Today’s Guest Post is from Suchi Pande, Scholar in Residence at American University’s Accountability Research Center and Center Founder and Director AU Professor Jonathan Fox.
India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee became a lifeline for migrant labor arbitrarily expelled from cities and left stranded and broke due to COVID-19 lockdowns. One of the largest employment safety net program in the world, it comes with a mandate for state governments to carry out “social audits,” a procedure empowering its beneficiaries to monitor leakages and the denial of rights resulting from the arbitrary exercise of power across India’s 600,000 villages. In short, to spotlight corruption.
How? With a social audit, program beneficiaries publicly scrutinize its implementation and government actors must respond to shortcomings in officially convened public forums and redress grievances. The audits date to a 2005 law driven by a combination of a grassroots advocacy campaign and a reform-minded government. Social audits can engage populations directly in the fight against corruption where:
- the audit reveals corruption in some form, such as the leakage (embezzlement) of program funds, demands for bribes to release the funds, or the outright denial of participants rights to the funds;
- those conducting the audit have the capacity to communicate their findings clearly and understandably to the affected individuals or group;
- those affected are informed of the findings and understand the violation of the law or policy that led to the losses; and
- a third party — government agency or civil society group — convenes a public forum where government officials and elected representatives discuss the audit findings in an atmosphere free from reprisal, where the affected persons can participate and vouch for the accuracy of findings.