Speaker Onofiok Luke of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly has, on behalf of his led state legislature, called on the Civil Society Organizations and Non Governmental Organizations to partner with the state legislature in developmental programmes that will benefit the society and humanity at large.
The Speaker made the call earlier today, while addressing members of Policy Alert- a Civil Society Organization which paid him a courtesy visit in his office.
In his remark, Rt. Hon Luke said that through the Policy Alert organization, the doors of the state legislature is henceforth thrown open to other NGOs to partner with the lawmaking arm of government in working to develop and make the society a better place.
The speaker also hinted that the legislature in the state under his leadership, has been planning towards inviting the civil groups for talk shows on public related issues, though he said, the speed of the said plans has been slightly affected by paucity of funds. However, he expressed optimism that plans in that regard will soon be actualized.
Commending the efforts of the organization in trying to set public office holders accountable, the Head of the legislature noted that the Open Budget Campaign taken up by the organization has been a source of inspiration which he said, has caused him individually as a lawmaker and the House of Assembly collectively as a lawmaking body to sit up and be more focused in the discharge of duties.
He also noted that during his tenure as the Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation and Finance, one of the steps he took to ensure government accountability to the public was to introduce, for the first time, the idea of holding a public hearing on the state budget, this according to him, has been a tradition adopted by the House since then, and which, in the last few years, has afforded members of the public the opportunity to make contributions to the state budgets as regards what should be and what should not be included.
Speaker Luke also hinted that the state is one of the few states, if not the very first that introduced the International Public Sector Accounting Standard (IPSAS), an accounting system he said is modern and being used internationally.
According to him, these are part of the steps taken by the government to encourage transparency in public service, as well as sincerity of purpose. On this, he commended the state governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel for showing this sincerity of purpose since assuming office. The speaker also commended Governor Emmanuel for his sincerity towards the prudent management of the state’s resources, especially as it concerns the budget support funds from the federal government, while also commending members of the legislature for performing their oversight functions effectively towards ensuring that the said funds are judiciously used for the purposes which they were allocated.
“It is rather unfortunate that the present economic state of the nation is seriously affecting the progress of government in terms of development. And sadly too, a lot of people do not understand how hard this situation is for the government, having to manage insufficient funds. For instance, the allocation sent to the state for this month is barely enough to pay salaries, not even with the budget support funds added to it.
“In spite of this, the governor had instructed the accountant general to effect payment of salaries immediately. This again, shows the sincerity of purpose which the government has brought into leadership. Good efforts as this should go a long way to earn the government commendations from members of the public for doing well, while they also criticize us in areas we have not done well, rather than just sit to criticize everything”, the speaker stressed.
He also stressed that the government is made up of humans who are as imperfect as the ordinary citizens; hence, their fallible nature. He added that even as those elected to oversee the commonwealth and security of the state and its citizenry, the government cannot know the plights of every citizen. And this, he said, is where positive inputs and contributions is needed from the citizenry.
The speaker further urged the group to come up with bills that will support and promote more societal development programmes in the state and improve on the living conditions of the general masses.
Meanwhile, earlier in his address, the Leader of the Policy Alert Organization, Tejah Bolton had commended Speaker Luke for his selfless efforts so far in encouraging transparency in governance, since joining train of government few years back.
According to Bolton, “part of the Speaker’s efforts in this regard was two (2) notable ones. One being the introduction of a public hearing session to the process of passing the state budget into law, through which public inputs were sought and made to influence the content of the budget, and the other being his self-sponsored legislative internship programme- The Onofiok Luke Legislative Internship Programme (TOLLIP) which trained young Akwa Ibom persons on understanding the rudiments and workings of the legislature.”
He noted that with these positive efforts, the speaker was so early to stand out as a brand and asset both in leadership and in the business of legislation.
“Leadership is not just about taking up the position, it is about the qualities and character of who holds the position. Sir, you have shown exceptional qualities and character in your few years in public service. Through these qualities, you have also shown that God did not just send you to the House of Assembly to be the speaker, but to also be a light to this generation. This is a message I have always wanted an opportunity to share with you”, Bolton said.
The group leader also noted that the the visit was under the auspices of the group’s Open Budgets campaign, stressing that the campaign was taken up based on the group’s conviction that facilitating people-centred development and tackling corruption requires open, inclusive and accountable fiscal governance and procurement processes.
He also stressed that while state governments have a statutory role in the development of the budget, the accountability ecosystem involves a broader spectrum of stakeholders which he said, includes legislators, auditors-general, citizens, civil society organizations and the media who, according to him, must all play effective roles in determining what gets included in the budget and how it is being spent, adding that the civil society has a particular duty of seeking understanding on the the process, as well as getting involved and holding the government accountable to the citizenry.
He hinted that one key area which the organization will like to partner with the legislature in further pursuance of the course of holding the government accountable is in budget monitoring, adding that the organization has over the years built an in-house capacity in doing an independent budget monitoring.
He also hited that the expectations of the organization on improving fiscal and procurement transparency in the state include, *online availability of the governor’s budget proposals ahead of public hearing *public engagement on the draft public procurement bill and fiscal responsibility bills when they eventually come to the house *increased space for citizens participation on in the budget development qnd implementation process, including constituency town hall meetings on the 2017 budget *strengthening of the role of the Public Accounts Committee of the House and holding committee hearings and publishing its report, among others.
Bolton further reaffirmed the organization’s readiness to work with the House as partners in progress for sustainable development and good governance, which according to him, is in line with expressed commitment of the current administration.