Sunday, March 27, 2005

BCC Budget: Tell us where the money goes

BCC Budget
Big question: tell us where money goes
By Samuel Paul
The Times of India

The BCC budget should present a programme of action to improve quality of services and infrastructure in this fast-growing city.

There has been a distinct deterioration in the city’s infrastructure in the past year. The new budget should restore citizens’ confidence in BCC. It should go beyond the ritual of revenue and expenditure statements. This will call for an articulation of BCC’s vision for the city at least in the medium term and a realistic assessment of the resources required to achieve it through a series of annual budgets.

Though BCC is not responsible for all the infrastructure and services of the city, it could do this exercise for the functions and services for which it is responsible.

Within this broader framework, the BCC budget should convince citizens that effective steps will be taken to upgrade and improve its functions and services. The city’s fast growth means that more buildings, offices and income generating activities are being added each year. BCC’s revenue estimates should reflect this growth.

I’d expect the budget to show a significant increase in property tax collection, not through an increase in the tax rate, but by bringing all eligible properties into the tax net and through better enforcement. This applies also to all other taxes, rent and user charges collected by BCC.

The budget should provide evidence of the loopholes for tax evasion and corruption of the kind highlighted by the Lok Ayukta’s raid in connection with the hoardings scam. If new user charges such as a fee for garbage collection are proposed, the budget should spell out what citizens can expect by way of the service and its standards. Levy of user charges without a clear statement of what citizens will receive in return is no longer acceptable.

On the expenditure side, BCC should spell out how it plans to improve its services and what the new investments in infrastructure will deliver. I expect much larger allocations for roads, sidewalks, drainage and solid waste management in the new budget. And these services should be improved not only in elite areas, but also in lowincome areas.

Against each department and project, BCC should indicate what the targeted outputs are and what outcomes they will achieve and when. The practice of simply allocating large amounts to salaries, pensions, supplies, etc., must cease and new ways to link proposed expenditures to “performance” in a time-bound fashion must be found. This should be done also wardwise so that people can see what is being spent and achieved in their locality. Borrowings by BCC should be justified by showing what they will deliver and how they will be repaid.

This budget should mark a new beginning for BCC in terms of efficiency, transparency and accountability.

(The author is chairman of the Public Affairs Centre and a former Director of IIM, Ahmedabad).


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