Social accountability: A solution, but do we know what it is? 

Jasper Tumuhimbise

What you need to know:

  • There cannot be social accountability without citizen participation.

It is more than 20 years now, but the scenario is so fresh as if it was yesterday! A school in Iganga District then, Mulingirire Primary School, had reportedly been completed under the School Facility Grant. The seven-classroom block had been inspected and cleared by all, including the district engineer, as complete and the contractor was fully paid. When we went to Iganga for site visits, . I recall the engineer stating that the school was very far and that we should ignore visiting it because it would end up being very costly and tiresome. We refused to buy that ‘nice’ advice.
 
We insisted and visited the school. There were only some blocks and sand on site. Yet on paper, it had been completed and fully paid for. Of course, what followed was for heads to roll, but the picture of those pupils still seating under trees (I also went to similar schools but opportunity then was different) still lingers! Twenty years later, is there any of those who is able to read this article? We condemn people that they are poor yet we inadvertently facilitate that very condition. There were similar scenarios in Buniantore PS and others which I cannot recall. 

That is why social accountability is important. The headteacher had signed the completion form, same for LC2, school management committee had endorsed, then the engineer and the education office. Where were parents, teachers and citizens in this big game? Why was there a vacuum yet they are the very people who are to benefit?
This brings in the idea of social accountability (SA). This is the theme for this year’s anti-corruption focus-‘Promoting Active Citizens Participation in Social Accountability’.
  
There cannot be SA without citizen participation-may be strengthening! To strengthen social frameworks means to work with communities to support people’s actions to claim citizenship and rights, and use of participatory methodologies and tools. The end result is to help citizens demand and monitor service delivery and, in most cases, also ensure value for money in their areas.
Normally, in all other models, and particularly in the key area of policy making, elites have captured the space and deliberately neutralised social accountability possibilities. Communities have largely remained out of the reach and realm of formulating their solutions. The poor and vulnerable people have been excluded even in their effort to seek improved service delivery.  

To firmly establish people-centred rights-based governance at the local level, there is a strong need to politicise the economic decision-making process, public service delivery systems, participatory planning and budgeting, and place it squarely within the domain of people’s agencies and public action. In Uganda there is still the gap.
The need to hold government and its institutions accountable cannot be overemphasised. The claim for some that the corrupt will put a mechanism to fight corruption (themselves) is like dreaming of eating a pizza when you are trapped in a bottomless pit. 

Therefore, understanding that bottom-up processes lead to democratisation of local, national and international level public policy making processes is key to help us focus on the communities first. If they can be able to be empowered to protect the crumbs that can reach-there would be hope. The basis of this is to empower citizens to demand and participate in all social service delivery systems, making it politically risky to tamper with service at that level.
Social accountability is, therefore, an approach that organises people (communities) especially at the grassroots to monitor, evaluate and assess service delivery. It encourages democratising knowledge (access to information) and using participatory tools and methods for building public accountability and transparency to initiate people-centred advocacy processes. It creates space where people can discuss budgets, allocations, service delivery and use it as an entry point to build inclusive, democratic and just governance.

Social accountability has four pillars . These pillars are interdependent, and where there has been success in the corruption fight, the focus has been put on all. These pillars are: Organised and capable community groups; responsive government; access to information; and sensitivity to culture and context.
 In the above case of the primary school, all the four were missing and hence the loss. 


The author, Mr Jasper Tumuhimbise is a governance consultant, statistician and activist formerly working with Inspectorate of Government and ACCU.

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