Vinay Bhargava - Citizens Fighting Corruption: Roles and Challenges for Civic Media | MIT Center for Civic Media

Vinay Bhargava - Citizens Fighting Corruption: Roles and Challenges for Civic Media

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Citizens Fighting Corruption: Roles and Challenges for Civic Media View more PowerPoint from civicmedia

Today at the Center for Civic Media, Dr Vinay Bhargava is speaking about what it means for citizens to fight corruption. Dr Bhargava has decades of experience in the World Bank, most recently focusing on anti-corruption in Southeast Asia. He is also chief technical advisor and board member at the anti-corruption NGO Partnership for Transparency Fund (PTF) that funds anti-corruption initiatives internationally.

He begins by asking, "How do we make a difference in the lives of 1 out of 6 people who live on less than one dollar a day?" That's one billion people, roughly corresponding to the people Paul Collier addresses in his book The Bottom Billion.

These people are being victimized twice because growth programs don't reach them. First they are bypassed in economic development programs. Second, they are cheated by the social safety net system when services are not properly delivered and when people in those systems act in corrupt ways. Examples of this are apparent worldwide. According to an Indian government study, 30-60% of subsidized food grains earmarked for the poor in India never reach them. According to Transparency International, 47% of households in Cambodia reported paying a bribe in 2009.

Vinay tells us a story from the Khariar Block in Orissa, India. A development block will typically have a cluster of villages with an elected government body within each cluster. 85,000 people live in Khariar Block, including Chandra, a widow who lives in a mud house with her five daughters and two sons. The Citizen's Charter in Orissa includes offers of housing, health services, subsidised food, and employment services. This woman had no idea that any of these services were available until Transparency International informed her about these opportunities. She's not the only one. Another group of landless villagers in Khariar Block had the right to receive land, but the local authorities took 30 years to demarcate the land. Another woman, Paharia, was aware that she was entitled to a free institutional delivery of her child, along with pre and post natal care, free hospital services, and cash payment for taking advantage of those services. But when they visited the hospital, they were required to pay. Her husband mortgaged some of the family gold to pay for the delivery of their child. Vinay shares another example: an unemployment scheme offers 100 days of work at 100 rupees per day. Local authorities mark down that the work has been done, but pocket the money themselves and do not pass along the money to the laborers. Local farmers found out about this only after submitting a right-to-information request.

How serious is this problem? More than a billion people live on $1.25 or less a day, of which about 400 million live in India alone. Vinay points us to a large series of books: Easterly's The White Man's Burden, Sach's The End of Poverty, Collier's The Bottom Billion, Equity and Development, Transparency International's Global Corruption Report, Sen's Development as Freedom. and Bhargava's own books, "Challenging Corruption in Asia" and "Global Issues for Global Citizens."

In a perfect world, accountability would work like this: citizens organizations demand that the state hold service providers accountable for delivering services. And if that doesn't work, the people in power are kicked out. This "long route of accountability" worked to some degree in India: governments would get kicked out. But, overall corruption didn't improve. Bhargava thinks we need to focus on a "short route" accountability instead.The world is not perfect and the bottom billion cannot depend on the long route. According to a Transparency International study, faith in most of institutions is eroding.

Can direct citizen action help? The Short Route of Accountability involves citizen beneficiaries and civil society monitoring and assessing government performance, providing feedback on services, and voicing demands for improved service delivery. Bhargava thinks this is no substitute for broader "long route" accountability. When public anger reaches a boiling point and the long route isn't working, people can wield great power through the short route.

To illustrate short route accountability, Bhargava talks about the PTF, a mostly-volunteer organisation which funds and supports accountability initiatives worldwide. One of their grantees is in Khariar Block, an NGO called The Ayauskam.

Describing their methods, Bhargava explains that to start, the PTF and Ayauskam conducted a baseline survey about people's level of awareness of services, experience with bribery, and satisfaction with services. They then used that baseline to increase awareness of services by working through local media, local government, public meeting. Following this, Ayauskam helped to organize a campaign to audit these services. Finally, they brought the audit results to local officials. With help from Ayauskam and PTF, citizens can escalate the issue to higher level officials, organize demonstrations, and monitor any changes. Along the way, they organize talk shows with the media, hold meetings to share experiences and grievances, put on plays which list people's rights and entitlements, and carry out social audits.

Did this work? In Khariar, (Chandra, the widow) did receive her pension and subsidized food. Land was demarcated for the landless, officials lost their jobs. Officials also recognized the community strength and were more responsive. Paharia's family, with the healthcare complaint, withdrew their complaint after the clinic staff threatened that the clinic would be shut down if their corruption was discovered. Bhargava acknowledges that this situation may arise again, that the service providers will threaten to stop providing services if they must also agree to not take bribes.

This model of citizens fighting corruption in service delivery, Bhargava calls "the emerging change model," includes CSOs acting as social intermediaries at all stages and playing a key role. The model is:
1. Raise community awareness of rights and benefits
3. Form and empower citizen groups to engage in and organize collective action
4. Engage with service providers to demand increased responsiveness
5. Periodically monitor changes and provide feedback to community and authorities

Is this is a replicable, scalable model? Bhargava points us to early stage results from researchers (here and here).

How is civic media helping and how can it help further? What is needed is the tools. So far, we've taken a manual approach, person-to-person. This model is like pin pricks in the thick skin of government corruption. What can you do this way when the scale of the problem is so huge? This is where technologies can come in -- to amplify the voices and to allow for horizontal and vertical scaling up. The scale of the challenge is huge. There are 6500+ blocks like Khariar in India, 40 billion below the poverty line households, and $10 billion in the social safety net budget. 30-40% is not reaching the poor and globally there is $100 billion in devleopment aid that is also suffering from similar losses.

Social accountaiblity and Civic Media are made for each other. Bhargava suggests that there is a lot of overlap between the agendas and suggests that tactics of social accountability yield examples.

Civic technologies are already helping. invites citizens to report bribes. Kiirti is an online citizen complaints service. RapidSMS is being used to build communities for social change in Senegal. FrontlineSMS is being used for citizen reporting. ChechMySchool is a new project from the Phillippines providing informationa about your children's schools. Ushahidi has been used for election monitoring.

Bhargava maps these tools against social accountability needs that include: raise awareness, form groups, citizen report/mapping, enable collective action, redress grievances, and notes that the tools currently mostly facilitate raising awarenss and citizen reporting and mapping, but do not as often assist in other tools of social accountability including: forming groups, enabling collective action, and redressing grievances.

The potential impact of accountability tech should be measured in terms of what it can do in order to guarantee that social safety net money reaches the intended recipients. The World Bank announced (Apr 19, 2012) the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) to address this. Civic media applications need to be: horizontally scalable among community blocks, vertically scalable from the local to the national, user-friendly for local citizens, replicable by NGOs and inexpensive, cell-phone based, web-based.

Someone from the audience asks if Ayauskam is a community organisation, and how Ayauskam and NGOs can be held accountable. Bhargava responds that there are a lot of NGOs who are close to corrupt officials who try to follow the money. One of the major challenges in places like the Philippines where there are 60,000 NGOs, is to find the sincere ones. Fortunately, the NGOs themselves care about this and have created their own codes of conduct. In India, The Credibility Alliance accredits NGOs.

Another audience member asks how to work towards actionable information. What makes people constructively engage with the service providers. How do you measure the outcomes? Bhargava answers that in many cases, local officials are often the first people to resist accountability initiatives. One best practice is to obtain an official order by a regional official before starting a monitoring initiative. They observe greater success when initiatives can identify and work with sympathetic government officials. They also measure outcomes using a report card together with The Public Affairs Center.

Leo Burd asks if the Partnership for Transparency Fund is doing all paper-based or digital engagement. We're not currently using any of the tools I listed in the chart. We are considering the funcitons of to prepare reports on grievances and complaints, Ipaidabribe to collect experiences of people who have issued complaints, and investigating other tools.

Another audience member asks the reason for gaps in Bhargava's map of the technology space. Bhargava thinks that innovative applications often arise out of specific opportunities. In the current moment, people are starting to imagine new applications for those technologies. Rahul responds that it's not always necessary to use technology to do things like form groups. He highlights the open question about the role of technology for enabling collective action as one area for further activity.

As he closes, Bhargava reminds us to keep an eye on the larger structural changes. We need to be able to report bribes, but we also want to work towards societal systems which are transparent and accountable.