The Open Budget Campaign in the Niger Delta: The Journey so far
Alone (Alone) has been leading advocacy, amongst other thematic areas, on open and inclusive governance with a vision to entrench a regime of transparent and accountable governance and a citizen-centred public budgeting system. For about a decade now Alone has been working with like-minded partner organisations in the Niger Delta to bring this vision to reality.
In 2015 Alone partnered with USAID in the Strengthening Advocacy and Civic Engagement (SACE) project. This partnership shaped our strategy for engagement and resulted in the formation of the Open Budget Cluster with an enhanced capacity to constructively engage with the state governments in the Niger Delta in a move towards an open budget structure. The ultimate goal is an inclusive, transparent and accountable government capable of prudent management of public funds.
How the states have fared
The Open Budget system stands on a tripod. The first is that governments adopt inclusiveness in public expenditures. This implies that Budgets and other fiscal documents are proactively made available to the citizens at no extra cost to them. The second is that the governments create spaces for citizens’ participation in the budget process. And the third is that institutions vested with the responsibility to carry out oversight functions do so without any form of interference.
Akwa Ibom State took a giant stride in the direction of budget availability by publishing the Appropriation Bills of 2016 and 2017 in its official website. Unfortunately, they took some steps backwards by removing the 2017 budget document from the website to the disappointment of concerned citizens of the state and keen watchers of good governance. The State House of Assembly has passed the Fiscal Responsibility Bill, but it still waits for the assent of the state governor.
On citizens’ participation, the state has a record of organising town hall meetings to harvest citizens inputs to the budget, but close watchers have faulted the process for being another political grandstanding. These gatherings have turned out not to achieve the set goals of unconstrained citizens participation in the budget process.
Bayelsa State has achieved budget availability but sadly not accessibility. While it is possible to obtain the budget document on request from the state ministry of budget and economic Planning with the payment a stipulated amount, we have canvassed the proactive availability of the document as a measure of openness and therefore urge the state to publish the budget in her official website. This is, in fact, a more cost-effective and efficient way to transmit the document to the general public
Delta State has 2016, 2017 and 2018 budgets online in addition to other fiscal documents. This has been made possible and sustained through advocacy and engagements with governments of the state. The state also passed the fiscal responsibility law to ensure probity and accountability in the financial management of the state.
On citizens’ participation, the state government has appointed Communities Liaison Officers who serve as a medium of information exchange between the state government and the citizens on issues in the political, social and economic spheres. The state in consultation with Alone has drafted a policy in the framework of citizens’ participation in the budget process, soon to be officially adopted by the government. Some of the provisions are already upstream in the implementation of her fiscal policies. Steps are being taken by the state government to sign up with the Open Governance Partnership to add more credibility to her transparency and accountability ranking.
While commending the state government on measures put in place to ensure transparency and accountability, we request that they take it beyond political procedures to institutionalising these achievements through a legislative bill.
The Edo state government has also done well in budget availability and accessibility through the publication of fiscal documents on her official website. The Fiscal Responsibility Act has passed through second reading in the State House of Assembly. The state has however not fared well in the area of inclusiveness on the governance process. Systems are not put in place to allow citizens to be part of the budget process.
After a prolonged engagement with government duty bearers in Rivers state, the budget documents have surfaced online. The 2015 budget was pulled down from the state website at the inception of the current administration of Governor Nyesom Wike and since then none of the budgets of the succeeding fiscal years was made available to the public until August 2018 when civic organisations managed to obtain copies. Currently, the 2017 and 2018 budgets are available on https://saction.org/budgets/. Despite this window open to access the documents, we maintain that one of the cardinal indices of measuring openness is the availability of the budget document on the official website of the state government. We, therefore, urge the state government to upload the appropriation bill on the state website as a matter of duty it owes the citizens.
Oversight functions of institutions
While some states have gone ahead of others in budget availability and accessibility and achieved varying degrees of citizens’ participation, they have all fared poorly with regards to oversight functions of the designated institutions. Some states don’t have the Fiscal Responsibility Law, and in other states where it exists, the provisions are not followed through. The procurement processes are usually flawed, and the implementation reports are not made available to citizens who wish to carry out project monitoring in their domain. The members of the Houses of assembly are in most cases appendages of the executive arm and lack the will to task the executive on fiscal management.
We hereby call on citizens to participate actively in the budget process of their states. Organised community groups and the civil society should collaborate to capture spaces for engaging their governments in the provision of infrastructural amenities and development through the provisions in the budget. Community charters should be prepared and passed to the MDAs when the call circular is out. They should demand from their House Representatives in the House of Assembly to organize town hall meetings where they could submit memos proffering their preferred projects to be included in the budget. The budget remains the legal means of distributing wealth to the people and must, therefore, attract the interest of all citizens irrespective of background, political affiliation or creed. The task of enthroning good governance is a shared responsibility, and all hands must be on deck.
We also implore the media to partner with organised community groups and the civil society organisations to educate the general public on the benefits of participating in the process of governance. As the Fourth Estate of the ream with enormous influence, we challenge you to bring the powers to bear on the government to fulfil promises made during electioneering and commitment made to do all in the interest of the citizens who have chosen then to serve for the sake of posterity
Programmes Officer, Alone