Members of the civil society and the Meghalaya 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 bridge the gap between the citizen and the state.
This took place at a confluence of ideas and suggestions today during a consultative meeting organised by MSSAT to review the implementation of Social Audits and discuss reforms for strengthening its rollout in Meghalaya.
The session was held at the Conference Hall, Hotel Polo Towers, Shillong, on December 11, 2021. 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 social audit legislation in April 2017.
“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. The key focus should be laid on creating a sense of accountability through the Social Audit for providing a remedy for the rightful entitlements in the least possible time," he added.
Principal Secretary, Programme Implementation & Evaluation Department, Government of Meghalaya, Sampath Kumar IAS, while giving the welcome address, said that the whole intent is to be used as a tool to facilitate a participatory governance model in Meghalaya.
He stressed the need for such consultative meetings to bring about constructive reforms in the Act as a way forward.
“Social Audit is part of an important mechanism for building the State Capability while improving the Citizen-State relationship.The Government of Meghalaya launched the State Capability enhancement Project (SCEP), and social audit is an important pillar as part of addressing critical developmental gaps in the State," he said.
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.
Following various audits in the state, some key findings were also presented before the members present at the meeting. The consultative session witnessed the presence of stakeholders from the government departments and civil society.
Senior government officials, including Shantanu S Sharma, Director, MSSAT, Sibhi Chakrabarty, Secretary, C&RD and Ambrose Ch. Marak, Secretary, Department of Education, represented the various government departments at the session. Ambrose Ch. Marak, Secretary, Department of Education, said that Social Audit has been highly instrumental to various government departments in gaining information about various schemes.
He spoke on how the Department could learn how many schools are correctly implementing the Mid Day Meal Scheme through the Social Audit. 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 has been able to learn about their entitlements under the scheme.
Presenting his views, Carmo Noronha, Director, Bethany Society, Shillong, emphasised the need to use data collected through social audit effectively to improve decisions about policy reforms and improve 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 biases and discrepancies.
He urged the government to consider involving women through the Self Help Groups as social auditors to bring about credibility and community participation.
Clement Mawlong, a representative of a community institution, emphasised the need to have an ombudsman in place to address grievances related to the social audit process specifically.
Bah Thomas from Bosco Integrated Development Society emphasised the effective use of Social Audit for the government in taking corrective actions after detecting certain anomalies in the audit process.
Kong Angela Rangad urged the need to make Social Audit in Meghalaya more open to the community, and 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 more accessible, primarily through a unified portal and app that provides information about all government schemes to the commoner in one place.
The Jan Soochna App in Rajasthan can provide the commoner with the area-wise / information related to Government schemes and whether the eligible beneficiaries have accessed the scheme benefits; and, if not, the reasons behind the delay.
All this information has been given in simple language and a convenient manner. Jan Soochna App 2019 is of its kind initiative that provides all information related to government schemes in Ward/Panchayat on a single platform. It suggested that a similar mechanism on these lines could make the social audit process more accessible and convenient for the people in the state.
Some essential suggestions and takeaways following the consultative meeting on Social Audit for the state were as follows:
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