Columnists

Role of community in public expenditure monitoring

KELVIN Siwale.

Analysis: KELVIN SIWALE
THE public has a big role to play in monitoring public expenditure. According to Ritva Reinikka and Nathanael Smith, the concept of public expenditure tracking surveys in education was applied in Zambia, Uganda and Peru.

The idea was to monitor how much of the money released by central governments reached the intended school beneficiaries and the extent of financial leakages in the process.
The results of the surveys generally indicated that by the time the monies released reached the intended beneficiaries, it was less. This means there were leakages at various administrative hierarchies. Thanks to Integrated Financial Management System (IFMIS), which has now come to surmount challenges like this one.
Despite the introduction of IFMIS, communities as beneficiaries should be proactive in tracking their allocated resources and provide adequate checks and balances. It is equally important that experts in such communities take keen interest in tracking public expenditure.
In simplicity, monitoring should basically focus on what projects have been approved for funding and how much has been appropriated by parliament. The amounts appropriated will always appear in the Yellow Book and keen citizens through NGOs in their areas should make sure they have access to the book, which is a public document.
Another important thing to know is how much of the appropriation has been released by the treasury at a particular time. On this note, the treasury would do well to announce, like they used to in the recent past, how much money has been released for projects.
Further, in some instances, some communities may not be aware of how much money has been released but may have information regarding the materials delivered – it may be building materials. These should be monitored to ensure that they are not diverted for personal use. To ensure a more effective tracking, the focus should be allocation to projects in your community.
Communities, through their civic leaders and the local NGOs, should establish how much money has been released by the central government towards specific projects in their area. Once they know, the next thing is to see how much money has reached the account. Depending on the project, it can either be through provincial administration or council (local government authority). Note that with IFMIS, this has changed as payments are now made directly to the service providers.
The idea here is to track the money released by the central government and ensure that public officers account for every coin released. This will help to reduce leakages, which are very common in the absence of accountability.
Funds should not be abused behind the dark curtain of administrative costs. What administrative costs are there before funds reach the end users? A body receiving funds on behalf of community beneficiaries should not abuse them.
Good governance includes the grassroots. After all, governments exist because of the people, so citizens should take part in governance at local level to secure what is apportioned to them.
In cases where beneficiaries are not happy with how their resources are being administered, the central government can be alerted through relevant wings, that the money they sent to build a hospital is instead building some greedy officer’s mansion.
Further, during the tracking process, if it is discovered that money released to undertake a particular project is being used on other programmes, relevant wings of government should be alerted as moving funds from one programme to another amounts to misapplication of funds.
Through activities like this, we will be fighting vices such as theft, misapplication of funds and so forth. While this is put across, some community members may be wondering and saying, “Will the public servants condone us?” The response is that, according to the principle-agent theory, public servants, as the term ‘servant’ entails, are answerable to citizens. Therefore, citizens should not be bossed around by public servants as they are the employers and pay masters of every public office-holder.
In view of the position and authority that citizens hold in the lives of public office-holders, the citizens should take their rightful position of ensuring that they organise themselves in their communities and collaborate with their civic leaders and local NGOs to ensure they protect their share of the national cake.
To sum up, we are all responsible for protecting our shares of the national cake. No person should be allowed to selfishly eat the cake alone. Thus, let’s collectively ensure that we protect our resources through public expenditure tracking. This is the only way we will ensure development of our areas.
We can do it by organising ourselves in our respective communities and ensure that all funds released by the government serve their intended purpose. We are close to where projects are being executed, thus, we can complement the efforts of government to monitor the projects and ensure value for money.
Now, to avoid confusion, this should be done in liaison with responsible government offices. For government offices who have nothing to hide, this corruption prevention strategy should not be a problem.
The author is an anti-corruption activist.

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