Shillong(Meghalaya), Dec 11 : Members of the civil society as well as the government administration came together for a dialogue on the need for more awareness on the importance of Social Audit as a tool to improve public service delivery and to bridge the gap between the Citizen and the State.
This took place at a confluence of ideas and suggestions today during a consultative meeting organized by MSSAT (an independent social audit unit set up by the State) for reviewing the implementation of Social Audits and discussion on reforms for strengthening its rollout in Meghalaya. The session was held at the Conference Hall, Hotel Polo Towers,here on Saturday ,December 11.
Justice Madan Lokur, Former Judge, Supreme Court of India was the Chief Guest of the session.
Addressing the members, Justice Madan Lokur congratulated Meghalaya on being a trailblazer by becoming the first State in India to pass a social audit legislation in April 2017. He added, “Social Audit should not be seen as a means of finding faults with the departments or agencies implementing different development programmes, but should be used for taking corrective measures to bridge the gap between the government intended objectives of the programs and the beneficiaries. Key focus should be laid on creating a sense of accountability through the Social Audit for providing remedy for the rightful entitlements in the least possible time”. He also stated that the whole idea of Social Audit exists to help people, and this intention should guide the entire social audit process in the State.
Principal Secretary, Programme Implementation & Evaluation Department, Government of Meghalaya, Sampath kumar IAS, while giving the welcome address said that the whole intent of Social Audit is to be used as a tool to facilitate a participatory governance model in Meghalaya. He stressed on the need for such consultative meetings to bring about constructive reforms in the Act as a way forward. He added, “Social Audit is part of an important mechanism for building the State Capability while improving the Citizen-State relationship. The State Capability enhancement Project (SCEP) was launched by the Government of Meghalaya, and social audit is an important pillar as part of addressing critical developmental gaps in the State”.
The consultative session also witnessed a detailed overview by the Director of MSSAT, Shantanu Sharma, IAS, on the legal framework for accountability under the Meghalaya Community Participation and Public Services Social Audit Act, 2017 (Act No. 7 of 2017) and Rules as well as an overview of social audits implementation status and institutional architecture of MCP&PSSA Act. Some key findings following various audits in the State were also presented before the members present at the meeting. The consultative session witnessed the presence of stakeholders from the government departments as well as the civil society.
Senior government officials including Shantanu. S. Sharma, Director, MSSAT, Sibhi Chakrabarty, Secretary, C&RD and Ambrose Ch. Marak, Secretary, Department of Education among others represented the various government departments at the session. Ambrose Ch. Marak, Secretary, Department of Education said that Social Audit has been extremely instrumental to various government departments in gaining information about the implementation of various schemes. He spoke on how through the Social Audit, the Department could learn how many schools are properly implementing the Mid Day Meal Scheme. He also spoke about how social audit is often viewed in a negative perspective aimed at finding faults. However, the positive aspect of social audit is that the community as a whole has been able to learn about their entitlements under the scheme. He also added that the Social Audit has been a window to assess the correct implementation of schemes at the field level.
Presenting his views, Carmo Noronha, Director, Bethany Society, Shillong emphasized on the need to use data collected through social audit effectively for improving decisions pertaining to policy reforms as well as improving public service. This would serve the true purpose of social audits, especially at the community level. He also suggested that the social auditors from one village be deployed for auditing purposes in some other villages, on a rotational basis, to reduce chances of biasness and discrepancies. He urged the government to consider involving women through the Self Help Groups as social auditors to bring about credibility and more community participation.
Clement Mawlong, a representative of a community institution laid emphasis on the need of having an ombudsman in place to specifically address grievances related to the social audit process. An ex-ombudsman himself, he highlighted the need for having an ombudsman in place for improving social audit efficiency.
Thomas from Bosco Integrated Development Society emphasized on the effective use of Social Audit for the government in taking corrective actions after the detection of certain anomalies in the audit process.
Ms. Angela Rangad urged the need for making Social Audit in Meghalaya more open to the community as well as the importance of intensive awareness drives about social audit among people. She also highlighted how in Meghalaya, women do not have institutional decision making rights and opportunities, despite being a matrilineal society.
Others who participated in the session were Nikhil Dey, Founder Member, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), Rakshita Swamy, Lead, Social Accountability Forum for Action and Research (SAFAR) and Sultan Ahmad from Gram Vaani, including Dr. Sandra Albert, Director, IIPH-Shillong. They threw light on how the entire social audit process in Meghalaya can be made simpler and easier, especially through a unified portal and app that provides information about all government schemes to the common man in one place.
The Jan Soochna App, that is existent in Rajasthan, can provide the common man with the area-wise / information related to Government schemes and whether the scheme benefits have been accessed by the eligible beneficiaries; and if not, the reasons behind the delay. All this information has been given in simple language and convenient manner. Jan Soochna App 2019 is one of its kind initiative that provides all information related to government schemes in Ward/Panchayat on a single platform. It was suggested that a similar mechanism on these lines could make the social audit process more accessible and convenient for the people in the State.
Others who took active part in the session included representatives of Line Departments, representatives of MSSAT, representatives of Village Durbar (Jalyiah- EJHD, Laitkor Rngi- EKHD, Umsning & Umran Dairy- RBD, representative of CSOs (Bethany Society, Bosco Integrated Development Society, Nongstoin Social Service Society, Anganwadi Workers’ & Helper Union, WSWO among others
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