Lacuna found in budget-making process at grassroots level

Majority of the district governments in Punjab prepared their annual budgets without public consultation and following rules and regulations due to the absence of the elected local government system, says a survey.

Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI), in collaboration with Citizens Network for Budget Accountability (CNBA), carried out an extensive survey in all 36 districts of the Punjab province and found several lacunae and flaws in the budget-making process at grassroots level, affecting performance of district as well as town administrations.

The survey titled ‘A Study on Budget Making Process at District Level in Punjab (2014-15)’ identified loopholes and depressing trends in preparing the annual fiscal plan, which is an important tool to improve efficiency and carry out development projects, for district governments.

Sharing details of the study, CPDI Programme Manager Syed Kausar Abbas said it was an attempt to analyze the budget making process at district level and provide concrete policy recommendations to achieve the full potential of public spending to achieve poverty reduction and growth objectives.

In the survey, he said the budget making process was analysed keeping in view the Punjab District Government and Tehsil Municipal Administration Budget Rules, 2003. These rules have laid out in clear terms the procedures for the formation and approval of budgets at the district level.

The report covered the working of district governments in 36 districts and said poor performance of the local governments depicted a lack of political oversight.

Kausar Abbas said the local government elections were the only solution to increase the public participation in the budget-making process.

The report declared transparent, accountable and rule-based government as the key prerequisite for a well-functioning democracy.

The CPDI Programme Manager said the survey results showed very depressing trends, adding that only 14 districts issued the budget call letters (BCL) before 31 October 2013, though according to the budget rules it should be sent by end-September of each year.

Only in 11 districts, all the drawing and disbursement officers (DDOs) submitted the estimates of expenditure on time. Similarly, the collecting officers (COs) of only eight districts, out of the 36, prepared and submitted the estimates of receipts for the coming fiscal year.

Kausar Abbas said most of the districts in the province were working with inefficient budget staff that had little capacity to prepare the budget on time.

He said there were only nine districts where the budget branch was in an excellent condition and can efficiently manage the budget while the remaining districts lacked capacity to carry out smooth functioning of the process of the budget making.

With a total sanctioned strength of 535 persons in the budget branch, only 289 were active employees in 36 districts, he added.

The data showed that half of the district governments were managed by below the bare requirement to run the budget branch of the district government.

Only five districts were working with full sanctioned strength, 13 districts were without any budget officers, only two districts had research staff while 13 districts were working with untrained staff and four had no internet facility.

Similarly, only 10 district governments have functional websites and even here only six districts have uploaded their annual budgets.

On the public participation in the budget-making process, most of the district governments were very weak. As many as 32 districts, including Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Multan, Attock, Jhelum and Chakwal, were very weak on engaging the public in the process.

Kausar Abbas said the study recommended the district governments to follow prescribed guidelines and rules as most of the rules were not followed in letter and spirit, which caused poor performance of the district governments.

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