Under the Bangladesh Local Governance program, social audits are being conducted in Union Parishads (UPs) for strengthening social contract between the citizens and their local governments. A weekly TV program "Amader Union" or Our Union was launched by TV Journalist Shykh Seraj, who is documenting and broadcasting these social audits. This is generating lot of interest among both rural and urban citizens. The UP functionaries are also keen to participate in these social audits, so as to showcase their good work and responsiveness to citizens.
I observed a social audit in March 2011 on a LGSP scheme (a 350 feet rural road with brick-soiling in Sarabo Mouza, Kashimpur UP, Gazipur district) conducted by the citizen group (CG). The CG conducted a social audit at the local market by this road. The CG put a large poster detailing the Community Score card (CSC), that had questions and possible responses indicated by symbols. Symbols were used as a large number of rural poor are illiterate. The scores are given over a total number of 100, so that people can distinguish bad performance (below 40%), medium (60%) and good (80% or more).
About 30 people gathered and each was given a card. People were excited by this and one elderly man – Mr. Fazlu Mia, a retired welder gave a big smile and observed “This is my opportunity to give objection to my UP member and chair”. Many women and men were illiterate, but were able to give score by symbols and also were assisted by their children who are literate. Momena Begum of Purbapara village stressed that “for the first time in my life, I am able to score publicly on performance of UP.” When scoring was completed, the CG compiled the score and the scheme was given a score of 68%. Everyone voted that this is a very good scheme that benefits all.
Before, they used to walk in knee-deep mud, and could not come to market. After this road was built, even trucks are able to come and market is bustling with activities. The community gave low score on participation, as many of them were not consulted before this scheme was taken. Mr. Hazrat Ali, a former UP member pointed out that there is another road nearby that is worse and should have been rehabilitated first.
Interface meeting between communities and UP: The CG facilitated an interface meeting between the communities and the UP the next day, and scores of the UP and communities were displayed side by side in large posters. The UP gave them a high score – 86%, while community score was 68%, mostly due to inadequate participation or consultations before schemes were prioritized. The UP functionaries agreed to hold ward level scheme prioritization meeting in future and inform people by announcement through miking. UP also acknowledged their shortcomings in consultations, as they receive funds from central government very late and have to spend it by the end of financial year, they usually do not have time for consultations. The UP and communities developed and agreed on an action plan or Social Contract for deeper engagement and participation.
Social Contract between citizens and their local governments: The first batch of UP social audits were completed and Social Contract (action plans) were agreed between the UPs and communities. These social contracts indicate the ownership, deeper engagement and mutual accountability between UP and communities. Some UPs scored themselves higher than the communities, while other UP scores were lower than the communities, indicating UP’s own concern of not performing well.
The UP functionaries were frank in their opinion on where they did well and what the challenges are. Many UPs acknowledge the challenge of undertaking consultation and community participation in decision making, especially when time is short and schemes have to be completed and funds spent before the end of the fiscal year. The poor citizens are also busy during crop planting and harvesting seasons. The opportunity cost of participation may be high for the poor, who has to work daily for subsistence.
The baseline data of LGSP indicate that nearly 80% of the UP citizens know about UP open budget meetings, but only 15-20% participates. The communities are not sure whether their participation in UP meetings will improve local development or their own benefits. As result, they do not have incentive to participate in the local governance process. However, the social audit, interface meeting with UP and agreement on the social contract made the communities of Kashimpur UP hopeful that their participation and collective action can help bring benefit to the most marginalized and poor. Communities felt that the social contract between the UPs and communities, and regular monitoring by the CG and themselves is a way forward for deeper civic engagement and mutual accountability between the citizens and their governments.