Social audit isn’t enough

By: Farzana Afridi

It hasn't led to reduced corruption and improved MGNREGA delivery.

The recent pronouncements by the AAP on measures to hold public officials accountable have brought into sharp focus people’s participation and social accountability as mechanisms to foster transparency and improve the delivery of public programmes. However, so far, there has been an absence of rigorous evidence on the effectiveness of the country’s sole community monitoring initiative espoused by the MGNREGA back in 2005 — social audits. Mandatory social audits prescribed by the MGNREGA intend to empower beneficiaries to scrutinise expenditures and keep track of delivery. In spite of the widespread acclaim of social audits as low-cost and powerful participatory tools, a key question is whether community monitoring has reduced corruption and improved MGNREGA delivery. The assessment of the impact of the only largescale and systematic social audits in the country, in Andhra Pradesh, raises some key issues.

Even if a state government publicly announces regular social audits, the first round of auditing, because of limited state credibility, is likely to take public officials (or transgressors) by surprise and reveal large irregularities in basic programme delivery. Furthermore, local MGNREGA beneficiaries are expected to have high stakes in employment availability and in timely payment, while having sufficient initial capacity to detect transgressions. We can thus anticipate an evolving dynamic process, with more effective local participation through learning, and improved auditing after repeated audits. The drawback is that transgressions may also become more sophisticated. Monitoring may result in the substitution of one type of irregularity for another, as transgressors learn to manipulate the new system.

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