India is positioned to become a geopolitical leader in the coming years. As the most populous democracy in the world, its elections are the grandest experiments in participatory government, with the 2014 election easily ranking as the biggest election in human history. However, these feats of governmental organization are often overshadowed by problems of governance. Corruption is one of the greatest challenges facing India, threatening to undermine the noteworthy economic gains of the past few years and shake the confidence of both the Indian public and the global community. Worse yet, the vast majority of Indians surveyed feel that corruption has only been increasing in recent years, and the institutions viewed with the most distrust are political parties, the legislature, and law enforcement – the very agents we count on to combat such injustice.
Anupama Jha, Executive Director of Transparency International India (TII), is working to change that. TII has developed a governance tool, called the Development Pact (DP), to give the Indian citizenry an effective means of keeping their elected representatives accountable. Jha notes that corruption is a result of institutions becoming insulated from oversight by the people they are meant to serve. Because of this, top-down measures are often ineffective. The Development Pact aims to educate and organize communities, bringing them to the negotiating table with their public officials. Communities served by a DP will therefore have a concentrated voice with which to demand accountability from their representatives. It is a bottom-up solution that begins by empowering the beneficiaries. They set the agenda; the DPs are only a means to their end. Once established, the DPs are left to the communities, with TII providing only financial and technical assistance as necessary.
The DP model first organizes the stakeholders in the community and identifies possible “political champions” to be the representative partners. The champions could be leaders already in government, or, if they are uncooperative, a viable challenger for the office. Goals and activities are agreed upon depending on the needs of the community. The targets are specific, measurable, and time-bound. Officials do not simply pledge to “improve health,” for example, but rather to improve a specific health indicator by a specific amount within a specific amount of time. Sanctions are also agreed upon in the event of non-compliance.
As for monitoring and evaluation, every DP includes a healthy assortment of participatory measures to ensure accountability, such as participatory budgets, public hearings, social audits, citizen charters, and usage of the national Right to Information Act.
The DP model also calls for highly publicized launches, with as much media and cultural attention as possible. Cultural and religious leaders are highly beneficial partners in any DP as they lend added weight to the Pact, whether in praising good performance or denouncing non-compliance.
The DP model is supposed to be a win-win situation for everyone involved, not just simply a tool for castigating public officials. The stakeholders are able to see greater services from their elected representatives, and those representatives are given praise and secure support in the future from the organized communities, with concrete examples of accomplished goals they can point to.
Examples of successful DPs already exist in several jurisdictions in India, and the program continues to expand. Transparency International chapters in Nepal, Bangladesh, Zambia, and Uganda have begun adopting the DP model. The DP program was also honoured with third prize in the 2012 Japanese Award for Most Innovative Development Project (MIDP), giving added resources for even greater levels of implementation moving forward.
With the Development Pact and other programs like it, hopefully the world’s largest democracy will allow its citizens to have more faith in the ideals of their representative government. It does, after all, belong to them.
More information on Transparency International India can be found at its website. Additionally, the Development Pact project proposal is an excellent source for more details. A PowerPoint presentation used by Anupama Jha can be found here, and a video of her explaining the idea behind the Development Pact can be found here.