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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

Your space: Professionals should audit Pune municipal corporation budget

Pune’s civic activists are very well acquainted with civic issues. However, there was no effort by citizen activists to analyse the presented PMC 2019-2020 budget . Should they be responsible to analyse the budget? Here is what our readers say...

pune Updated: Mar 17, 2019 15:13 IST

Hindustan Times, Pune
Yogesh Mulik of standing committee presents budget at PMC on February 22.
Yogesh Mulik of standing committee presents budget at PMC on February 22. (HT FILE )
         

Both the tasks of scrutinising the previous year’s civic budget and to assess whether the revenue generated has been correctly utilised in budgetary allocations require the expertise of a chartered accountant (CA).

Scrutinising previous year’s civic budget has to be performed by a CA statutorily. The auditor is supposed to submit the audit report within six months from the end of the financial year. There has been a lag of four years by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) in this regard, which means that a non-governmental organisation (NGO) would not have access to all the information even if it tries to do the exercise the very next year. The scope of scrutinising previous year’s budget is vast. As a citizen initiative, an outside auditor attempted to carry out an audit of the previous year in the past. It had to be called off because PMC did not possess the requisite information.

Again, the second task of whether revenue generated is correctly utilised in budget allocations will require detailed information about the revenue generated from different sources, which is generally not readily available. NGOs can and do carry out a broad assessment of the budget after it is approved, to check if PMC has missed out any important item. One such item pertains to allocation for maintenance of PMC properties on which Nagrik Chetna Manch has been laying stress for the past many years. In fact, Nagrik Chetna Manch is a pioneer in introducing the concept of participatory budgeting in Pune Municipal Corporation. NCM studied the participatory budgeting in Bengaluru and adapted it to Pune almost a decade back. - Major General SCN Jatar (retd)

Confusion between roles of the media and NGOs

There seems to be some confusion between the role of the media and NGOs. Media should be analysing as they have the necessary qualifications, tools, data and information within reach. After an analysis is done, you could call the NGOs for a debate to get their view. As far as audit goes, one has to be appointed officially and have necessary qualifications. Nagrik Chetna Manch takes up the issues relentlessly after we smell out misuse, corruption. We are voluntary watchdogs with a limitation on resources, mainly human. Despite that we already have several cases filed in the high court. - Qaneez Sukharani

Activists cannot be experts in every field

I agree that it is important to analyse budgetary allocations and monitor civic spending. However, I would say that it is a specialised job needing in-depth knowledge and appropriate expertise, if it has to be a meaningful exercise. Our group works voluntarily using scarce self-generated funds and cannot afford to engage the services of required competent professionals and experts. Obviously unpaid activists cannot be experts in every field. In my opinion, it is always prudent to restrict activity to the field of own knowledge, doing whatever best possible in the given circumstances and within the practical limitations of time and resources.

Personally I believe in being a part of the solution and hence, do not just comment on issues, but also propose practical solutions where feasible. During the past two and half decades, I have been able to contribute in various civic issues of public interests, more specifically in our focus area of traffic and transportation and safety for all road users with the priority for pedestrians. - Prashant Inamdar

PMC spends money on people’s demand

My comments are in two parts: Part one is what is difficult and part two what is certainly objectionable.

Part one:

1) The civic budget audit is best done by professional auditors to spot legal inconsistencies and not by NGOs. An NGO can be associated with the process.

2)What is well spent is difficult to define. Corporators feel that money spent to satisfy their voters is well spent. Small example: people demand speed breakers on an arterial road. It is illegal, but the PMC spends money on it. Is it ill-spent if it satisfies a people’s demand in a democracy? No clear answer.

3) Many times funds allotted to a particular job are transferred to another project and justified on the basis of sudden change of priorities.

All the above are strictly speaking illegal. But if a locality had a spate of accidents and money from a beautification project is shifted to accident prevention task, an NGO cannot question it. I have seen many such seemingly logical and valid reasons for spends that are otherwise seen as illegal or wasteful.

Part two:

1) One objection is to corporators’ visit (jaunts) in and out of India where no tour reports are submitted, meaning nothing is learnt.

2) Renovation and refurbishing of official residences as different from regular maintenance.

3) Purchase of cars. Why should the public pay for their cars? They should use their own cars or use from a limited car pool. There’s no reason to buy luxury cars. - DVR Rao

Budget analysis work needs to be done in a cycle

Budget analysis is certainly a good tool for the public to check whether government is allocating resources correctly.

In the past, the Centre for Environment and Education (CEE) has been engaging in not only budget analysis, but also on ground infrastructure assessment. For example, a couple of years ago we had done a review of Pune’s participatory budget process with at least 60 citizens. One suggestion was for more information about gaps in basic infrastructure.

Because of the interest generated, the PMC for the first time started to make the budget sheets publicly available on the PMC website, which permitted easier analysis. We also had discussions with the public and NGOs, many media houses, and prepared a series of articles on budget analysis.

As such it is not enough to do a one-time check in January-February when the budget draft is placed in the PMC General Body.

The budget analysis work needs to be done in a cycle. In September-October, PMC should review performance in selected sectors (traffic, waste, sewage). Comment on budget reallocation and make suggestions for the next budget. In December, they should repeat the process. In January-February, the PMC should comment on what the civic body presents, so that there is some impact on what the elected representatives have suggested. In April-May, the PMC should discuss the projects that need to be completed on priority.

It is a joint responsibility of the media and the public and civil society organisations to keep our democratic institutions functioning in a transparent and accountable manner. - Sanskriti Menon

Citizens should be concerned about PMC budget

The PMC budget allocation and its spending should be a subject of concern for every citizen as they are stakeholders of it. However, it is only the civic activists who are raising civic issues. But to ask them to analyse and audit the budget is not feasible. With the help of RTI, every citizen can gather information from the authorities and see if the funds have been utilised in proper manner. However, if every citizen becomes more concerned about PMC budget allocations and spending, civic activists will be able to nail discrepancies more forcefully. - Maya Hemant Bhatkar

First Published: Mar 17, 2019 15:12 IST

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