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Salcete panchayats score low on budget preparation

Margao: Auditors reports on the finances and functioning of all the 30 village panchayats of Salcete taluka have brought to light that budget preparation in these panchayats has been a hotchpotch exercise for a long time now.

The reports have said the budgets prepared for the financial year 2017- 2018 were “unrealistic and fictitious” ones.

A team of auditors which audited the finances of panchayats has pointed out huge variations in the estimated budgets and the actual ones – the variations run into Rs 1 crore to Rs 1. 5 crore especially in Class A panchayats like the Navelim panchayat.

Explaining the variations in the estimated budgets and the actual ones, joint director of accounts, South Goa, Sanjay Prabhu said, “The audits are conducted based on the income and expenditure of the panchayats… The huge variations could be due to several reasons including the development of a particular ward without proportionate generation of income from that ward.’’

The reply to a RTI plea put forth by the reporter has indicated that many panchayats have been following ‘stereotype’ budget preparation for the last few years and that there is no guidance to the panchayats from experts in the field.

Moreover, no deterring action has been taken by the competent authorities.

Sources said the chief executive officer of zilla panchayat, who is the competent authority, simply writes a letter seeking compliance without bothering himself about any follow-ups.

But the extension officer for panchayats at Salcete BDO office, A Gracias assured that the variations will not occur in future because now every proposals must be vetted by the village development committee and accordingly clearance is given.

This reporter asked several current and former sarpanchas and panchayat secretaries to point out the reasons for the unrealistic and fictitious budgets prepared over the years.

The sarpanchas reeled off several reasons for the faulty budget preparation, which include the inadequate knowledge of panchas about budget preparation, the non-cooperation of panchayat secretaries, the delay in the grant of financial grants from the government and the insufficient staff to execute the planned works.

It is pertinent to note here that the educated villagers who know how to prepare a budget usually do not attend gram sabhas. Hence sometime a poorly prepared budget by the panchayat secretary in support of other panchayat staff is finally approved and forwarded to higher-ups.

Some of the sarpanchas strongly suggested formation of a special team of accountants under the directorate of panchayats to monitor and help the panchayat in preparing a realistic budget.

Throwing light on the problem, Colva sarpanch Anthony Fernandes said, “The variations occur because the government delays in giving approvals to the proposed works. There are no full-fledged secretaries to expedite developmental works. Everything goes haywire

when the BDO office malfunctions. We have to prepare budget with higher estimates since there is a sizable ‘floating income’ in our coastal village.”

However, a panchayat secretary touched upon the exact problem. He said that several sarpanchas are at sea when it comes to budget preparation.

“They are totally dependent on panchayat secretaries. In this situation, we turn to old budgets and readies a new one with little changes,” he disclosed, adding that knowledgeable villagers attending the gram sabhas usually do not speak on the budget preparation.

Goa Panchayat Raj Institution convenor J Santano Rodrigues has a different take on the budget quandary. He blames the Goa Panchayat Raj Act.

“The Goa Panchayat Raj Act looks pretty on paper… The budget is prepared based on Section 238 (sub-section one). The BDO and the EOP must visit the panchayats, inspect the books, and if the budget is unrealistic, they should guide the panchayats. But this is not happening. Moreover the government delays in releasing funds. All these things reflect badly on the estimated budget,” Rodrigues explained.

He suggested that there should be an annual plan and based on it a realistic budget should be prepared.

Former Rachol sarpanch Joseph Vaz attributed the unrealistic budgets to the confrontation between the sarpanch and the panchayat secretary. [NT]

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