By: Yousaf Ajab Baloch
In order to strengthen democracy, it is very essential to introduce and empower it at grass root level. The smallest unit of democracy is union council. Later councilors perform at district level. Democracy progresses with community participation and develops sense of ownership in general masses for local and national initiatives. Democracy takes deep roots, if the system is owned by people. District level budget consultation is one of the key functions for community development and ownership in democratic process to ensure transparency in governance.
When it comes to budget making process at district level it has been observed that the stakeholders are not consulted in the process. It has been experienced that most of the stakeholders are not included in the budget making process. The Balochistan District Government and Tehsil Administration (Budget) Rules, which provide the detail of the steps involved in the preparation of annual budget, are not followed.
The pre-budget consultation, which is supposed to involve district officials, district council members, elected representatives, general public, civil society organizations and women organizations. However, some of the key stake holders such as general public, civil society organizations, women organizations and local NGOs are not consulted in budget making process in most districts.
Budget making is one of the chief government undertakings, which can be addressed positively by the public participation. However, People in general lack opportunities to contribute in the budget process.
Balochistan District Government and Tehsil Administration (Budget) Rules, 2016 asks inclusion of local Non-government organizations in the preparation of annual budget. However, Khalil Ronja, representative of Welfare Association for New Generation (WANG) at district Lasbella, told Balochistan Review, “We neither experience participation in any consultation at district or tehsil level nor we have any idea about budget making process where local NGOs are named as stakeholders. We cannot recall a single instance when local district administration, civil society members or people from non-profit organizations were been part of consultation.”
A study conducted by Centre for Peace and development Initiatives (CPDI) a country based non-profit organization reveals that most of the stakeholders are not included in the budget making process in Balochistan. According study 18 out of 20 districts claimed to hold pre budget consultation for budget 2017-2018, however, they involved district officials, district council members and elected representatives but as per set rules they did not involve general public and the stake holders in budget making process.
Pre-budget consultations are great opportunities for local councilors to share their opinions or the requirements about development and non-development schemes in their areas but a general councilor Asghar Chutta at district Labella shared his grievances that they were hardly consulted for pre-budget consultations.
Asghar Chuta told Balochistan Review, “The entire process of local government depends on elected councilors and without their participation the system cannot run but when it comes to district level budget consultation they are ignored and only the finalized budget is shared with them.”
“Mostly the budget consultation has a huge influence of favoritism due to which the local representatives in local governments are not treated equally.” Asghar said.
Rakhshinda, a Gwadar based Female NGO volunteer told Balochistan Review, “Women organizations are always ignored in local government budget consultation. They mostly involve district officials, district council members and elected representatives but as per rules they directly do not engage women organizations, civil society members, public and the other stake holders in budget making process.”
Citizens’ budget is an essential paper issued for the public so as to let them understand the budget in jargon-free and easy to understand language but flaws are also found in the system.
Asia Baloch a civil society member told Balochistan Review, “Citizen budget is hardly shared with the public members which proves poor transparency and sharing of information. As per rules the local government should public budget in simple language for the citizens. Even budget call letters (BCL) are not issued on time.”
Regarding the matter Khalil Ronja explained, “People have no access to information related to district budget. No one has idea about the citizen budget, and public lacks information about its allocated budget and its utilization. Since there is no mechanism to make public aware about such important process.”
Poor transparency and sharing of the information with public was also observed in all the 20 districts which have been part of the CPDI’s Citizen Budget Accountability study. It has also been disclosed that none of the 20 districts has functional web sites for sharing information with public.
It has been observed that local decisions are not made locally by the district government, however, there is great influence of provincial government in decision making at district in local government thus no true spirit of devolution is felt and districts are not powerful enough in deciding about their budgets.
Syed Fazal Rehman Shah, Tehsil Chairman Kalat, however, terms district councils weak and not empowered enough to strengthen participation of stakeholders, and work on lack of funds and other confrontations.
Talking to the Balochistan Review he explained, “Control over the budget making was handed to provincial government after 2010 by introducing Divisional Coordination Committee that is liable to approve the district budgets. This step further weakened the district level government. Hence, these local government can only be empowered again by handing them total control over their budget processing.”
Emphasizing on another technical issue Syed Fazal Rehman Shah told Balochistan Review, “We also face difficulties in technical grounds since hardly we can find some 3 or 4 percent technical staff members who are well skilled in budget making. Most of the Engineers and Chief Officers are unable to produce justified proposals or PC1. There is need to train the staff on technical matters.”
Involvement and participation of stakeholders as per rules is a better way to strengthen democracy on local level no participation of stakeholders in district level Budget consultation and other participation weakens democratic process in Balochistan.
Mohammad Asif, Provincial Coordinator- Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) in Balochistan talking to Balochistan Review emphasized on the formulation of new budget rules, adherence to the budget calendar, transparency and citizens’ participation in the budget making process at district level in Baluchistan.
Mohammad Asif who has been leading awareness programs on district level budget consultation stressed on a greater need for involving citizens and citizens’ associations during every stage of budget making process. “Citizens are the important stakeholder in the budget process. All development planning should be made keeping citizens in forefront. There is no harm of involving them in the budget making process and taking their opinion about their development needs.” he added.
“There is great demand that district government perform better to ensure transparency so a functional website of district government is the easiest and cheapest way to share information with the public. unfortunately, in Balochistan none of the districts have functional websites,” suggested CPDI coordinator.