Citizen scorecards for better accountability

Our Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) will be celebrating its centenary in December. The PAC is an important partner to the Central government. It reviews the financial and performance audits conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and then presents its reports to Parliament. In its next century, the PAC can play an even more crucial role by helping develop citizen-centric performance scorecards for various ministries. This will ensure better delivery of public services to citizens and focus government’s efforts on those initiatives that are truly valuable.....
Our Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) will be celebrating its centenary in December. The PAC is an important partner to the Central government. It reviews the financial and performance audits conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and then presents its reports to Parliament. In its next century, the PAC can play an even more crucial role by helping develop citizen-centric performance scorecards for various ministries. This will ensure better delivery of public services to citizens and focus government’s efforts on those initiatives that are truly valuable to people. Citizen scorecards developed by our national PAC, can be standardised by the CAG, and can also be replicated by the PACs in our state Assemblies.

The PAC pre-dates our democratically elected Parliament and was set up in 1921 under the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms to audit the executive branch. It is thus the oldest parliamentary committee in India. The PAC is established through the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha; the state PACs are established through their respective Vidhan Sabhas. It is constituted every year with 15 members voted in by the Lok Sabha and 7 members from the Rajya Sabha. Since 1967, the PAC has been headed by an Opposition member from the Lok Sabha, including many illustrious leaders such as Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Murli Manohar Joshi. 

 
The CAG is appointed directly by the president and is independent of the Central government. Moreover, the CAG is a constitutional entity just like the Election Commission and the Finance Commission. It has been established through Articles 148 to 151 in the Constitution of India. Accordingly, the CAG has the constitutional duty to examine and assess the activities of Central government ministries and agencies. The CAG tables its various reports in Parliament, which are then taken up for detailed review by the PAC.

The CAG undertakes extensive analysis of government schemes, projects, and programmes while preparing its reports. It selects some of these reports for deeper examination. First, government departments and agencies are asked to provide formal responses regarding these CAG reports. Then the concerned government entities come to the PAC for hearings. 

During these hearings, as PAC members, we have found that government entities tend to emphasise their actions and expenditures, while providing little credible information on citizen-centric outcomes. Thus, there is voluminous reporting on what government is doing, but very little actual evidence on how citizens are directly benefiting from these activities. Also, the limited information on outcomes that does get reported is rarely based on independent, credible research. 

I believe that the PAC working in partnership with the CAG has an excellent opportunity to improve citizen service delivery through a performance scorecard reporting system. The CAG’s auditing standards highlight the importance of performance audits for promoting transparency and evaluating outcomes. The CAG’s standards define the performance audit as an independent, objective and reliable examination of whether the government is operating in accordance with the principles of economy, efficiency and effectiveness. Ultimately, the performance audit promotes accountability by evaluating whether taxpayers or citizens have received value for money.

Citizen scorecards built around citizen-centric outcomes that touch citizen’s daily lives are an excellent way to strengthen the CAG’s performance audits. All government departments and agencies are responsible for providing certain citizen-facing services to the public. These services can be tracked quantitatively through well-defined performance metrics. For instance, the Ministry of Finance tracks inflation, prices of essential commodities, GDP growth, exchange rates, tax collections, capital flows, and a host of other important economic indicators. These are released on a monthly basis to the public and are tracked closely by the media. Similarly, the Civil Aviation Ministry provides information on passengers flown, flight punctuality, passenger grievances, seat utilisation, pilot licences issued, and so on. These are also reported on a monthly basis. Other ministries track other output indicators regularly as well. For instance, the Jal Shakti Ministry is tracking how many homes are getting piped water and the quality of water in our major rivers. The Environment Ministry monitors air quality across India.

The CAG could sign MoUs with various ministries and agencies to establish well-defined citizen scorecards. Once these citizen-facing output metrics are in place, it will be possible to conduct high-quality performance audits for each government entity within the CAG’s purview. These citizen scorecards could be put in the public domain on a monthly basis. Scorecard improvements could also be tracked, and rapid improvements could be rewarded — just like in Niti Aayog’s Aspirational District programme. These citizen scorecards can then be replicated in the state CAGs. Every state will then have well-defined performance metrics, and this will enable good inter-state comparisons. The Niti Aayog is already tracking the various Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across ministries and states. The citizen scorecards could be reconciled with the SDGs as well.

Citizen scorecards can enable the CAG, and therefore legislators in the various PACs, to ensure executive accountability. Each year, we as citizens, allocate trillions of rupees to government officials and departments for improving our lives and our communities. Regular, consistent tracking of outcomes relevant to citizen’s daily lives is absolutely necessary to make sure that this money is being spent well. Our bureaucracy, across all levels, has become adept at presenting facts and figures that do not directly relate to citizen welfare. The CAG can cut through this clutter and become a vital development partner to the executive.
/> He is a second-term Lok Sabha MP from Hazaribagh, Jharkhand. Views are personal



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