Since 1990s, civil society organizations have started influencing the budget formulation in few developing countries. The inclusiveness in the budget formulation acknowledges the value due to public oversight and improved commitment towards pro-poor choices. The civil society budget initiatives are also supplemented by the critical media coverage.
Budget is a set of technical financial terminologies exhibiting proposed revenues and expenditures to be incurred in a fiscal year. Revenues are comprised of taxation and non-taxation income generated by the economic base of the country. Tax money is the people’s money and they have the right to hold government accountable for the use and abuse of the money. The first stage of the budget is the formulation stage which is done by the bureaucracy in the country. The process of formulation is not open as the last survey on open budget conducted by International Budget Partnership (IBP) presents the declining transparency in budget openness.
The role of civil society at the formulation stage is very limited due to few seminars and dialogues with the community, media and legislatures. In the democratic government regimes in developing countries, the civil society has joined hands with the legislatures for influencing the budget formulation and reprioritizing the budget allocations for more pro-poor programmes. In our country, such budget groups are hard to find. However, there are few civil society organizations are involved in conducting seminars and dialogues on the pro-poor allocations in social sectors. The need for budget integrity is highly important ingredient of the fiscal authority which could not be achieved without engaging the civil society in the budget formulation process.
There are many examples on the planet which shows the significant contribution of budget groups at the formulation stages. NGO Coalition of South Africa conducted numerous poverty hearings at village and town level and collated the evidences into a set of priorities and presented to the government for inclusion in the budget. The institutionalized participatory budget process in Bangladesh has stated consultations before the seven days of the tabling the budget in the parliament. Such evidence is hard to find in our country due to limited vibrant and dynamic budget groups.
Citizen’s budget is also the simplified version of the hardly understandable budget language to the parliamentarians, civil society and common people. The first step to start with is the simple elaboration of the budget terminologies and jargons use in the whole document. The government has never come up with the soft explanations of these technical jargons so that it may be accessible and comprehendible by the common people. The citizen budget is one of the innovated ways of describing the budget elaborations in a very friendly manner to the common people. However, it is pertinent to mention that the citizen’s budget is always made up by the government; the initiative taken by the civil society is never taken under the citizens’ budget.
In Pakistan, civil society is now becoming more vibrant due to rigorous involvement in shaping up the events in the country. Judicial reform movement in 2009 and marvelous work in flash floods 2010 in the country has brought the role of civil society in the limelight. Although, these events are not only the occurrences in the history of the country on which civil society has showed its commitment and perseverance for the betterment and progress of the country. It provides an incentive to the public that the vibrant civil society will also start debating the core issues in the budget allocations and it’s reprioritizing in key social sectors.
In this respect, the civil society should also play important role in shaping up the government policies through building collective voice and actions on the key development priority sectors. Civil society should also pressurize the government to develop “citizen budget” for easy understanding of the budget documents. And such document should be public prior to the budget speech of the finance minister. The limited role of civil society in execution, monitoring and evaluation of the enacted budget should be enhanced, so that people money can be tracked for effective utilization for improved service delivery.