Social Audit

Social Audit

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According to Social Audit and its Relevance to Audit of Public Utilities by M Parthasarathy,


• Social audit of public utilities or public undertakings would be greatly facilitated if the undertaking prepared a social accounting document. Several models of social accounting and reporting have been tried out in a number of countries but efforts at standardising the models have not borne fruit. Even simple reporting systems devised will enable the social auditor of public utilities or undertakings to draw conclusions about the social benefits and social detriments arising from the operation of a public utility over and beyond the quality of service rendered by it for which it is set up. A reading of such reports over a time period of few years can provide the basis for judging whether the net social benefit is growing in acceptable proportion to the encroachments made by the utility on the resources of the society

• Perhaps the most serious difficulty faced by the social auditor is the absence of a well-conceived information system as part and parcel of a social welfare programme. Government agencies which design programmes often commit the error of relying on traditional government systems of information such as government accounts and government methods of reporting for conveying a picture of how a programme is progressing. This kind of hazy and incomplete system does not help them to take stock, speed up, slow down or apply corrective measures as and when required. In any case, the system can give no information on the social changes achieved nor on how other related programmes have affected a programme.

According to Social Audit by Amitabh Mukhopadhyay,

• Constitutional amendments in 1992-93 for local self government which introduced provisions for accounts to be placed before the gram sabha and municipal wards are a revealing pointer to the need for accountability, not to a hierarchy of officialdom or representatives of the people but increasingly to people themselves, since they are the only stakeholders. That is the writing on the wall.

• Social audit assumes even greater importance in the context of democratic decentralization since 1992-93. Structures for accountability are the weakest in panchayats and municipal bodies who are implementing anti-poverty programmes and providing basic social services. Half-hearted devolution of powers by most state governments continues to stymie their effectiveness. Planning by district planning committees as envisaged in the constitutional amendments has hardly been operationalized. At the sub-district level of taluk and gram panchayats, poor book-keeping is coupled with audit certification by Examiners, Local Funds of the state governments, which is by and large no more than an exercise in stamping and signing inadequately authenticated accounts. Hearing the complaints of residents before certifying accounts, as is the audit convention for local authorities in Europe, is nowhere even on the agenda in India. The sheer spread and numbers of the local bodies, to be considered against the availability of ethical auditors, are daunting.

• At the behest of the Union Finance Commission, the CAG has recently undertaken an exercise in providing technical guidance and supervision to Examiners, Local Funds, which needs to be supported by a vigorous movement for social audit. It must be remembered that, as against the concerns of departmental auditors for classification of transactions under relevant schemes and programmes, citizens are interested in the veracity of the details in BPL surveys, vouchers and muster rolls. The actual construction of permanent assets along proper specifications also matters to them.

Rural Expert

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