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National budgeting process; Engage and encourage the public

National budgeting process; Engage and encourage the public

The government’s main policy document, the budget, outlines how it will set priorities and carry out its yearly and long-term goals. The budget is the main tool for carrying out fiscal policy, which has an impact on the entire economy in addition to funding new and ongoing programmes. The budget strives to make plans and aspirations a reality alongside other instruments of government policy like laws, regulations and collaborative action with other actors in society. More than this, the budget demonstrates how funds are produced and distributed for the provision of public services and functions as a contract between the people and the government.

If a document is to command trust and act as a foundation for accountability, it must be clear, transparent and believable. Additionally, external stakeholders assess the budget document’s and budgeting process’s quality. When evaluating a state’s soundness and dependability. The Treasury/Ministry of Finance typically oversees the budget-shaping process, which includes input from ministers, lawmakers, and public servants and other trusted advisors, advocacy groups and civil society organisations, as well as increasingly citizens themselves. A successful budgetary process takes these inputs, weighs and considers them, and then develops a set of recommendations for actions to improve society.

A strong budgeting system fosters citizen confidence that the government, in the broadest sense, is paying attention to their problems, has a strategy for accomplishing worthwhile goals, and will use the resources at its disposal effectively, efficiently, and sustainably in order to do so. The term “budgetary governance” describes the procedures, rules, laws, organizations, and institutions in place to guarantee that the budgeting system achieves these goals over the long term.

Budgeting is a process that involves all governmental levels, both national and subnational, in which various mandates and degrees of autonomy are applicable depending on the country. It is not just the purview of central administrations. All levels of government should have integrated, logical, and consistent budget processes and practices. Therefore, these budgetary ideas are pertinent and ought to be used at all levels of government as needed. Additionally, budgeting is not a stand-alone procedure independent of other government channels of action. The various pillars of contemporary public governance integrity, openness, involvement, accountability and a strategic approach to planning and attaining national objectives are supported by and in turn promote sound budgeting. Thus, budgeting is a fundamental cornerstone in the framework of trust between governments and their people but budgeting framework must be designed by focusing the following elements,

  1. Budgets should be managed within clear, credible and predictable limits for fiscal policy.
  2. Budgets should be closely aligned with the medium-term strategic priorities of government.
  3. The capital budgeting framework should be designed to meet national development needs in a cost-effective and coherent manner.
  4. Budget documents and data should be open, transparent and accessible.
  5. Debate on budgetary choices should be inclusive, participative and realistic.
  6. Budgets should present a comprehensive, accurate and reliable account of the public finances.
  7. Budget execution should be actively planned, managed and monitored.
  8. Performance, evaluation and value for money should be integral to the budget process
  9. Longer-term sustainability and other fiscal risks should be identified, assessed and managed prudently.
  10. The integrity and quality of budgetary forecasts, fiscal plans and budgetary implementation should be promoted through rigorous quality assurance including independent audit.

Budget experts across the board lament that the seemingly insatiable demand for additional public benefits and services on the part of the public is not matched by a comparable willingness to pay for them. Public opinion does not appear to comprehend the necessity of making short-term trade-offs in terms of finances, let alone be aware of the potentially negative effects that demographic changes may have on long-term budget outlooks. While expenditure that gives people tangible, immediate benefits is often welcomed, many people seem unaware of the need for fundamental public goods and are unwilling to contribute to their purchase.

Public involvement is seen by many government professionals, university researchers, civil society organisations, and public officials as one way to address the lack of public support for responsible budgetary measures. A well-functioning democratic administration has both “means” and “ends” that include public participation in civic affairs. It is a crucial component of initiatives to enhance official accountability because it happens when people feel a sense of connection to their government. Government must be effective, responsive, transparent, and responsible in order to maintain public engagement. Government, in turn, becomes more receptive to citizen engagement and input. By utilising the experience and knowledge of their constituents, authorities can produce a more effective and responsive government, while individuals are better informed about public policy and governmental actions.

Globally, the value of public participation in budgeting is becoming more widely acknowledged. There is rising knowledge of many methods for including individuals in budgeting at subnational levels of government, particularly in Latin America and Europe. Municipal and regional public bodies are actively incorporating residents in the budget process and are seeing encouraging outcomes, frequently in collaboration with civil society organizations. Some have even gone so far as to implement participatory budgeting practices, which give individuals direct control over particular budget categories and fund distributions. Public engagement includes:

The common elements that emerge from these three concepts of public engagement are:

And the ultimate benefit derived from public engagement in budgeting are:

  1. Citizens are eager for opportunities to become engaged in serious and substantive discussions about the budget.
  2. Non-expert citizens have the ability and desire to address complex public policy issues, and they enjoy being asked to do so.
  3. People are able to set aside initial biases and opinions and to listen, learn, discuss, argue and compromise.
  4. Participants, irrespective of their political affiliations and demographic characteristics, are willing to vote for unpopular tax increases and benefit cuts and will agree to options that go against their own immediate self-interest if they believe that those actions will solve the problem; and be shared fairly among all segments of the population and all parts of the country.
  5. Participants protect education and poverty programs, but still expect those parts of the budget to make small contributions to the overall solution.
  6. Participants will agree to raise their own taxes and cut their own benefits and services once they are convinced that there are no easy answers.

Although, complex budget and fiscal policy issues will not be resolved by successfully including the public in national budgeting, but it is an essential component of a larger plan to promote good government practices and to implement economic policies that are both politically feasible and prudent.

Engaged individuals are more informed about politics, have more nuanced and educated opinions on public affairs, and have less cynicism about the government. Improving citizens’ involvement in national budget policy is especially important. The budget represents the public’s priorities and allocates the responsibility for paying for those activities. If citizens are not engaged in national budgeting, they cannot exercise meaningful oversight and hold officials accountable.

No one strategy or programme can be relied upon to reach every individual or to increase public awareness of budgetary difficulties in general. Governments may show they are open to public discussion and contribution by being open and transparent and giving people a chance to voice their opinions. Activities that encourage citizen interaction offer beneficial chances for cross-cultural listening and learning. A more informed electorate benefits politicians and public leaders. Citizens become more accurately aware of the problems and challenges facing the country. Government initiatives to involve citizens in the discussion of national budget priorities have the potential to strengthen civic engagement and public discourse, which will foster a more favourable environment for tackling the difficult challenges that lie ahead.

The author is MD IRP/ Faculty Department of H&SS, Bahria University Karachi.

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