19 Jan 2012

Social Audits Help Fight Corruption in India

A system of social audits implemented by the Indian Ministry of Rural Development seeks to curb widespread corruption in the management of a large job guarantee program that represents half of the ministry’s budget. In the social program, beneficiaries are employed as civil workers for 100 days and receive minimum wage. However, fraud involving the payment of benefits is common and cases of ghostworkers and violations of procurement procedures abound.

In order to fight corruption in the program, the 2005 Rural Employment Act established mandatory independent groups of auditors in the villages, who are selected and trained by a social audit team. Public records of the works allegedly performed by beneficiaries of the job guarantee program are read at a public assembly in the villages, where citizens can raise questions and point out inconsistencies. When fraud cases are uncovered, the governments initiates procedures to punish those involved.

The problem that remains is that most Indian states have resisted to implementing such audits since 2006. A positive example comes from the state Andhra Pradesh, where the Society for Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency has been functioning well in the last years and has managed to remain autonomous from government influence. Since the beginning of the society’s activities, already 3,200 social audits have taken place and over 38,000 disciplinary cases have been initiated against officials under suspicion of corruption in the job scheme. Around $24 million in irregularities have been discovered and already one fourth of this amount has been recovered by the society.

Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Rural Development, is now pushing to extend this experience to other national welfare programs. The social audit process has already received the support of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. However, lack of political will should pose fundamental obstacles to replicating this successful experience in other social programs.

Read the article “Social audits in India – a slow but sure way to fight corruption” on guardian.co.uk. The picture above is also featured in the article and is credited to Gurinder Osan and AP.