Rawalpindi District, the second most urbanised district of the Punjab stood at the second last position in a study conducted on the ‘Process of Budget Making in Punjab’ by a research based advocacy organisation Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI).
A district level consultancy on “Open and Participatory Budgeting” was held here which was attended by people from different walks of life including government officials and politicians.
Qazi Zahoor (EDO Education), Israr Ahmed (DO Finance), Syed Saleem Raza (Assistant Director District Planning Education), Syed Kausar Abbas (Program Manager, CPDI), Zahra Lodhi (Project Manager, CPDI) and Arif Abbasi (MPA PTI) were the guest speakers of the event. This was a part of a series of 36 District Level Consultancies being conducted by Citizens Network for Budget Accountability (CNBA) throughout the Punjab to aware citizens about open, transparent and participatory budgets. CNBA is a web of 23 civil society organisations working on the monitoring of district level budget in Punjab.
Usman Zubair, District Coordinator CNBA Rawalpindi, briefed the participants regarding the budget network, budget making process and how citizens have their say in budgets. He said that this is every single citizen’s budget and they should own them just the way they own their house’s budget. He shared the findings of different studies conducted by CPDI and CNBA. According to a study conducted by CPDI’s Project Manager, Zahra Lodhi, disturbing trends in budget formulation were seen. Of 36 districts of Punjab, only two issued budget call letters before the stipulated date, i.e., September and Rawalpindi had not issued it even by the end of April 2013. Only three districts in Punjab consulted civil society representatives and citizens at some stage of the budget-making process. The budget branches of the EDO/F are in depleted conditions. There is a vast gap between sanctioned and posted strength, and a number of posts are lying vacant.
Syed Kausar Abbas, Program Manager CPDI, said, “A total of 40,00 post are vacant alone in the education department, in which 3,700 are those of teachers and the remaining are administrative posts. Another 3,000 posts are vacant in the remaining departments of Rawalpindi district.” He further said, “Local government elections are the only solution available to make the executive branches accountable and to increase people’s participation in the budget-making process. The provinces have delayed the local government elections on different pretexts. This wait should end now. The top leadership of the PML-N is on record for holding local government elections within six months of the general elections.”
He said that the Rawalpindi district not only lacks transparency and openness when it comes to the budget making process but also it has shown an atrocious situation with no permanent EDO F&P on and off, time and again. The Punjab Budget rules-2003 is firmly violated by City District Government of Rawalpindi.
Briefing the audience, Ms Lodhi said that in a survey recently conducted, it was seen that around 60% people believe that budgets are kept secret from them and they should be given a chance to participate in the budget making process. She further said that the District Government Budget Rules 2003 lay a clear outline for different timelines and procedures to follow, including a clear requirement for people’s participation in the budget-making process. The key to practical democracy is the active involvement of people in every aspect of governance and hence budget as an imperative instrument of governance is no exception.
The guests appreciated the efforts of CNBA and CPDI and committed to make their budget making process open and participatory. Arif Abbasi said that it is encouraging to see that individuals and civil society has entered this domain and they have started owning the budgets. DO Finance Israr said that we do admit our mistakes and how different steps are by-passed in the budget making process. He promised that steps will be taken to make our budgets open and participatory.