Social accountability refers to the concept of public involvement towards building a mechanism where common citizens of a state can participate in demanding accountability from public officials responsible for ensuring efficient delivery of services. Aimed at triggering the collective action for change, in a broader context, the concept of social accountability is all about gathering information on rights and service delivery.
Some of the tools and mechanisms employed to ensure social accountability are comprised of citizen report cards, participatory budgeting, community score cards, citizen charts, public expenditure tracking, social audits and people’s right to information acts. Though the concept of SAc is relatively new the areas where it has been practised, has marked significant achievements in improving governance and ensuring quality service delivery.
However, it has also been realised that the efficacy of the concept towards achieving the desired goals can only be enhanced if additional measures are taken to link up the supply and demand side of services, capacity of staff is upgraded, and an effective monitoring and evaluation system is put in practice.
Moreover, the entire idea of SAc must revolve around civic engagement, where common citizens and social organisations can directly participate in demanding accountability of the respective authorities.
The idea behind the SAc initiative is to achieve broader goals of reducing poverty, increasing effectiveness of development works, and empowering the marginalised sections of society.
The mechanism of social accountability is usually misunderstood as a mere practice that is confined to the voting process only as communities exercise their right to hold their representatives accountable. In reality, however, the idea stretches far beyond that and besides ordinary citizens, invites participation of civil society organisations as well.
Together, they not only provide their input in public policy-making and participatory budgeting, but also play a vital role in public expenditure tracking, monitoring of public services delivery and, if needed, in lobbying and conducting advocacy campaigns.
There are no two opinions about the fact that active citizenship is one of the prerequisites of effective democracy. Here, by active citizenships we mean the form of citizenship where people are not only aware of their rights but also vigorously opt for an active engagement towards demanding transparency and holding government institutions accountable.
Thus, SAc also implies addressing loopholes in democratic practices as most of the time government institutions miserably fail to deliver services equitably and effectively. SAc ensures enhancing participation of ordinary citizens through mobilisation, training, capacity building, lobbing and monitoring the accountability.
While completely in practice, social accountability can yield positive results to a state or society. Firstly, it empowers the marginalised and neglected segments of society by engaging them in constructive dialogue with bureaucratic and political administration and resultantly improves the quality of services being provided to them.
Secondly, it augments the capacities of government offices to institutionalise the tools of social accountability and form their policies while keeping in view the needs of marginalised families and to plan and execute their activities accordingly. Thirdly, it builds up the capacities of civil society organisation by engaging them into the activities that ultimately promote democratic practices at all government levels. Finally, it plays a pivotal role in forming people friendly national policies based upon lessons learned from the SA practices promoting the participation of the marginalised.
The realisation for the importance and implementation of social accountability is in its infancy stage in Pakistan. However, acknowledging the efficacy and need of the concept in highlighting and promoting the essence of democracy and improving the quality of service delivery in the country, some development organisations, with the financial cooperation of the donors, are implementing social accountability in their area of interest.
Affiliated Network for Social Accountability South Asia Region (ANSA-SAR) is a World Bank (WB) initiative, which is aimed at promoting transparency, curtailing corruption and ensuring good governance in South Asia region. Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka are the countries where SAc programmes are currently implementing.
The organisations selected from Pakistan are Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI) in Islamabad and Shehri and Hisaar foundation in Karachi. All four organisations are aimed at employing the tools of social accountability which, in the long run, will lead to achieving the essence of democracy and good governance and will improve the quality of service delivery in Pakistan. The social accountability tools these organisations are implying respectively are Citizen Report Cards, CSS tools, Mutual accountability and Right to information.
The fact of the matter is that the world around us is changing rapidly and to ensure the sustenance of our society we must realise the fact that democratic governance and accountability will have to be put into practice.
This article was originally published at: The News
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.