In support of more social audits

| | in Oped

There must be a discernible improvement in people's livelihood by achieving planned performance and expected outcome. The quintessential attributes of good governance should be reflected everywhere

While inaugurating a national conference on social audit recently, Comptroller and Auditor-General of India Shashi Kant Sharma urged the need for social audit of Government schemes executed by urban local bodies and panchayati raj institutions. The objective is to strengthen accountability and transparency commensurate with emerging responsibilities and increasing flow of funds to these bodies.

Mr Sharma is of the opinion that a social audit mechanism can be quite handy to deal with difficulties in the execution of projects. The Union and State Governments make substantial expenditures for socio-economic development and welfare programmes. For example, in 2013-2014, development expenditure amounted to Rs17 lakh crore with an average outlay of Rs2,656 crore available per district for the execution of various schemes through self-governing bodies.

The CAG’s performance audit reports on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act for 2007-2012, tells a sad story of a decline in employment generation. Surprisingly, many States did not formulate the rules even after seven years of enactment of the Act.

The beneficiary survey conducted by the CAG showed that in States like Haryana and Kerala, 90 per cent of the beneficiaries felt that the Act had benefitted them. But in States like Assam, Gujarat, Karnataka, and West Bengal, the state of affairs was not so rosy, as only less than half of the beneficiaries found the flagship programme to be helpful.

The CAG’s observations to intensify social audits added significance when the 14th Finance Commission, doubled the grant for local bodies. The Finance Commission, in its report covering the period 2015-2020, had fixed the grant of Rs2.87 lakh crore — over two lakh crore rupees more than that of the 13th Finance Commission. Of this money, nearly two lakh crore rupees have been allotted to the panchayats, while the rest will go to the municipalities.

In the Budget, Union Minister for Finance Arun Jaitley increased the allocation of resources to the States. The issue before the planners and programme executors is that a digital modern nation cannot be formed by enhanced budgetary allocation or by incurring double expenditure without ensuring commensurate accountability.

Besides funds flow and improving measurable qualitative, physical and quantitative parameters, there must be a discernible improvement in people’s livelihood by achieving planned performance and expected outcome. The quintessential attributes of good governance should be reflected everywhere from planning, implementation, monitoring, review to taking follow up actions for continuous improvements in project outcome.

Apart from ensuring timely flow of funds to the implementing agencies, a governance-centric Government machinery should be put in place to track the expenditure from the Budgets of the Union Government, State Governments and Union Territories to the districts right down to the implementing agencies with proper accounting, systems, procedures backed with adequate delegation, segregation of powers, checks and balances. Bringing innovative, suitable delivery and governance tools is inevitable for attaining planned key performance indices and targeted outcome.

As envisaged by the CAG, contribution by the supreme audit institution, which is constitutionally mandated to conduct audit of each and every penny that goes into the Government exchequer and expenditure out of it, to report to the people’s representatives with a keen eye on outcome and performance, can find many a missing thread and supporting evidence in social audit reports.

Social auditors can also sharpen their professional skills by internalising the right auditing process, planning, techniques and methodology from the national audit mechanism and get skilled, trained and empowered in financial and performance and compliance audit drill of Government flagship programmes, projects, schemes and activities.

Macro-level national auditing must be appropriately dovetailed giving space for valuable inputs of social audits. An appreciation of the complementary roles and responsibilities, supports and empowers auditing for value for money and accountability trying to plug leakage and pilferage. In an ideal governance-tuned engine of growth, social auditors are the real people’s auditors. Social auditors know the pulse beat of the people at the grassroots with extant socio-economic and political power structure.

While the national auditor has more than century-old tradition and wisdom in auditing coupled with increasing professional skills, acumen and finesse meeting the challenges of conducting value for audit, performance auditing, sustainability, gender and environmental auditing and information system auditing. Synergy can be visible when social audits at micro-levels are appropriately integrated with macro-level audit machinery of the CAG of India.

(The writer is former Director General of the CAG)

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