity by socially disadvantaged groups as local citizens who are project participants or target beneficiaries. It could also take the form of action intended to enhance participation, ensure inclusiveness, articulation of accountability, responsiveness and transparency by implementing agencies or local institutions, with a declared purpose of making an impact on their socio-economic status.
To sum up, the following proposals can be made to make social audit a regular and effective institution to promote the culture of transparency and accountability through the Gram Sabha.
GRAM PANCHAYAT STAKEHOLDERS
Examples of social audit
1. Social audit in Jharnipalli Panchayat, Agaipur block, Bolangir district, Orissa
In October 2001, the gram sabha members of Jharnipalli Panchayat conducted a one-day social audit of development works carried out in the panchayat over the preceding three years. This audit took place with the active participation of many individuals and agencies, including block and district administration officials, MKSS [Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan], NCPRI [National Campaign for Peoples Right to Information] and Action Aid India.
The audit found that:
2. Micro-development planning as part of social audit
A voluntary development organization Samarthan and PRIA (Society for Participatory Research in Asia) collaborated in a participatory micro-planning exercise with local officials, panchayat members, members of different castes, etc. The process was a way to bring resources to the local community and to increase its involvement in Gram Sabha meetings which took place four times a year.
This led to the identification of several goals. One was to construct a drain. Inspired by the participatory local planning process, the community contributed half the cost of the drain (Rs 50 000). Those who could not give money offered their labour. The rest of the money came from the district office and was mobilized by the Gram Panchayat and its pro-active woman president, the Sarpanch.
Every member of the Gram Sabha developed a sense of ownership of the project. The Gram Sabha monitors the work. Gram Panchayat representatives also hold regular ward-level meetings. The relationship between people and their local representatives developed quickly into one of mutual support.
3. SDM of schools for rehabilitated child workers, Jamtara district, Jharkhand State, India
In 1995, the non-governmental Child Labour Elimination Society (CLES) initiated a project to set up 40 Vidyalayas (schools) in three blocks with a high incidence of child labour in Jamtara district. The funds for the project were provided by the Ministry of Labour, Government of India.
To supervise the schools, three-tier committees were formed at the district, block and panchayat/village levels, with the district-level committee having the Deputy Commissioner as its ex-officio chairperson. At the block level, the circle officer (CO) is the nodal officer entrusted with the responsibility for smooth functioning of the schools. The committee at the panchayat and village level includes members who were active during the mass literacy campaigns in the district. However, most committees at the lowest level are either defunct and not functional or not properly constituted. Visibly, this particular weakness has resulted in the diminution of an important forum of citizen interaction, reflection and action.
The parents met the circle officer and apprised him of their findings, concerns and suggestions for improved school functioning, such as slackness on the part of doctors in conducting routine health checks, difficulties in the running of one school due to a vacant teachers post, need for roof construction/repair in another school and sports equipment for all schools. The district official accepted some of the demands. This and other such meetings helped citizens to understand the way government business is conducted and the skills of negotiating with officials.
Contributed by K. B. Srivastava, former Professor and Head, Centre for Panchayati Raj, National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD), Hyderabad, India & Chandan Datta, PRIA, New Delhi.