Monday, 21 September 2015

Making public expenditure more people - inclusive through CSOS

Clifford Thomas is a  Litigations Lawyer who is in private practice in Uyo; Human Rights Activist; State Chairman of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) in Akwa Ibom State, Chairman of the Akwa Ibom State Human Rights Community; South-South Zonal Coordinator of the Standards Awareness Group (the civil society response wing of the Standards Organization of Nigeria, SON); Civil society practitioner for over fifteen years; Journalist; Publisher; Executive Director of the Media Practitioners for Good Governance Project, Nigeria; and Chair of the Roundtable for subject-matter Reviews of the Coalition for Democracy and Credible Elections (CODECE), Abuja. He sent in this piece as civil society contributions to democratic governance in the State.

Power belongs to God through the people. This is not only axiomatic, but politically and socio-economically correct. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, opens with a preamble that attributes the source of power of this supreme document, to the people of Nigeria. The implication here is that without the people, there can be no Constitution; and this translates to the fact that without the people of Nigeria, there can be no Nigeria. The entire space called Nigeria, including the three tiers of government and the three arms of government, and the necessary appurtenances and superstructure of government in Nigeria, are products of the people of Nigeria, and nothing more pretentious.

The entire cycle of budgeting and public expenditure in Nigeria, including the four stages of conception, approval, implementation/execution, and review/oversight, has carefully excluded the people in civil society to the point of total discredit to the process, thus breeding unfettered and unpardonable unacceptability. This practice has carefully repeated itself over the years as a regular fiscal way of life. The demand on government globally today is that, its budgetary and expenditure systems must not only be transparent, but must include the people, particularly at civil society level.

Society is made up of the tripod of government, business and civil society. It is generally seen as a hybrid these days, yet some governments insist that its business or operations must be done to the exclusion of civil society. In extreme cases, governments, particularly in third world countries like Nigeria, label and brand civil society as antagonists of government at all levels. Civil society as the third strand of the society is made up primarily of non-state actors like non-governmental organizations (NGOs),Faith-based Organizations (FBOs), Community-based Organizations (CBOs), International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs), voluntary organizations and organizations which are not-for-profit in nature, and humanitarian and charitable in content and operations. It must be understood however that government authoritatively allocates scarce values, while Businesses participates in the society to drive profits (exploiting the variables in society to maximize profits by all means).

In all fairness, these are forces that appear to be diametrically opposed to each other, yet they are co-determinants to the object of society; thermostating the primary function of government, to wit; the welfare and security of the people. You may wish to see Chapter Two of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Incidentally, this is the same purpose that government becomes the umpire, in synergizing with business and civil society to meet.

Situating the above within the Akwa Ibom State experience, juxtaposing same with the expectations of civil society in the State, a situation analysis here will suffice. Form budget formulation where the executive through Ministries and governmental agencies and Departments raise proposals for expenditure in the next fiscal year the Budget Office of the State; Budget approval where the defence of those proposals are made through the House of Assembly; Budget execution stage where the executive collects revenue, allocates same to itself, and spends the money under sub-heads within budgetary provisions; and through the stage of Budget oversight where budget accounts are audited, and such audit findings reviewed by the House of Assembly and actions recommended to the executive, are all done to the exclusion of the people and civil society.

It must be appreciated that once government excludes the people as organized under civil society from a process as important and sensitive as this, the government merely opens itself up to unwarranted criticisms that creates a credibility crises, while making itself fiscally irresponsible in the light of global best practice. Governments that are taken serious operate along acceptable principles and guidelines of global standards, and these standards are products of the interactions of civil society with businesses and governments. So, to operate without respecting these norms simply makes a government a pariah entity with an orphan status that attracts the greatest opprobrium and odium. 

Akwa Ibom State according to an authoritative source approved public expenditure to the tune of N462 Billion in 2015. This is nine months into the fiscal year. A breakdown of the 2015 estimates tagged “Budget of Actualization and Continuity,” shows that a total of N253 billion is earmarked for capital projects, N94.74 billion for recurrent expenditure and N114.26 billion for Consolidated Revenue Fund Charges. Three more months to wrap up the year, and the question, how is the journey so far? Again, what practical efforts has the government put in place to ensure transparency in the system? How are the people included in the process? What is the degree of compliance with the strict fiscal discipline required to align public expenditure with the 12-point agenda of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s inaugural speech? Is the state as an entity, people and government ready to get good value for monies deployed into the system? Where is the entry point for civil society to help the government fast-tract and monitor expenditure with a view to making savings, and possibly enhancing the window of investment in the State though active participation that attracts funding to the State through development partners? In this period of austerity and paucity of fund, must the government fund all projects? 

Onofiok Luke it was who created an interface between the people and the budget process in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly as chairman of the Committee on Finance and Appropriations. That effort sustained would have improved this year, and the results would have been better appreciated with the gains and confidence it would have brought to the State. Mediocrity must not be celebrated in this State again. That effort must be sustained, and the civil society is always ready to assist in this regard.

Promises were made by Governor Udom Emmanuel to the people of Akwa Ibom State, and they were (and still remain) that:-
“1. To leverage and build on the Uncommon Transformation of the Governor Godswill Obot Akpabio’s administration;

2. To transform the economy of our State via industrialization and sustain public-private sector initiative, thereby opening up opportunities for growth and improved living standards;

3. To respect and uphold the tenets of democratic governance which our great party (PDP) unflinchingly stands for, as well as respect the party’s structure, decisions and hierarchy;

4. To ensure the security of lives and property of the people at all times, while adhering to the principal of the rule of law, thereby ensuring equity, justice and fair play;

5. To promote unity and oneness across the State, with due respect for Traditional Institutions and the Elders of our Society;

6. To continuously develop, mobilize, and empower our women and the youths via planned and well articulated welfare and capacity-building programmes;

7. To give all Akwa Ibom persons (both within Nigeria and in the Diaspora) a proud sense of belonging-built on good governance, economic advancement and due respect for the Fundamental Human Rights of all;

8. To pursue the tasks of Rural Development and Integration with all vigour, bring the benefits and dividends of our democratic governance to every nook and cranny in the state, and provide basic amenities of life to all;

9. To ensure Accountability and Transparency in government by fighting and tackling corruption in all facets of our Administration;

10. To provide trade, commerce and tourism between Akwa Ibom and the rest of Nigeria, and in fact, the rest of the world;

11. To foster, develop, and maintain a good working relationship with both the legislative and the Judicial arms of Government in the state, as well as ensuring an effective Local Government Administration for grassroots development, mobilization and empowerment; and

12. To attract all possibly required Federal presence to Akwa Ibom State, by developing and sustaining a harmonious and very cordial relationship with the government at the centre.”

Though positive steps have been taken in actualizing the above aims, there is a compelling need to create a framework of people-inclusion that mainstreams into existing structures of civil society to help the government the above, and other emerging measureable objectives that will drive the process positively.
The orientation must change! The paradigm must shift! The goals, aims and objectives must be redefined. We must stop short-changing ourselves. We must make the people own the government, and its policies. There is need for value orientation that will reflect a bottom-top approach to project conception, implementation and evaluation. The people must be part of setting the goals of government, working with the government and businesses to achieve such specific goals in the most cost-effective manners. Appointment into government positions must be based on what appointees can offer the people through the government. Civil society can attract investment to the State; the burden must not be on government alone. Quarterly briefings to show attainment of results must be a regular feature of the Akwa Ibom State Executive Council. There is a strong need to get outcomes of State Executive Council meetings published, so that people could make contributions to government.

Since the government is not a secret cult or nocturnal group, it operations must be made public, and it should not run away from criticisms, particularly, constructive criticisms. These are very health. A feedback system which is not controlled by civil servants must be put in place, to help distill information for the governor as a person and officer of government, to respond to issues raised by civil society. Assessment must be periodically done with a peer review structure in view. This new process must not be confined to political party lines.

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