Can Social Audits Count?
This paper discusses the conceptual and operational problems associated with the social audit of a government scheme. It argues that social audits have not performed well in the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) scheme because of three problems. First, conceptually, it has been unable to resolve the question of hierarchy. In a social audit, the relationship between the auditors (who include villagers and NGOs) and the bureaucrats is weakly hierarchical; the NGOs and villagers are part of the citizenry who elect political representatives, and these politicians in turn oversee the bureaucracy implementing the scheme. Second, operationally, the feeble hierarchical relationship weakens the enforceability of sanctions against errant officials and produces a disconnect between the substantive goals of the scheme and the procedural standards followed by bureaucrats. Third, the assumption underlying the social audit that given a chance, the community will monitor such schemes is also problematic. The paper highlights the arguments by assessing the performance of NREG social audits in three states — Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
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