Social accountability in action

Eagle Eyes

This is the seventh and final column in this series (written with the research assistance of my brilliant collaborator Christian Laluna) where we explore the concept of social accountability: what it means, what it entails from its practitioners, and what its potential benefits are to governance, to citizens, the community, and the nation. We have set it as an alternative to mainstream governance, where policy-making, execution, and especially accountability are mainly in the hands of government officials. We have emphasized the democratic, citizen-building character of social accountability. In today’s final column, I will be talking about social accountability in action, using as examples the CheckMySchool.org and Government Watch (G-Watch) initiatives, the former of which was created with the assistance of Affiliated Network for East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP) and the latter a long-standing program in the Ateneo School of Government

Of all the policy areas of government, there may be no more critical priority than education, as reflected in the weight of the budget given to the Department of Education (DepEd). At the same time, the money and investments in other resources (such as textbooks and educational materials, construction of classrooms) poured into DepEd makes the department one of the most tempting targets for graft and for corrupt activities, as shown in the past by the high-profile “noodle” and “textbook” scams, where government had to pay for overpriced noodles and erroneous textbooks. In Robbed: An Investigation of Corruption in Philippine Education, Yvonne Chua of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism found that corruption was so institutionalized in education policy, both nationally and at the local level, that “payoffs have become the lubricant that makes [DepEd] run smoothly.” It is lamentable that corrupt practices would be necessary just for policies to push forward. Transparency and accountability became the watchwords for DepEd reform.

What G-Watch and CheckMySchool.org have done was to put as much of the responsibilities of transparency and accountability as could be placed into the hands of ordinary yet committed citizens, using established and workable mechanisms and tools. G-Watch covers electoral reform and human rights in its agenda as well, but it is in monitoring the delivery of educational services that the initiative had cut its teeth. Through the Textbook Count Project, for example, and in cooperation with DepEd, G-Watch gave citizen groups the means to monitor the bidding for, and production and delivery of textbooks across the country. With training and tools, diverse groups and peoples such as parents, students, village and church leaders, and Boy and Girl Scout troops were able monitor the cost, quantity, and quality of textbook delivery, and that the bidding and delivery process observed the proper procedures.

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