Social Audit Comes of Age in Kenya
The social audit methodology is rapidly gaining acceptance as a powerful citizen oversight tool in Kenya. Skeptics may dismiss this as a passing fad but a deeper look at the social audit phenomenon tells a different story.
A social audit is the process through which all details of a public scheme are scrutinised by its beneficiaries. Social audit offers a bottom up approach to transform citizen-leader relationships and inculcate a culture of accountability and good governance as part of Kenya’s reform agenda. If well implemented the social audit is an important tool to enable local communities influence local development outcomes.
The methodology currently making waves in local accountability work in Kenya was introduced in 2007 at a joint workshop hosted by the Muslim for Human Rights(MUHURI), The then International Budget Project (IBP), renamed the International Budget Partnership, and the Open Society Initiative for East Africa (OSIEA). The methodology was developed by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanathan (MKSS) in local audit of the national government employment program NREGA.
The methodology offers a structured way to monitor local development funds, key of which are the Constituency Development Fund (CDF ), the Local Authority Transfer Fund (LATF) and the Bursary. Furthermore, social audit does not only track expenditure but looks at social aspects of local governance that conventional tracking tools don’t . Specifically social audits open up a dialogue between citizens and local officials’ about their local development. All around the country local duty bearers are facing questions from the public regarding various aspects of their performance and this in itself is a new experience and an important milestone in development and accountability in Kenya.
A social audit conducted in Rongai constituency in Kenya’s Rift Valley province uncovered several incomplete maternal health centers against a backdrop of widespread maternal deaths. In response to the launch of the social audit report the MP of the constituency pledged to complete and upgrade several of the stalled projects and upgrade one health centre to a modern fully equipped maternal health centre.
Social Audit reports in Alego Usonga in Nyanza Province on school bursaries found that 10% of beneficiaries never applied for funding and that needy children routinely missed out on the needed bursaries. Subsequent to the social audit the bursary disbursement committee has adopted an open information policy and now post bursary beneficiary lists on the notice board to promote transparency.
Accountability Boards are going up in many parts of the country to enable citizens identify local development projects. Public scrutiny is making it harder for local funds to be fleeced as citizens demand explanations for stalled and incomplete projects as part of the social audit process.
Interestingly, the social audit has also received a favorable reception from official stakeholders, the Kenya Women’s Parliamentary Association an umbrella body representing all 22 women parliamentarians partnered with the Institute for Social Accountability (TISA) to undertake capacity building of local CDF committees to promote accountability. The women legislators complained of rampant mismanagement by local project committees partly due to ignorance and low capacity.
In one dramatic case, a Nairobi MP incensed at what she perceived as corruption and incompetence amongst the local committee, fired all its members and locked the local CDF office for two weeks. The sentiments of one committee member in the same constituency was telling. Speaking off the record in sheng he said
‘….we thought this money was our chance to eat, we viewed it as a gift…… our share of the cake. After the training we realised that that we can wind up in jail under the (Public Officer and Ethics Act) and that scared us. Many of my colleagues quit from the committees. I have decided to use my position to raise awareness and push for openness in the committee…..’
Social audit work gathering momentum
It’s amongst civil society groups that social audits have generated the greatest support. Numerous CSO’s involved in local governance work have adopted the MKSS model in recognition of its cross cutting benefits and the power it has to unlock local development.
According to Peter Kiama, Program Officer Trocaire, the social audit is very powerful because it will enable citizens begin questioning their leaders in the context of a dialogue. The confrontational approach has not worked. Through social audits Trocaire and its local partners plan to establish a partnership between leaders and citizens in which citizens can fearlessly ask difficult questions about their development and obtain answers. Trocaire is funding social audits in over 30 constituencies and over 10 Local Authorities under a three year program.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission one of Trocaire’s implementing partners which has been running an accountability program over the past three years, has chosen to adopt and adapt the social audit methodology to enable citizens’ claim their rights and hold their leaders to account under their citizen manifesto program in various parts of the country.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) recently disbursed funding to 19 CSO’s to conduct social audits in various parts of the country.
Social Audit Network
The widespread acceptance and adoption of the program has necessitated the formation of the Social and Public Accountability Program (SPAN), an umbrella which brings together CSO’s undertaking social audit with a view to mapping their activities to ensure complementarity, capacity building, exchange of practice and joint national advocacy.
This year SPAN seeks to launch a citizen participation bill campaign in the fourth quarter of this year. Social audit findings demonstrate that there is need to motivate for comprehensive reform of the local governance institutional framework through a strong national policy alongside the grassroots advocacy offered by the social audits.
Challenges in the social audit process
Obviously the social audit is not without its challenges, key of which is difficulty in accessing records. In trying to access information strategy is everything. Usually once official stakeholders understand that the social audit is in their best interests to promote accountability they do open up. There is none the less a pressing need to push for an access to information law which SPAN seeks to do under the citizen participation policy.
Another weakness in the present methodology is that implementing CSO’s are not publishing their reports. The rigor of compiling and verifying the reports is slowing down the publishing of social audit reports, without which the process is not complete. Groups need to budget time and resources for compilation of social audit reports. TISA is actively liaising with several CSO partners to assist in the development of reports.
Aside from the challenge of documenting the social audit findings and outcomes, there is the challenge of follow up. Groups are obtaining important promises from local officials but due to the design of program work, they shift their base to another program and constituency and do not follow up to ensure the promises made are carried out.
As Action Aid Governance Advisor Dr Suma Kaare’s says,
“….we have discovered that communities need help not just in identifying and demanding their rights, but in claiming them too. Civil society programs usually looking for quick results do not dedicate time to follow up and partnership building which is the stage at which rights are claimed.”
In recognition of this weakness TISA is also spearheading an initiative to formally file complaints of the abuses uncovered through the social audit process. There are also plans to launch a national social audit report by those partners who have already completed the first cycle of the social audit process. The social audit has undoubtedly come of age and it is time to present the findings and outcomes at the national level with a view to contributing in the national reform debate.
Social Audit Comes of Age
Groups in Kenya have adopted social audit as a transformative program and as more groups take it up we shall be able to cover every part of the country and harness the outputs to push for national reform. Watch this space.Prepared by Wanjiru Gikonyo, National Coordinator –TISA