At the end of last year, successful use of ‘social audits’ in India to enable citizens to ensure public officials are applying public funds properly received media attention. By turning citizens into watchdogs at the local level, thousands of corrupt officials have been caught and information sharing is a key part of the audit process:
“The results of the audits, down to the tiniest details, are available online for anyone to study. With the Indian government planning to spend a quarter of a trillion dollars to help the rural poor over the next five years, such audits will be crucial to reducing waste and fraud.”
With the news that China’s higher level courts — the provincial-level courts that sit under the Supreme People’s Court at the apex of China’s judiciary — are introducing an online complaint system, perhaps China is also experimenting with a type of social audit.
The aim of the online complaint tool is to encourage citizens to use online reporting to identify higher court personnel who are engaged in illegal conduct (read fraud/corruption). The system offers a choice of either filing a complaint at a central level or channeling a complaint to a specific court; within 10 working days after filing a complaint, you can check back to see the status of your complaint; and, at the Supreme People’s Court level, compliance personnel can investigate filings made in respect of the various higher courts and follow up directly with those making submissions.
The effort was launched in 2009 on a small scale, but now extends to 32 higher level courts. Higher level courts function both as appellate courts and as courts of first instance where disputes involve matters of provincial-level significance. Given the potential importance of cases they decide (should a provincially owned SOE be required to honor a contractual obligation? did a lower court correctly interpret the law in a dispute it heard?), and the high stakes involved for the litgants, one can easily imagine the temptations court personnel face in terms of bribes.