Budget discrepancies: ‘Govt officials deny citizen’s right to financial data’

PESHAWAR: Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s (K-P) planning and development department’s researcher Shah Mehmud said government officials dodge every attempt at disclosing financial information.

“Even a circular notice is not shared with the public,” Mehmud said, speaking at a seminar on ‘Comparative budget analysis of Town-III (Peshawar).’ The study was conducted and compiled by the Center for Government and Public Accountability (CGPA), a non-governmental organisation.

Efforts to computerise official revenue data have also been resisted by officials fearing it may let some information slip away and may loosen their grip on certain people, including the patwaris, Mehmud added. Contingency measures are taken just in case, he explained.

“If you have no information, you cannot exercise your power and right,” Mehmud said, adding that a secretary of a government department can monitor any delays in official work if a computerised system is in place. This will also inform him of the efficiency of his subordinates.

“Without access to information, transparency will be difficult and we should have a culture of openness.”

CGPA Executive Coordinator Azra Nafees Yousafzai termed the budget making process as a purely bureaucratic exercise without any meaningful participation by the public. “The budget concerns the common citizen and we need to share it with the public,” she said.

CGPA Program Coordinator Abid Hussain said when they requested budget documents for Town-III under Article 19-A of the Constitution, an official replied, “You are putting your hands in my pocket.” The official further told them that the budget books were not available.

Article 19-A provides the right to information

Instead of allocating more funds towards development, the Town-III administration utilises most of its budget paying salaries and allowances to its staff. In-house expenditures have steadily increased over the years and in fiscal year 2012-13, salaries estimated to around Rs293.8 million while development expenditure stood at Rs35.93 million.

In addition, Town-III employees have increased from 987 to 1,444 in just three years, Hussain added.

About Rs78.6 million was allocated to a contingency budget, but the details of this are not available in the budget books, he said.

The trend shows that the town administration’s own expenditures eats up most of the Town-III budget, which also indicates that development is a low priority for the administration, Hussain added.

The budget also includes funds for administration officials to perform Hajj.

“The budget making process of Town-III is extremely obscure and opaque,” Hussain said. This initial study of the town’s budget shows there seems to be no ground work or planning to meet the needs of the locality.