JHANG - The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), a non-profit organisation, demanded adherence to the Punjab Local Governments (Budget) Rules 2017, transparency and citizens’ participation in the budget making process at district level.

Addressing in district level budget consultation at Jhang, its local office-bearers said that first draft of the district budget be presented in April to ensure timely input from the citizens. While sharing details of the survey, they said that Budget Call Letters delayed, only 10 districts have functional websites and 111 posts vacant in district budget branches, as per the ‘Study of Budget Making Process at District Level in Punjab.

They further said that the local governments (LGs) had failed to include stakeholders in the budget making process. Only 3 districts released pre-budget statement that according to the budget rules is mandatory and would have provided the stakeholders a chance to express their opinion on budget proposals. Pre-budget consultation with stakeholders was also not held in 25% of districts, they added. These consultations were mainly held with district officers and elected representatives, ignoring citizens and other segments of society that are listed as stakeholders in LG Budget Rules , said Faisal Manzoor Anwar, its senior district coordinator.

He further added that according to budget rules , Budget Call Letter (BCL) must be issued in September as first step of district budget making. The study shows that only four districts had issued BCL till November 15, 2016 while 11 more had not initiated it till March 31, 2017.

Talking about budget transparency, he said that districts performance was not enviable at all. Districts are not making use of information technology to share information with citizens; only 10 districts have their functional websites. Amongst them, only 4 have posted district budget on the websites; three districts posted last three years while one posted budget of only one year on its website, he said.

For the first time, this year, officials of 7 districts in Punjab claimed to have issued Citizen’s Budget Letter. However the officials failed to provide its copies, he said. The budget branches in districts face scarcity of human resource, the survey revealed. Only 586 officials are posted in the budget branches of surveyed districts while the total number of sanctioned positions is 475, he said. In addition, in one district, the post of district officer finance is vacant which explains the reasons for delay in budget timelines at district level, he shared.

Welcoming the guests, he said that budget was the most important policy document of the government. In the modern day state policies are supposed to be formulated through active public participation, he said. The federal and provincial budgets are hotly debated in both provincial and national assemblies and discussed in electronic/print media, however, the district budgets are approved in quiet isolation, he said. There is dire need to discuss the district budgets with citizens, civil society and media.