Budget preparation: Rawalpindi district ranked 19th in Punjab

RAWALPINDI:

Rawalpindi district has been ranked 19th in the province in terms of preparation of budget documents, performance transparency and people’s participation.

According to a report released by the Center for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI) in collaboration with Citizens Network for Budget Accountability to rank the 36 districts in the province, the district government failed to release the budget call letter on the due date.

“The finance and planning department usually releases the budget call letter in the month of July, but this year, the letter has still not been issued,” said CPDI programme manager Kausar Abbas. He said that it was violation of budget rules and was the reason why the 2014-15 district budget was presented in July instead of June.

The report says that the post of executive district officer finance has been vacant for several years, affecting finance and budget preparation activities in the district.

“The seat has been lying vacant for last three years…the government claim they are searching for a competent officer to appoint on a permanent basis,” the report said.

According to Punjab Tehsil and District Budget Rules 2003, the EDO (finance) is responsible for preparing the budget, but due to unavailability of the officer, the budget could not be prepared on time.

The report highlights the lack of public participation in district government’s affairs and notes that the government website has been offline for several years.

The websites of 25 districts including Rawalpindi are not functional, which was why budget documents could not be uploaded for public awareness and accessibility, number of projects and funds approved for it. “Budget documents are available only on websites of six district governments which were prepared by CPDI,” the report says.

“Due to non-functional websites, people have no participation in government activities and projects being launched.”

Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2014

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Entries invited for RTI Award 2014

Islamabad: The Coalition on Right to Information (CRTI) has constituted the Annual RTI Champion Award to protect and promote citizens’ right to information held by public bodies.

The award ceremony will be held every year on September 28 to celebrate International Right to Know Day. Each year, a citizen, a journalist and an NGO will be given RTI Champion Award who will use right to information laws of Pakistan to have access to information held by public bodies. This year, the RTI Champion award will be given to a citizen who has tried to have access to information held by public bodies through the use of right to information laws.

The award will also be given to a journalist who has used right to information laws for investigative reporting and has persistently advocated for the enactment and implementation of effective right to information laws.

Lastly, the award will also be given to that civil society group which has used RTI legislation for access to information held by public bodies and used the information thus sought in its publications and reports. The Award Committee will consist of eminent personalities and will be tasked to select one winner from each category under the declared criteria.

Interested individuals and organizations are invited to send nominations to Zahid Abdullah at Zahid@cpdi-pakistan.org The deadline for sending nominations is September 17, 2014.

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Punjab’s citizens have no say in budget preparation for dist govts

RAWALPINDI: A 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.

This was stated in a report, ‘Study of budget making process at district level in Punjab (2014-15)’ prepared by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), which was launched at a local hotel.

The launching ceremony was attended by PTI MPAs Arif Abbasi, Asif Mehmood, PML-N Zaibun Nisa, district officer budget Israr Ahmed and CPDI programme manager Syed Kausar Abbas.

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.

“The local government elections are the only solution to increase the public participation in the budget-making process.”

It added that transparent, accountable and rule-based government was the key prerequisite for a well-functioning democracy.


Study says elections must to ensure political oversight of LG system


The study was based on a survey conducted in all the districts of Punjab to examine the budget-making process at the district level.

The process is being 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 survey results showed very depressing trends. Only 14 districts issued the budget call letters (BCL) before October 31, 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.

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

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. 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.

Published in Dawn, September 10th , 2014

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Education woes: Call for devolution of school affairs to communities

One of the issues facing the education sector in Pakistan is the dysfunctional school management bodies (SMB).

Comprising parents, local community members, teachers and philanthropists, the bodies oversee all administrative matters of schools including financial management and internal audit. Experts think SMBs is the solution to many issues confronting our education system.

The Free and Fair Education Bill of the Punjab government provides a section for the establishment of SMBs but the law does not give any detail on the composition and role of such a body.

Center for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI) Executive Director Amir Ejaz said the establishment of the SMBs is imperative for the betterment of the education system. He said the formation of SMBs should be the responsibility of local authorities, adding that members of civil society can also be engaged in the process.

The SMBs should have the mandate to oversee all administrative matters of the schools, including fundraising, he suggested.

“The government should train the bodies in school management, financial management, budget making, internal audit, dispute resolution and fund raising. The SMBs should be expected to make annual budget, recurrent budget as well as small development budget for the schools,” stated Ejaz.

He said that Farogh-e-Taleem Fund (FTF) had been a major contributor in resources for recurrent expenditure of the schools in Punjab. He said the FTF was a good idea and proved its success. “But the problem was that the funds were collected from the students, which is a violation of Article 25-A of the Constitution (free and compulsory education).”

The SMBs should mobilise parents and community to collect FTF with the help of school administration and staff so that the law cannot be violated, he said. “These steps are necessary to improve the condition of educational institutes and increase school enrollment,” he added.

CPDI Programme Manager Raja Shoeb Akbar said local governments should convince parents of out-of-school children to send their children to schools.

He said that the School Management Committees (SMC) working in Punjab have failed to perform as they are not directly linked with the local people. “People have no idea about these committees. There is a need to revive the concept of SMCs through proper legislation,” he said.

Executive District Officer Education Qazi Zahoor Ul Haq said that there were School Management Councils in the past and now SMCs are working throughout Punjab. He, however, said that SMCs are not functioning properly and need to be revived and streamlined.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2014.
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Public participation in decision-making stressed

LAHORE: Public participation in the decision-making process of the government on various issues, mainly the annual budgets, is the key feature of democracy.

This was a consensus among the participants in the launch of a study on budget-making process at district level unanimously on Tuesday.

The study, conducted and circulated by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), in collaboration with the Citizens Network for Budget Accountability (CNBA), contains an analysis of budget making in all districts of Punjab.

The CNBA is a network of 23 civil society organisations working for promotion of transparency and accountability in the budget-making process to ensure citizens participatory budgeting at local level.

“Public pressure can make the elected representatives accountable and responsive to the needs of the people. Budget making is also a key government task and participation of public in it can address the governance issues,” Syed Kausar Abbas, CPDI programme manager, said while giving a presentation.

He said active involvement of the public and stakeholders could only be achieved through an informed civil society. One reason for close and restricted budget-making in Pakistan was the fact that people were unaware of their rights and responsibilities.

“People in general have very little opportunity to participate in the budget process and thus are unable to change their living standards directly,” Mr Abbas said, adding that the CNBA carried out interviews of executive district officers of finance and planning through an online mobile-based survey. The survey questionnaire was designed to analyse the budget-making process under the Punjab Budget Rules 2003. He said according to the International Budget Partnership (an international organization which collaborates with civil society around the world), the budget analysis and advocacy could be used as a tool to improve effective governance and reduce poverty.

Speaking on the occasion, Punjab director (budget) Javaid Iqbal said the district government system was in clash with the provincial government on various issues. He said the MPAs, who considered themselves as more authoritative than the Nazims, didn’t bother even to sit with the respective authorities during budget preparations.

Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2014

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Access to education: Punjab asked to remove financial barriers

A civil society organisation has asked the Punjab government to remove financial barriers that might prevent children from acquiring the compulsory 10 years of education. 

Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI) Programme Manager Raja Shoab Akbar while talking to The Express Tribune said there was a dire need to remove barriers facing underprivileged students so that they could complete their education without any hurdles.

He said that Punjab, as the most-populous province, carries special importance and any effort to improve education in the province means that more than half of country’s population will benefit from it.

Akbar said that section 2 (e) of the Punjab Free and Compulsory Education (PFCE) ordinance implied that the provincial government and the local authority will endeavour to prevent financial barriers that might prevent a child from completing 10 years of education.

He explained that the ordinance prevented imposition of any fee or other charges from a child making it the shared financial responsibility of the province and the local authority for the purpose but it did not provide any specific guidelines for the provision of adequate resources to schools.

The CPDI programme manager said that there could be three dimensions of the term financial barriers— poverty of a child’s family, expenses incurred on the education of a child, and non-provision of adequate financial resources to educational institutions.

He said that most schools received insufficient amounts ranging from Rs20,000 to Rs50,000 under the school council fund (SCF).

Akbar said that the CPDI had recommended that variable allocations must be made by the government according to the number of students enrolled in each school.

He said that the amount should also be given to secondary schools and should replace the administrative budget exclusively given to high schools.

He said that the ordinance had also not addressed the issue of registration or other fees received by examination boards. He said that they had recommended that a clause should be added in the ordinance stating examination boards will collect the registration or examination fee or any other charges.

Akbar said that improvement of school buildings and provision of missing facilities had also not been addressed in the ordinance. He said that the CPDI had recommended that the ordinance must make it binding on the government to improve the condition of existing buildings and provide all missing facilities within a period of two years.

While talking about the situation at schools in Punjab, he said that according to a survey conducted in Jhang, 16 per cent of classrooms in different schools needed immediate repair work to avoid any mishap, 22 per cent schools did not have boundary walls, 76 per cent had no staffrooms and 86 per cent lacked student libraries, while the aggregate enrolment ratio in schools declined by two per cent in 2011-12 when compared to the previous year. He said that this was the situation of one district and a lot more was needed to be done by the government to address the situation.

Punjab Teachers’ Union (PTU) President Raja Shahid Mubarik said that the government will have to focus on schools in rural areas because they barely get attention from the authorities.

Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) Associate Prof Dr Faisal Bari said that after the 18th Amendment, it has now become the responsibility of provincial governments to plug holes in the education system. He said that though the provincial governments were allocating almost 24 per cent of budget to education the condition was not improving. He said that the problem lied in lack of accountability and monitoring by the government, leading to embezzlement of funds by administrative heads. He added that the situation will remain the same until the government introduced proper monitoring and accountability system to ensure transparency. Punjab Minister for Education Rana Mashhood was not available for comments.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2014.
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Special needs: Punjab’s free education law fails to facilitate disabled students

RAWALPINDI: The Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Ordinance 2014 falls short of elaborating measures that will be taken to facilitate special children in the province.

Section 3 (4) of the ordinance requires the government to provide suitable education to children with physical and mental disabilities. This provision makes it compulsory for the government to take special care of the children but it does not elaborate measures that should be taken under the ordinance.

Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI) Programme Manager Raja Shoaib Akbar told The Express Tribune that CPDI had recommended that it should be made obligatory for all government and private schools to make buildings accessible to children using wheelchairs and those with other disabilities. He said it was recommended that a penalty also be imposed in case of violations of the law after three months of promulgation. He said that under the law, a stipend could also be fixed for each child attending these schools to increase enrollment.

Akbar informed that schools for special children were fewer in number and said they had recommended at least one well-equipped classroom for special children in each union council. He said they had also recommended a separate teacher for the special children in each school.

The CPDI official said the budget allocations for schools enrolling the special children should be doubled by the government for improving service delivery. He said special children also needed transport facilities to reach the school and the government should cover this cost too along with the proposed stipend.

Pakistan Disabled Foundation (PDF) Chairman Khalid Hussain said a lot was needed to be done for the education of special children. He said there was a need of more schools in the province with trained teachers to cater to needs of the disabled. He said an extensive awareness was needed to educate the larger public about problems faced by those with special needs.

Hussain said most people believe that those with special needs cannot achieve anything in life and thus require no education. He said this was a gross misconception as special persons could achieve whatever they want and the only thing they needed was the support of society and government. “The government should pay special focus on the education of the disabled,” he said.

PDF General Secretary Muhammad Shahid Rasheed said the number of schools for special children was not enough in the entire province.

He said disabled persons make 10 per cent of the total population while less than one per cent of them have access to education.

He said in most schools for special children, there was only one teacher for five classes. “How can a single teacher handle five classes at a time?, he asked, adding the teachers were trained in special education but they were not experts in all the subjects. He said subject specialists should be provided to special children’s schools to minimise workload on the special education teachers. Rasheed said there were around 100 special children schools in Punjab and more schools were needed to cater to the needs of the increasing number of special children.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2014.
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Police urged to devise system for public complaints

RAWALPINDI–Syed Kausar Abbas, Program Manager, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) has urged the Rawalpindi police to develop a mechanism to redress the information requests and complaints of the citizens. Right to Information is a fundamental right of every citizen and the public officials are bound to respond the information requests of the citizens within time period of 14 days, he said while talking to media persons. He said the department is also bound to designate Public Information Officers in all departments to address the information requests of citizens. Kausar Abbas said that the list of Public Information Officers should be shared with the media and displayed at the notice boards of the police stations to facilitate the citizens regarding their information right. Police can improve the Thana culture by sharing information with the citizens. It can develop the confidence between citizens and police officials and can promote the community policing in the police stations. Citizens can take initiatives to help the polices for crime control and ensure peace in the society. He said that the police coordination committees should be formed to address the local issues of community and to control the heinous crimes at the street level.

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