In an assessment carried out by Social Action on ‘states of openness in the Niger Delta’, Edo state came out tops in the statistical analysis of open budget indices.
Social Action has congratulated the Edo State Government for ensuring that Edo State blazed the trail in the open budget process. Social Action’s message was conveyed during advocacy visits to senior government officials in Benin City on 21 July 2017. Officials visited included the Chairman, Committee on Information and Appropriation, Edo State House of Assembly, Hon. Damian Lawani, the Chief of Staff to the Governor of Edo State, Taiwo Francis Akerele and the Commissioner of Budget, Planning and Economic Development, Maryam Abubakar. Social Action’s Public Finance Accountability team included Programme Officers Prince Ekpere and Peter Mazzi and members of Edo State Open Budget Cluster.In an assessment carried out by Social Action on ‘states of openness in the Niger Delta’, Edo state came out tops in the statistical analysis of open budget indices. Edo State operates an open budget system by making the fiscal documents not only available but also accessible to all.
Social Action encouraged the officials to work towards making a legislation or policy on open budget processes to institutionalize the process and ensure that no future government would revert to a non-inclusive or close budget system. Social Action also stressed the need to move the transparency and accountability project of the Edo State Government beyond availability and accessibility of fiscal documents to an era of citizen’s participation in the budget processes. Social Action suggested that participation could be enhanced by town hall meetings in all the local government areas in the state before each fiscal year’s budget preparation to harvest input on preferred projects from the people. As such, citizen’s participation is an open budget framework would allow communities to identify areas of need and to follow it through the budget circle. This model gives communities ownership, brings the people closer to the government and reduces suspicion along the demand and supply chain.
From Left to right: Peter Mazzi, Prince Ekpere, Hon Damian Lawani and Osazee Edigin at the Edo State House of Assembly
Responding, Hon. Lawani emphasized that the state government operates inclusive governance where all projects are people oriented. He described the projects as “from the reached to the unreached.” He added that delivering the dividends of democracy to the people of Edo state would have been easier if the people were well organized to identify issues and present it to the government, rather than government officials going to solicit information from the people. He agreed that citizen’s participation would reduce duplication of projects that are not needed by the people. He cited an example of a community that has four borehole projects that they do not need. If those communities were trained with necessary skills, they would have engaged the agencies and in the process gotten what they need for the socio-economic development of the community.
When asked about the method he uses to get feedback and input on the budget, he responded that it was through his campaign visits and town hall meetings. He went on to say that he formed a micro committee that consults with the people at the villages to X-ray what their needs are and from the finding, they decide which projects to give priority to, based on the availability of funds and exigency.
Hon. Lawani decried the lack of participation of the youth in the process of governance and attributed it to either the mischief of some politicians or the naivety and short-sightedness of the youth. So rather than participate in the budget making, monitoring and evaluations, the youth would rather want to be concerned with what the projects would benefit them personally. He encouraged the CSOs to constantly monitor the budget performance and the project execution based on the information available on the website of the Ministry of Information and also to encourage the youth in the process. He was positive that they could leverage on the Fiscal Responsibility Act of the federation and also the allotment from the Federal Allocation to the states and local governments. He intimated that the financial disbursement and expenditure reports are available in the ‘Finance House’ and accessible to whoever desires it for scrutiny and monitoring of the budget performance. He commended the initiation of a legislative-executive joint committee on budget and planning which is responsible for evaluating the budget proposal and ironing out gray areas so that there won’t be friction between both arms when the budget is presented for hearing. He gave this as the reason why the budget is usually passed early. Hon. Lawani solicited the support of the Open Budget Campaign to carry out sensitization workshops and training for CSOs, CBOs, community and youth groups on the need and importance of citizen’s participation.
On his part, the Chief of Staff to the Governor of Edo State, Taiwo Francis Akerele reminded the team that Edo state is civil society friendly; he regretted the deputy governor’s inability to meet with the team as earlier scheduled, due to urgent official issues outside the state. Mr. Akerele declared that in addition to the budget document being available and accessible online, the details of disbursement and expenditure are also published online. He decried the government’s inability to embark on sensitization programs due to sharp drops in revenue accruals and hoped that CSOs and the Open Budget Cluster would be able to do that for the state. He concluded by confirming his commitment and readiness to assist the Open Budget Cluster and all Civil Society Organizations in the state to advance open budget system and good governance and also promised an open door policy to progressive suggestions in that regard.
The Commissioner of Budget, Planning and Economic Development, Hajia Maryam Abubakar and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry thanked Social Action for the visit. The Commissioner promised that the 2018 appropriation bill would be predicated upon the outcome of open sessions and town hall meetings with the people. She committed to supporting programs and collaborations with CSOs as long as it would not mean a financial commitment on her side because of the strict budgeting system the ministry runs.