Thursday, May 24, 2018

Budget Process: Study Unveils Citizen's Participation Level

* List Why Niger-Delta Is Underdeveloped
* DTSG Showcase Citizen's Participation Approach

Okonta Emeka Okelum, Asaba

A civil society organisation's research findings unveiled on Tuesday at Asaba showcased citizen's participation level in the budget drafting and implementation process in Niger Delta.

Social Development Integrated Center (Social Action) in partnership with Partnership Initiative for Niger Delta (PIND) and United State Agency for International Development (USAID) organized a co-learning summit on Niger Delta Open Budget.

The summit's theme was tagged 'creating a region wide synergy for open budget'

Ken Henshaw of Social Action, in his paper presentation, 'introducing the Niger Delta Open Budget Project' unveiled findings of his organization's recently conducted research.

'Niger Delta is not developed because we lack the resources to be developed, but because, we are not using it appropriately'

'Lack of transparency and accountability; lack of citizens awareness cum participation; lack of access to fiscal document, as well as, neglect of key and critical sectors in budget processes'

'The above have contributed at making development process conceptualized through the budget, a mirage' Ken Henshaw explained.

The findings suggested that the Niger Delta Region is supposed to be a well endowed and rich region considering the region's fair share of vast statutory allocations, 13% derivation revenue, various resource outlets, as well as, the establishment of Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and Niger-Delta Development Commission.

Poor education & health ratings; high level of poverty & destitution; corruption; conflict, anarcy & under-development, were listed as factors responsible for the region's underdevelopment.

The summit was designed to creat opportunities for Niger Delta States to share experiences and learn from each other's best practices and forge a united front at making open budget and open governance work in the region.

Delta State government at the event shared her roles at making the budget process a pro citizen engagement.

Dr Kingsley Emu, commissioner for economic planning, maintained that the state government has made tremendous strides with regards to opening the space for information and participation in it's financial management.

'The state has reviewed it's public financial management system, which led to the engagement of the World Bank's SEEFOR Project, which provided technical support to review existing public financial management legislation, budget preparation and execution processes'

'As a government, we are committed to proactive disclosure of our fiscal document; setting up of structures for the engagement of citizens, as well as, adoption of proactive long term planning' Dr Emu pointed out.

Mr Onyebuke M.O, director of budget in the ministry, who represented the commissioner, said that 'in August 2016, the state government posted the 2016 budget on its official website'

'Similarly, copies of the state's medium term expenditure plan, fiscal strategy paper, as well as the detailed breakdown of how all tranches of the Paris club refund was spent, including key beneficiaries are on the state's website'

'On 11th April, 2018, organized a one day policy dialogue on citizens engagement in budget preparation process and also launched its citizens budget document'

'The document is a simpler, less technical version of government's budget, designed to present its income and expenditure targets and presenting key information to the public' Onyebuke explained.

The state government utilizes the town hall meeting model to initiate and push for conversation on governance, with outstanding results.

Arhavwarien community in Ughelli South Local Government Area of the state, have provided suggestions of their needs.

The commissioner's representative, pointed out that based on availability of funds, the needs are aggregated and considered for inclusion in the subsequent year's budget document.

On the state's long term planning scheme, the commissioner mentioned that the state has prepared three editions of the fiscal strategy paper (FSP).

'We now have the 2016-2018, 2017-2019 and 2018-2020 fiscal strategy papers, which is made up of the economic and fiscal update (EFU); the fiscal framework and the budget policy statement(BPS)'

'Our 2016, 2017 and 2018 annual budget estimates were based on the fiscal strategy paper (FSP) document, all these documents are on our state's official website' the commissioner said.

Social Action's research on citizen's perception of state government openness access to information unveiled that 12% of sampled population are not sure they have seen the budget document,  while 34% have seen the document before and  54% have not seen a budget document in their states.

Research on citizen's participation, findings show that 13% are not sure if citizens actively participate, 15% say that citizens should not have a role in the budget process, while 72% respondents voted that citizens should have a role in the budget process.

On citizen's oversight, the research findings unveiled a 5% respondent voted that government spending should not be monitored, while 95% respondents maintained that if they have the budget document, they will monitor how government spend money.

On citizen's perception on government accountability index, 80% of sampled population believed that government officials are not accountable, while 10% maintained that government officials are accountable as well as another 10% whose responses were that they are not sure if government officials are accountable or not.

Ken Henshaw concluded that Social Action's survey reveals that while the citizens are willing to participate in fiscal governance process, the government has not created the conditions which make such participation possible.


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