Policy Alert, a non-governmental organization working to promote social, economic and ecological justice in the Niger Delta, has said that poor citizens’ participation and weak legislative oversight have been the bane of budget implementation in Akwa Ibom State.
The organization made the assertion, Friday, in a memorandum it presented during a public hearing on the Akwa Ibom State Fiscal Responsibility Bill organized by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly Committee on Appropriation and Finance.
Presenting the memorandum, Executive Director of the organization Tijah Bolton-Akpan said: “While there have been noticeable improvements in transparency during the last one year, with key Ministries, Departments and Agencies making hitherto undisclosed budget documents available on their websites, it is important for such transparency to be matched by accountability. But accountability cannot happen without strong oversight from the citizens and the legislature, which is why we’re asking that citizens be involved in the budget process from inception so that they can be well informed to ask the right questions. The enormous appropriation and oversight powers granted to the legislature by the Constitution should not be employed as a tool for intimidation of the executive or merely for transactional purposes, but to ensure a more effective and responsive budget process.”
He added that once the Fiscal Responsibility Bill becomes law in the state, it would become an offense for the executive to send a budget proposal to the House of Assembly without a Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) or for the government to request for loans without a proper cost-benefit analysis, as is currently the case in Akwa Ibom State. It would also become an offense for budgets to be prepared without the full participation of the citizens.
He noted that the inability of the legislature to put its powers to sufficient use to extract accountability from the executive had over the years resulted in a lot of executive discretion in the state’s budgeting process leading to a trend of poor budget performance. He added that at 44 percent capital budget implementation for 2019, the state had made some progress on actual capital budget performance, but there was need for a lot more oversight work by citizens and by accountability institutions such as the Office of the Auditor General and the legislature, especially the House Public Accounts Committee, to increase savings from spurious spending, reduce waste and achieve the desired level of performance for the state.
In its clause by clause consideration of the provisions of the Bill, Policy Alert commended the inclusion of civil society and organized labour in the composition of the Fiscal Responsibility Council, adding that their participation would be stabilizing factors in the actual implementation of the law. The organization however disagreed with section 20 of the proposed bill which grants the governor wide discretional powers to adjust the MTEF, noting that in the event of any manifest errors being discovered in the MTEF, the proposed law should provide for the Governor to submit a revised MTEF to the House of Assembly, and for the latter to give it expedited passage.
Policy Alert also commended the Bill’s provision on the creation of a stabilization fund and for a Fiscal Risk Appendix to accompany each year’s budget, adding that with such a provision, the budgetary responses to the Covid19 pandemic would not have been a knee-jerk reaction but something already contemplated in the original 2020 budget.
The organization proposed that the law should make it mandatory for every budget to also be accompanied by a Project Implementation and Continuity Appendix. The memorandum read: “We propose that the law should make it mandatory for each annual budget to be accompanied by a Project Implementation and Continuity Appendix, a document that itemizes all key projects, assets and liabilities from the previous budget cycle, prioritizes existing uncompleted projects in the new budget cycle, and in the event that any ongoing project will be abandoned in the next fiscal year, provides sufficient reason to demonstrate that such a project does not effectively contribute to policy priorities of the administration, the MTEF and overall state development plan. There must also be a provision to ring-fence capital receipts and ensure that the Capital Development Fund is not affected by expediencies. Capital receipts must be strictly applied to capital projects if we must improve our budget performance and reduce the number of abandoned projects in the state.”