Social Accountability for Inclusive Governance: The South Asian Experience
Inclusive citizen engagement in which ordinary citizens and civil society organizations participate to demand accountability, commonly referred to as social accountability, has increasingly been recognized as a key strategy in enhancing government performance and improving access to quality public services on an equitable basis. Transparent and structured engagement between citizen and state actors prepare the ground for bolstering ‘answerability,’ and allow for direct input into ways in which government performance can be improved. Inclusion within the social accountability discourse means that citizen groups on the margins of society can address the inequity in their ‘voice relationship’ with the government and public institutions responsible for service delivery. However, citizen engagement on its own is not sufficient to improve service delivery outcomes, especially for the poor; it needs to be embedded in broader state-led reform.
Countries in South Asia have made impressive strides in expanding citizens’ access to governance and basic public service infrastructure, but issues of accountability remain a serious concern. Citizens are typically subjected to a persistent lack of responsiveness, corruption and overall weak accountability in almost all instances of engagement with the government. These entrenched practices are increasingly being challenged now by citizens’ groups, civil society organizations and independent media, using a broad range of tools and mechanisms to benchmark adequacy and quality of government service obligations; and engaging constructively with officials, public service providers and policymakers to exact answerability. There is encouraging evidence that points to the contribution of these efforts towards making public decision-making more transparent and mitigating accountability challenges at least to some extent; at the same time there is still a long way to go. These accomplishments, challenges and opportunities will be deliberated upon in this chapter, drawing upon experiences from select social accountability initiatives in South Asia.
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