The Hindu, December 20, 2009

Representatives of the World Bank at a workshop on accountability here have expressed the view that the bank’s attempts at fighting corruption in the Government’s welfare schemes often got interpreted as acts of “interfering”.

Delivering the keynote address at a workshop on “Social accountability in India”, Giovanna Prennushi, Economic Advisor to the World Bank, said the bank has been extending support to the Centre to improve service delivery in the Centrally-sponsored schemes. This included bringing in more transparency and accountability in the schemes through the implementation of the Right to Information, websites, sign boards and capacity building of the stakeholders.

The two-day workshop, organised jointly by CUTS (Consumer Unity & Trust Society) International and the World Bank ‘s South Asia Sustainable Development Department, discussed social accountability interventions introduced in large-scale public programmes such as National Rural employment Guarantee Scheme and “Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan” through engagement with a wide range of stockholders.

“The Bank’s lending to India has gone up to five billion dollars. We are engaged in a number of Centrally-sponsored schemes,” Ms. Prennushi said. However, the bank was cautious about its postures as “fighting corruption at times is seen as interfering”, she noted. Social audits and third party interventions were some of the methods being tried out to ensure proper use of funds. “The World Bank also is trying to strengthen the demand of those who ask for greater accountability,” she said.

Ms. Prennushi said the World Bank was trying to incorporate social accountability mechanism in flagship schemes for better public expenditure outcomes in future. She stressed the need for community activism to extract more accountability.

Rajasthan’s Rural Development Minister Bharat Singh in his inaugural address was candid enough to accept that the credibility of politicians in India had taken a nose dive in the post Independence period. In general the countrymen have lost commitment to their work and responsibility, he lamented.

Referring to the ongoing debate over social audits of NREGS works in Rajasthan, Mr. Singh said he was aware of the distraught in the minds of the activists over the stalling of the proposed social audits in 16 districts in the State. The political leadership, which gets elected, had its own compulsions in taking action against the corrupt but when the people themselves start demanding a more transparent functioning and punishment of the guilty the Government would be forced to act, he said.

“The biggest drawback is when we are not able to punish people who should be punished,” Mr. Singh said promising to check corruption in the NREGS.

George Cheriyan, Director, CUTS International, while introducing the theme noted that some of the accountability interventions in the past yielded outlier development outcomes within a period of just one year. He sighted instances such as 46 per cent increase in normal nutritional grade children and a 16 per cent increase in the number of immunized children and a 10 per cent drop in teachers’ absenteeism.

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