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PAISA: A commendable project to drive accountability in government programs

Badhri Jagannathan
posted on 6th September 2010
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Accountability Initiative (AI) is a research initiative that strives to track and disseminate information on existing levels of accountability in various government programs. PAISA (Planning, Allocations and Expenditures, Institutions: Studies in Accountability) is AI’s flagship initiative to this end. PAISA’s concept note provides a quick overview of its objectives which is quoted below.

PAISA is an effort to strengthen transparency and accountability in the processes of expenditure management for core public services. It aims to do this by:

  • Collecting district level data on annual planning processes, resource allocations, expenditures and institutional arrangements for service delivery
  • Creating “how to” tool-kits to track allocated resources, expenditures and understand institutional roles and responsibilities
  • Disseminating this data to relevant stakeholders with a particular emphasis on citizens (users of services), providers and policy makers
  • Strengthening the capacity of citizens and providers to improve planning processes, expenditure efficiency and implementation of service delivery
  • Informing the policy debate on how to introduce transparency and accountabilitymechanisms in the implementation of public services

To kick-off this project, PAISA team had conducted an extensive survey at the school level in an endeavor to  track the flow of funds from the central governments through the governance chain all the way to the schools in the Indian government’s school education program Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). The document published (pdf) is thorough in its data-collection and simple in the representation of data and conclusion.

So what does PAISA tells us? Money does reach but not entirely. Our calculations show that 85 % of grants reached the schools out of the total amount that should have reached in accordance with school norms (n/b we arrived at this figure after minimizing reporting errors). Importantly, we found that even when funds reach their intended destination, delays are common indicative of deep-seated administrative malaise. And finally, there is the larger issue of how funds get used. PAISA suggests that there are significant gaps in the quality of expenditures. A finding that needs further analysis

Most importantly, the PAISA team did not stop the initiative with the publication of the collected data and leave the consumption part to those who may be interested. Instead, the team followed it up with initiatives to ensure that information is effectively transformed into greater accountability

…the challenge for us was to find ways of disseminating this information to those who needed it – parents, Panchayat members, school teachers – in a way that made this information relevant to them and enabled them to   for expenditures. Our hypothesis was that information matters and if we can help in empowering the community by providing them with information, it could lead to a greater demand for quality services and therefore increased accountability….

The conclusion of the experiment very clearly highlighted the lack of effective organizational structure at the leaf-level government authority that is responsible for overseeing education.

Our primary learning was that information, while a necessary condition for accountability, is simply not enough. Delivery systems at the grassroots can act as serious hurdles and prevent people from using information to enforce accountability…

We also found that at the implementation level, there is a lot of confusion and overlap of roles and responsibilities which allowed local officials to shift responsibility for delivery failures…

Finally, we also realized that the space for actual participation and therefore for people to demand accountability is limited…

From the document published on SSA, Accountability Initiative has clearly demonstrated that it has initiated PAISA, not just as another short-term research project, but a long-term, thorough and painstaking endeavor in order to provide an “end-to-end solution” that starts at data-collection and ends at nothing short of greater accountability in public services. And, PAISA’s project on SSA  is just the beginning.

In the long term PAISA will expand beyond elementary education in an effort to develop innovative, practical and scaleable tools to track expenditures across all development programs and provide India with much needed data and tools to ensure that the government is accountable for all its development expenditures.

Further still, apart from PAISA, Accountability Initiative has also published a number of working papers (on various government programs like NREGA) and policy briefs and RTI briefs! Truly commendable!

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