This post was written by Muhammad Zahoor, Executive Director of the Centre for Governance and Public Accountability.
In July 2013 the Centre for Governance and Public Accountability (CGPA) and Integrated Regional Support Program (IRSP), two civil society organizations based in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province of Pakistan, analyzed the water and sanitation budgets for the area to better understand allocations and spending on these services. The two groups were concerned that water and sanitation service delivery was inadequate and that the public did not have enough opportunities to participate in the budget-making process. The study involved a research team from CGPA, the Water and Sanitation Program Team at IRSP, other civil society organizations, a government official from the Tehsil and District Municipalities, and provincial Finance Department officials.
In conducting the analysis, the groups hoped to promote budget transparency, participation, and accountability, as well as to ensure better water and sanitation service delivery in the KP. The findings of the study will also be useful for other civil society groups looking to carry out research-based advocacy to determine the best use of public money.
The analysis revealed, among other things, extremely limited opportunities for community or civil society participation in the budget process. except for pre- and post-budget conferences, which were held at the national and provincial levels. The budget-making process at both levels is based on an “incremental increase” and is highly dependent on “availability of external funds.” In other words, the budget for the coming year is essentially based on the current allocations plus (or sometimes minus) an amount based on an incremental increase and the amount of funds available. Budgeting in this way limits the influence of citizens and civil society to what the increment will be and, in some cases, what it will be used for. The story of limited public participation is much the same at the district level. Provincial assembly members propose development schemes in the Annual Development Program and the Finance and Planning Department prepares the budget proposal using estimates received from the district departments. There is no budget committee in the district department that proposes and prioritizes schemes (and, potentially, gathers public input into these decisions). Instead the head of the department in question has full discretion to assign someone in the department to prioritize which schemes will get estimates for inclusion in the budget proposal.
In 2012 the provincial Ministry of Finance did try to include a consultative element in the budget process by organizing a pre-budget seminar, which was followed by Budget ”Jirgas” (consultative meetings with members of the provincial assembly). However, this seminar did not have any significant impact on the budget proposal as the process had already been completed, leaving no time for changes to the estimates.
Moving forward, CGPA and IRSP plan to use the analysis and results of the study in a number of ways, including for:
- engaging citizens in the process of prioritizing budget allocations for water and sanitation;
- convening public planning sessions and seminars with key civil society leaders and organizations, trade unions, and elected representatives before the budget-making process starts to ensure citizen participation and feedback;
- launching campaigns to advocate gender-based budgeting for water and sanitation;
- helping introduce ground water usage policy and regulation to control the improper exploitation of ground water sources; and
- launching an advocacy campaign to include allocations in the budget for improving awareness of proper hygiene so as to prevent waterborne illness and other diseases.
Armed with the knowledge gained from the results of the study, as well as the methodology for conducting it, Pakistani civil society and others around the world will be able to hold their government accountable for how it spends public resources and help guide them toward improving the lives of its citizens.