This is the second in our 7 part series on citizen impact on government budgets. Click here to read part 1.
Large government poverty reduction initiatives – even those which are set up with the best of intentions – often fall prey to inefficiency and corruption. Civil society organizations (CSOs) can play an important role in monitoring such programs to make sure that the intended recipients, and not bureaucrats, are reaping the benefits. The work of Samarthan, a CSO that operates in Madhya Pradesh in India, shows that budget monitoring can be a useful tool for helping governments implement such ambitious schemes and for ensuring that citizens actually benefit from them.
India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which was passed in 2005, guarantees the country’s rural poor the right to work by providing each poor family that needs work with 100 days of unskilled labor each year. Samarthan has been monitoring the implementation of NREGA since it was launched. It facilitated social audits of the program in many districts, conducted two studies on the status of NREGA implementation, and planned systematic interventions in ten villages in the state. The objectives of the Samarthan campaign were to improve the uptake and implementation of the program.
Improving uptake of NREGA
Through its work in the villages, it became clear to Samarthan that the people did not know that they could demand work, how to demand work, or what recourse they had if they did not receive work after a demand had been made or if they were not compensated for work in a timely manner. As a result of this, Samarthan planned various interventions to raise awareness about NREGA, including holding public meetings, organizing training sessions for youths, distributing pamphlets, and conducting a house-to-house campaign to explain the people’s rights under NREGA.
The evidence is mixed regarding whether Samarthan helped more workers to access NREGA. Improvements in the uptake of NREGA seemed to come up against forces of social exclusion that may only be addressed by more sustained interventions. During the campaign, for example, there was a significant increase in the number of demand-for-work applications filed. However, once Samarthan was no longer promoting this behavior, the status quo quickly reasserted itself. Likewise, the number of work days generated in the campaign villages increased compared to the work days generated in the villages not affected by Samarthan’s interventions. But, once the campaign was over, the performance figures for the campaign villages in some of the districts reverted almost to the figures from before the intervention.
Improving government delivery of NREGA
In order to identify inadequacies and bottlenecks in the system, Samarthan conducted an in-depth study of the financial flows of NREGA and analyzed the budget data from village level to district level, before deciding which interventions were necessary. By tracking the flow of documents (such as demand-for-work applications and attendance musters) from the village level to the district level and the flow of money from the district level to the workers’ hands, Samarthan was able to establish that:
- job cards were being held by village officials (rather than workers) so that they could fudge work entries and block legitimate demands for work;
- attendance musters were being manipulated to hide corruption and ineptitude; and
- the payment of wages was significantly delayed.
Samarthan’s work with budgets was not limited to simply monitoring budgets, the organization also proposed solutions. The work that Samarthan did in identifying blockages in the system resulted in a change in the way in which funds are released. Previously the funds could only reach the village via the block level and this caused delays; now the funds are released directly from the district to the village level, making the process more efficient and resulting in fewer payment delays for the workers.
After it became clear that village secretaries had not been trained to draw up budgets, Samarthan helped the secretaries prepare labor budgets and annual plans for NREGA work to be undertaken during the year. These proactive steps meant that villages that would have otherwise been ill equipped to deal with the commitments made in NREGA were able to provide people with work when they demanded it (and pay them in a timely manner) because the labor budgets had already been prepared and approved.
Because Samarthan was able to provide government officials with concrete evidence regarding particular problem areas, the government was more willing to accept the suggestions that the CSO put forward. In fact, the program officer of the Sehore district ended up adopting Samarthan’s tracking format for use in the administration.
“Rigorous analysis and the depth of information and knowledge it produced helped Samarthan to earn respect in the eyes of government officials (from village to state level), as well as with the people in the village,” Ramesh Awasthi wrote in a case study about Samarthan’s NREGA campaign.
This post was written by Rebekah Kendal based on the case study by Ramesh Awasthi commissioned by the International Budget Partnership. Click here to read more case studies of how citizen budget monitoring has improved service delivery.