E Governance: PAIS

INTRODUCTION[i]

Over the last fifteen years there has been increasing recognition that the traditional focus on financial allocations and expenditure may have weakened the incentive for outcomes that actually benefit the poor and less well off, who are the presumed beneficiaries of these expenditures.  Since the 1980s concerned citizens and leaders have speculated about how much of program expenditure actually reaches the intended beneficiaries, with guesstimates ranging from 15% to 25%.[ii]  Whatever the precise number, there is a clear need to improve the quantity and quality of output produced by these expenditures and delivered to the intended beneficiaries.  Planning Commission Working paper No. 1/2006 has presented suggestive calculations showing that in the year 1999-2000 the amount of money spent on a few major poverty alleviation programs would have been sufficient to eliminate poverty during that year.  Improvement in the delivery mechanisms can therefore have a dramatic effect on the lives of the poor.

PLANNING ELEMENTS

A perennial criticism of Indian Planning has been that Five Year Plans exist only on paper and bear little relation to what happens on the ground.  This is due to the failure to develop and approve detailed operational plans before the financial allocations are made/ released/ spent.  Such plans are also essential for ensuring proper monitoring of outputs/ impact/ outcomes and for ensuring public accountability.  Planning for government expenditures involves the following steps:

Definition of Objectives

Expenditure planning requires that the objective be neither too broad nor to narrow.  This is particularly true in a large, diverse country like India.  To take an example from the health sector, health for all is too broad an objective to be meaningful for planning expenditures.  At the other extreme, malaria control is too narrow an objective.  One appropriate objective in this context may be the ‘Eradication of communicable diseases and the control/minimization of epidemic diseases.’ 

Identification of Specific Goals

A menu of specific goals must be drawn up to achieve this objective.  This menu will include for the objective illustrated above, sewerage and sanitation, clean drinking water, public health education as well as control of vectors, vaccination programs, and R&D.

Operational Plans

Detailed operational plans must be drawn up to achieve these goals. This has been the most neglected and deficient area of our planning process.  A plan is not just a fine document of intent but a series of steps to implement it in a coordinated and effective manner. As health and diseases vary across climatic regions and States each will require a sub-menu with a different emphasis. For instance malaria may be very important in one state while Dengue or Chikangunya is more important in another.  Similarly sanitation may be critically deficient in one State and drinking water problems acute in another. These sub-menus (given the relative importance of different diseases) must be translated into detailed measures to be taken at the district/ block/ panchayat / village level as appropriate.  For instance if the sanitation plan includes supply of toilets to BPL families, identification of such families must be part of the operational plan.

To take another example, if the objective is transport connectivity the State governments must build roads that connect villages to each other and to market centres, railway stations and neighbouring towns.  These towns must in turn be connected to each other and to ports and airports.  These road links must be identified (source & destination) and defined (quality of road surface, culverts/ bridges needed etc.).

Management Information System

Effective governance requires a Government Management Information Systems or Government E-management system (GEMs) that will generate information on execution of operational plans and the attainment of specific goals.  It is an essential element of the overall Public Accountability Information System (PAIS).

Sustained monitoring of program inputs or outputs is possible only if information on these is generated by the implementation system.  Thus a well defined and designed GEMs is an essential part of any effective expenditure system.  The GEMs must generate data on the specific goals that are to be achieved, so that they can be monitored. For instance it is not possible to monitor the achievement of connectivity unless the roads needed have been precisely identified and the GEMS generates information on which have been constructed. Though the monitoring and auditing of financial flows will always be needed, the attainment of physical goals is vital to monitoring and evaluation of government expenditures, because of the wide and varying gaps between financial outlays and the achievement of specific goals.

Monitoring And Evaluation.

The final stage of the system is the assessment of impact and outcomes. A standard / normal GEMs may not generate sufficient information on the quality of output and the achievement of broader goals and objectives.  Independent evaluation systems are therefore needed for this purpose.  Often there are multiple programs designed to achieve similar or overlapping objective.  Similarly the attainment of a specific objective may depend on many different factors including exogenous factors and different programs.  A research program may be needed to sort out the various factors and impacts.  A well designed evaluation can produce primary data that is useful for carrying out this research.

The frequency of monitoring is dependent on the frequency with which information is generated by the GEMs (annual, quarterly, monthly).  In the presence of a GEMs, periodic independent evaluation can act as a cross-check on the accuracy of the GEMs (for instance through the use of satellite maps to determine road and canal completion) as well as provide a picture of the quality of output (e.g. direct sample check of road quality).  Further a special evaluation is also useful to determine to what extent the broader objective is being fulfilled (prevalence of communicable diseases).  This can help in reformulating specific goals, operational plans and implementation modalities.

Public Access to Information

The details generated by the GEMs must be put in the public domain in accordance with the Right to Information Act, so as to achieve the objectives of the PAIS system (next section).  The objective must be real time supply of information on the internet, starting from the list prepared at the start of the program/project through intermediate monitoring to completion.  Any evaluation report regarding the quality of implementation must also be put on the internet.  Till such time as the general public has access to the internet at the Panchayat level, local level information may also have to be provided in locally accessible forms such as notice boards and through local radio & print media.

Public Accountability Information System

The right to Information Act is a vital first step toward improvement of public accountability.[iii]  The next step must be the generation and publicizing of information on all programs / projects carried out in the name of the poor and other citizens. Every program / sub-sector should have an internet accessible Public Accountability Information System (PAIS).  Such a system would have two objectives.

(a)    To provide information to the targeted population about,

(i)                 the expenditure allocated and spent, and the receivers of the expenditure,

(ii)               The major program inputs purchased (sources, amounts) the people hired and their actual attendance record (e.g. teachers),

(iii)             The output of the program (e.g. no of patients treated, children who attended school) and when available its quality.

These would be put on the website accessible through the internet.

 

(b)    To empower the target beneficiaries (users) to put up their own evaluation of the program alongside the government provided data & information.

    Thus for instance in the case of primary education, parents of enrolled children should be able to post their comments on the attendance record of their primary school teacher, the number of children graduated and the quality of the education provided.  They could also agree/disagree with the govt. posted data (as per (a) above).  This would be a review system patterned on existing systems like Amazon Books in which readers can post book reviews.

 

A PAIS system must have at its core a financial control and output/ achievement monitoring and evaluation system for each program.

The PAIS system would be a geographically multilevel, multi-layered system in which higher levels would present data after aggregation/integration from lower levels/layers (panchayat, block, district, State). 

Most citizens, particularly the poor, for whom many of the projects/programs are intended do not have easy access to the internet.  It is therefore essential that the Central and State e-governance projects be fully aware of and facilitate access to this information.  For instance, many State governments are installing internet kiosks in Panchayat Ghars and these should allow free access to the PAIS system by local residents, non-profit organizations and local community radio stations.

Community radio can also play an important role in monitoring and increased accountability of local level functionaries (political and administrative).  In 2005-6, TRAI had recommended a liberal policy on community radio stations so as to make it relatively easy and inexpensive for non-profit organizations to set up such local radio stations.  Unfortunately, the policy did not make allowance for a small group of village youth/women etc to set up a low cost local station without forming/ registering a society.  This needs another look, particularly in villages/ Panchayats where no society exists or has come forward to set up such a station.  The very strict policy relating to news radio also needs re-examination.  The community radio policy and rules should explicitly mention that such radio stations have a right to disseminate any and all news (information) relating to execution of government projects and programs in the block/district.  This is necessary to ensure that the general restrictions on dissemination of news by private radio and TV stations is not used to stifle the dissemination of such information by community radio stations.

Integrated Smart Card

For programs and subsidies meant for individuals and households, the PAIS would have a third leg, an integrated smart card (ISC) system. The ISC system can convert the poor from supplicants who are sometimes treated worse than beggars to empowered citizens who can demand the approved/sanctioned/budgeted entitlements as a right. On the other side those who are genuinely concerned about the poor will be able to identify exactly who is getting (or not getting), which of the slew of benefits that are currently given out by numerous departments at the Central and State government level.

Web Enabled Public Information System

Beneficiaries can be empowered if they and their well wishers/representatives have information.  The information must first be generated and organized into a digital data base. Finally it must be made accessible through the web and other means.  The foundation of the system is the digital data base of beneficiaries and the benefits they have received.

The beneficiary data base has two components.  A list of beneficiaries and their benefit related characteristics and information about the benefits received by them.  The criteria used to identify and select/reject beneficiaries must be clearly defined and amenable to smooth implementation keeping in mind the capabilities of the implementing agency/department.  These criteria have to be translated into specific indicators that are collected for each beneficiary.  For instance the rural development department guidelines specify 13 indicators.  These must be entered along with personal details needed to identify the beneficiary (name, address, UID of person or members of the household etc.).  These must be entered into the digital data base in a form that can be accessed through the web.  This data base must contain the names of rejected applicants along with those who have been selected, so that aggrieved potential beneficiaries can appeal their classification.  The target should be to have information about indicators for (at least) the bottom 50% of the population so that all the poor are incorporated in the benefits system.

The second component of the digital data base is the period wise details (monthly, annual) of benefits received by each selected beneficiary.  Thus for instance in the case of PDS food, information about the amount of food (rice, wheat, other grains) provided and the price at which it was provided must be entered.  If possible information on the quality of this food should also be entered.   For beneficiaries located in areas covered by the telecommunication system this could be done on a real time basis (T+1 or T+2), while for remote areas could be done on a monthly basis. 

Both sub-components of the beneficiary data base must be accessible through the agency/department web site.  Such a web enabled data base should be fully operational in every  department / agency  providing services to the Public at the local, State and Central, level by the end of the Plan.

CONCLUSION

Better and more effective Planning of government expenditures has many elements.  With the availability of new technology, government management information systems and public accountability can be vastly improved.  The note proposes a Public accountability information system (PAIS), with a web enabled public information system and a smart card recording all the benefits that the poor are entitled to receive through government programs.  This would empower the poor, particularly in rural and remote areas, by converting entitlements into a financial right – a virtual credit/debit card based on government funds.  If implemented sincerely, with inevitable modifications and adaptations arising out of implementation experience, this can help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government expenditure over the next five years.

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[i] Based on, Virmani, Arvind, “Planning for Results: Public Accountability  Information System,” Working Paper No. 1/2007-PC, Planning Commission, March 2007. http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/wrkpapers/rpwpf.htm.

[ii] It should be remembered that the rest includes administrative expenditures as well as leakages.

[iii] The Monograph: From Poverty To Middle Income: Reforms For Accelerating Growth in the 21st Century, Chintan, April 1999, optimistically asserted (sec IV A 4, p36):  “The Official Secrets Act should be replaced by a Freedom of Information Act. The objective of such an act would be to open government to its people to the maximum extent possible, by carefully delimiting the areas (e.g. foreign affairs, defence plans, strategic R&D, personal files) to which secrecy needs to apply.   It would be designed to give the public the right to information about decision & actions that affect their lives.  This must include every item of expenditure (small or large) made in the name of the poor, the weaker sections, scheduled castes and tribes.  ..  This one simple act if enacted and enforced can transform the relationship between the government and the people from colonial over-lordship to one of true servant of the people”

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