Participatory Budgeting in Gulu District
Participatory budgeting has been growing at national level since 2011 focused on new investments in social services. In financial year 2011/2012 the total budget allocated through participatory budgeting was Uganda Shillings 4,204,965,833.00, i.e. 17% of the overall budget. In 2012/2013, the amount rose to Uganda Shillings 5,503,156,727.00 i.e. 19% whereas in 2013/2014, it rose to 8,190,130,500.00 i.e. 25% of the overall budget which indicates a tremendous improvement in budget transparency, allocation and accountability.
Between financial years 2011/12 and 2013/14, the number of people who became involved in participatory budgeting increased every other year, from 3,000 participants in 2011/12 to 6,000 in 2012/13 and to over 8000 in 2013/14. This modest change represents an impressive jump in the percentage of citizens ready to exercise their democratic right to participate in the Participatory Budgeting process.
The existence of Budget Reference Groups (BRGs) established in 2000 with the mandate to simplify the language of budget documents and demystification of budget figures in order to make them more accessible to the general public has done a commendable job in civic awareness and budget interpretation.
The media has played an important role in enhancing civic participation in the planning and budgeting processes in Gulu District local government. Announcements to attend the budget conference are made on the radio and in the newspaper, creating awareness and educating citizens on district/municipal affairs. Local radio stations host phone-in talk shows where citizens may ask questions and comment on district/municipal procedures in which budgeting and sector prioritizing is of mention.
It is worth noting that as a way of improving communication, the District chairperson together with his technical team, and civic leaders, launch outreach programmes, during which members of the community are informed of and educated about the budget process and consulted on their priorities.
The District council maintains databases of all registered Non Governmental Organisations and Community Based Organisations based in their jurisdiction, in addition, memorandum of understanding is signed between the NGOs and CBOs with the District for purposes of understanding each others mandates and avoidance of activity/programme duplication. The leaders of these organizations (NGOs and CBOs) play an influential role during the budget conference, as they represent the needs of their community.
Gulu District actively participates in the annual Local Government score card and has been rated as one of the best managed districts in Uganda under the circumstances. Worth noting under this is that I have been ranked among the best performing district managers in Uganda. (The local government score card measures performance against service delivery, fighting corruption, initiation of development projects, accountability to residents, and communication). This has largely been attributed to the participatory approach in undertaking any development work.