Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wiki protest!

What do netizens do when Wikipedia decides to protest?
Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge
is a protest by Wikipedia against anti-piracy legislation in the U.S.

The bill in question is Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)
that has the backing of motion picture and recording industries to put an end to piracy on the internet. But this, the biggest web companies say, will transform the web as we know it.

It is a 24 hour black out, but wiki has been tweeted all over today. In solidarity!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Protesting poets

Protest against sponsor Aurum: T S Eliot Prize

TS Eliot prize: Second poet withdraws in sponsor protest

This is a good story. Heartening to read about people who say that "This does not agree with my personal politics and ethics". A great way of registering protest. It is tougher to practice politics you believe in, especially, as in this case, the Poetry Book Society is reportedly in a difficult position.

The question of whether this particular sponsor is above board is another matter. The poet who withdrew from the prize - John Kinsella endorsed the decision of another poet Alice Oswald who did the same. Oswald is quoted as saying "poetry should be questioning not endorsing such institutions". The prize is worth 15,000 pounds.

Here is a link to Hari Kunzru's comment on why he refused the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize sponsored by what he called "the xenophobic Mail on Sunday" in 2003.

Piercing the corporate veil

Check out this story on why parents companies should be made responsible for actions of their subsidiaries.

In this story the author discusses the Shell case as an example on "how corporate ownership structures can affect legal redress in alleged human rights violations."
I had touched upon this in my story on the Bhopal disaster.

There is an interesting link to an organization called task force on financial integrity and economic development

Social Audits in India- The Guardian Development Blog

Social audits in India – a slow but sure way to fight corruption

Grassroots campaigners have a new tool to plug the leaks in India's public expenditure, and one state is leading the way

By Priti Patnaik
Friday 13 January 2012

It is not uncommon for dead people to get paid in India. But it's not the family of the deceased who benefit, it's middle men or public servants who cheat the state subsidy system or swindle wages by fabricating names on the payroll. It affects most welfare schemes in India.

Now, though, for the frustrated corruption fighters seeking to reform public service delivery, there is hope. A new tool is emerging to plug the leaks in public expenditure – "social audits", a grievance-redressing mechanism that gives the poor an opportunity to seek justice.

Jairam Ramesh, India's former environment minister, made a name for himself as being unafraid to tackle big industrial corporations. Curiously, he was moved to the ministry of rural development last autumn. Not an altogether bad move, considering the portfolio entails a staggering $20bn of annual expenditure, 8% of the government's budget. The jewel in its crown is a massive jobs guarantee programme, which ensures 100 days of employment at the minimum wage and accounts for half the ministry's disbursal.

However, corruption in the scheme is rife. Villagers are employed in civil work programmes at the minimum wage. Often, they are not paid, ghostworkers abound, and procurement guidelines are violated. To counter this, an independent body – mandated by law – is set up to conduct an audit of the expenditure. Officials are obliged to share documents with village-level auditors trained by the independent social audit team.

A record of the accounts of the civil works is read out in public in the presence of beneficiaries of the scheme and the alleged perpetrators of corruption. This garners interest in the proceedings, and encourages villagers to question transactions – breaking barriers of social hierarchy. The government takes action against those guilty of siphoning off funds. This unique effort at accountability helps to ensure good governance.

These audits were first made statutory in a 2005 Rural Employment Act. Ramesh is now pushing to institutionalise social auditing as a monitoring tool for major welfare schemes across the country. Since more than 50% of the government's budget goes towards welfare schemes, it's important to track how, and how much, money is diverted away from intended recipients.

Most Indian states have delayed conducting social audits, despite these being in place since 2006. They are held back by a lack of political will and entrenched vested interests. However, one state, Andhra Pradesh, has taken a lead. The state set up the Society for Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency, an autonomous body insulated from government interference. Over the years, contractors and middle men have been eliminated.

"Transparency is a big spinoff," says Sowmya Kidambi, who heads the country's first successful social audit team in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh."It empowers people to question elected representatives who attend these social audits on a continual basis – and not just during elections. The public is now as much a part of governance as the elected representatives."

Kidambi has worked with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghathan social movement to mobilise support for a Right to Information (RTI) Act and a job guarantee scheme.

Access to records and a public forum are fundamentals of the social audit process. While it is mandatory for the government to share records, the RTI act also makes access easier. It obliges the state to disclose information regardless of whether or not an RTI application is filed. And "reading it aloud in public" is the crux of a social audit. Many of the corrupt individuals involved in the delivery of these welfare schemes are extremely wary of the public scrutiny.

The Andhra Pradesh model is undoubtedly a success, with more than 3,200 social audits and more than 38,000 disciplinary cases brought against officials involved with the jobs scheme. Hundreds have been suspended or punished. In the past three years, the team has been able to recover almost a quarter of the $24m of irregularities detected.

The dissemination of information is proving instrumental in checking corruption. For the first time, officials can use real-time information generated from social audits to redesign delivery of public goods. Hiran Sammeta, an entrepreneur who founded Inputo Technology Solutions, provides "programme intelligence" for social audits in Andhra Pradesh.

His team is trying to bridge the gap between policymakers and those affected. Their work has involved mining about 250,000 documents in the state over the last few years and using the extracted data to predict fraud. He calls this data mining and investigation "predictive analytics". "We need to know how fraud works in order to track corruption," he says.

The social audit process was recently endorsed by the public finance watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Vinod Rai, head of the CAG, says: "All over the world, there is a growing perception among the supreme audit institutions that it is important to partner with civil society to ensure the latter's participation in service delivery and public accountability."

Far from the televised revolutions that made fighting corruption fashionable for the Indian middle class last year, a quieter revolution is taking shape – this time not just in Indian cities, but in hundreds of villages.


For some of the hyperlinks in the original story, please visit the Guardian page. There are links to the social audit team in AP among others.

Development Studies

At the risk of sounding conceited,I apologize that I have disappointed the readers of this blog, for I have not been regular in posting on this page. I perhaps, have good reason, although there is never a good reason for being lazy.
Lets just say I have been figuring out the next stage in life. Have now gone back to school at The Graduate Institute in Geneva for a masters in development studies.

Must confess, I have enjoyed going back to studying again. It has given me a great perspective to understand some of the most acute development challenges facing the world today. More importantly, it is providing me context to comprehend where these debates are located and the underlying politics behind say, the water crisis (one of the electives this past semester.)

So overall, I think my engagement on this page will reflect my increased awareness on development issues, as opposed to my former role as a business journalist interested in economic issues.

I hope you will enjoy, engage and think about some of the subjects that will feature on this blog.