Transparency and accountability are key to good governance of social protection systems. Broadly, transparency is about information disclosure, while accountability is about processes that enable the public to raise concerns about how social protection is implemented. From a human rights perspective, it is about seeking, receiving and imparting information on social security entitlements. From a good governance perspective, it is about a set of incentives and relationships that make service providers accountable for delivering quality services efficiently. What do these concepts of good governance mean for social protection programmes like Samurdhi? The government is using the Welfare Benefits Act (WBA) to initiate reforms in the welfare system. The WBA is now the legal framework for payment of all welfare relief. The establishment of a process for identifying and terminating benefits is one such reform, as is improving transparency in beneficiary targeting. The proposed changes aim to capture the bottom quarter of the population (about 900,000 households), using progressive transfer criteria (which grant larger amounts to poorer households), and increasing the total amount of the transfer. The intent is that this selection criterion will enable the poorest to be targeted. The Proxy Means Test (PMT) is a formula-based targeting system that is under consideration and has already been piloted by the government in the North and East. The PMT is more transparent than the previous targeting model used by Samurdhi, as it looks beyond income to easily observable characteristics in a household such as education, occupation of adult members, ownership of durable goods, and the location and quality of their dwelling. The PMT assesses eligibility with a score obtained from these indicators through statistical analysis and compares the score against a predetermined cut-off. Questions remain, however, on who will be left out in using this formula. Whilst all homeless people will be included in the programme, without application of the PMT, it is not clear how they would be captured. How will those who become poor or move in and out of poverty (Transient Poor) be targeted? There is also the question of context specific issues like those experienced by war affected communities. For instance, a household might own land, but the land may not be productive due to the existence of landmines. How will non productivity of the asset be taken into account when assessing the eligibility of the household for Samurdhi? There are mechanisms for addressing some of these issues. Grievance redress mechanisms (GRMs) provide formal channels for beneficiaries to register complaints. In such instances, eligibility is reassessed and appeals can be resolved. This approach has been used in programmes in Pakistan and Philippines with a high rate of appeals being resolved within a relatively short time period (one month). There is also the issue of leakage – tracking those who are no longer eligible and helping them to move out of the programme. This needs to be included in the programme design. In the United States, exit is forced by limiting the duration of the benefits with conditions for re-entering. In Mexico and Brazil, short term cash transfers are linked to behaviour which will improve household income in the future, like keeping children in school. This approach aims to mitigate poverty issues now by investing in human capital, and reducing transgenerational poverty in the long term. Accountability is also important in programme implementation. Cash transfers in Samurdhi are to be distributed through individual accounts at post offices, instead of the Samurdhi Banking Societies. This could reduce corruption and help delink the receipt of money from individual officials who are responsible for disbursement of funds. To improve transparency, names of potential recipients are to be published in the media and the public will have an opportunity to view these lists and raise objections, which will be investigated. A range of fines and threats are to be introduced to reduce false claims. How can these initiatives be implemented to improve transparency and accountability? Several mechanisms exist. Social audits conducted by local civil society can enable beneficiaries and communities to review and provide feedback on programme implementation by reviewing process compliance and presenting results at public hearings. Such processes not only improve transparency, but can also raise awareness on the programmes and promote redress. India’s MGNREGA public works programme has legally mandated the use of social audits as part of MGNREGA’s commitment to transparency. Village auditors collect information on the programme and share it with citizens at village information sessions. Citizen report cards can provide feedback on user perceptions on the quality, adequacy, and efficiency of services. Similarly, Community Scorecards (CSC) can be used as a monitoring tool for local-level monitoring and performance evaluation by communities. Both these tools engage communities with service providers through discussions and scoring of services which result in drawing up a joint action plan to improve effectiveness of service delivery. In some instances, local governments and representatives are held accountable for programme delivery through elections, e.g. political incentives can encourage first-term representatives to prioritise social protection programme delivery with good management practice as evidenced in Brazil where mayors achieved re-election for effectively implementing popular safety net programmes. Evidence indicates that such accountability tools are meaningful at the local level and can have some effects at the national level too. Beneficiaries of social protection programmes like Samurdhi tend to be the poorest, most excluded, and the least likely to have the voice and power to hold service providers accountable. Principles of accountability and transparency can contribute to good governance by providing citizens with the tools to demand information and redress injustices; errors in targeting, fraud and corruption as well as improve coverage. The role of transparency and accountability in providing social justice and empowering citizens should therefore not be overlooked. This is a series by the Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) looking at poverty-related policy interventions in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan think-tank promoting a better understanding of poverty-related development issues. CEPA believes that poverty is an injustice that should be overcome and that overcoming poverty involves changing policies and practices nationally and internationally, as well as working with people in poverty.
(+94) 114 690 200
No. 29 R.G. Senanayake Mawatha (formerly Gregory's Road),
Colombo 07, Western, Sri Lanka, 00700