23 July 2014

Nigeria: Budget Bothers


ANY things are instructive about the way our country runs. The most recent concerns about the Federal Government's intention to borrow $1 billion for its war against insurgents, is the pedestal for calls to probe the expenditure on security. Some want the probes to range as far as 1999.

We make too much pretence about accountability. It was not until the $1 billion request that many non-governmental organisations woke up to the wastes budgets have become. Neither the Fiscal Responsibility Act, nor the oversight functions of the legislature have reined in over expenditure, mainly on unbudgeted projects.

No efforts should be spared in holding governments accountable at all levels, and for every expenditure. The current approach is fraught with futility. Why should we probe security votes alone? Is this line of reasoning an admission that other budgets are well spent?

Indications are to the contrary as a 2010 civil society groups session on the budgeting process in Jigawa State showed.

Summaries of the observations:

There was no citizens' participation in the budget preparation process

No substantial input from the civil society organisations during budget processes and implementation

The State largely depended on statutory allocations form the Federal Government for financing the budget, resulting in poor budget performance and slow pace of development

The budget did not adequately address gender and people with special needs

Little industrialisation in the State to complement government's skill acquisition programmes, hence youth unemployment and poverty

The budget lacked specific goals, benchmarks and indicators with which to evaluate and assess its performance

The State House of Assembly members made very little contact with their constituencies and their interests did not reflect in budgetary projections

There was inadequate fiscal discipline in the implementation of the budget

The list contains everything budgets should not be. The tragedy of this is that the practice is nationwide. Jigawa State only represented how our governments implement flawed budgets. Little has changed since then for the better.

Where budgets do not reflect aspirations of the people, who do they serve? Whether at the federal or state level, budgets have become the weapon for the authorities to serve their own purposes. Local government council monthly allocations are free money for state governments.

In 15 years of civil rule, governments have budgeted trillions of Naira. The budgets were wasted on projects that failed to improve the conditions of the people. Governments have become more self-serving and budgets brazenly reflect this.

The time is ripe for governments to tell Nigerians how they spent budgets and why they spent them in the way they did. Without people piling pressure on their governments, they will get no answers about how they are served.

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