The N4.98 billion proposed as the capital budget for the education sector in Akwa Ibom State has drawn criticisms from individuals, civil society organisations and the organised labour. The allocation which represents 0.83 per cent of the total budget for 2020 is said to be too small for a sector as critical as education. Some commentators have gone further to say, though erroneously, that the allocation shows that the Udom Emmanuel administration does not place a premium on education.
A civil society organisation working on a budget and open governance in the Niger Delta, Policy Alert says the government has not shown a strong commitment to education with such allocation. Executive Director of the organisation, Mr Tijah Bolton- Akpan said: "one would expect a visionary government to give precedence to expenditure on qualitative, affordable, accessible and functional education." At the same time, Bolton-Akpan and others have also applauded the wise decision of the Udom Emmanuel administration in making a "realistic budget".
Governor Udom Emmanuel administration coming from the corporate sector more than anyone else knows the importance of adequate investment in the education sector, which is among the top priorities of his government. In previous years, the administration budgeted above N10 billion for capital expenditure in the education sector. For instance, in 2019, N13.74billion was the total approved capital for education in the State. But, was it able to implement up to 50% of that estimate?
Global budgeting standards are rapidly changing from bogus fiscal permutations to more realisable budgeting. Countries, states and organisations are gradually avoiding the temptation of putting mega-budget that will hardly have a reasonable percentage of performance at the end of the fiscal year. Akwa Ibom state is following this standard trend. This has informed the decision of the government to keep the 2020 proposals as realisable as possible. That is why it is proposing N597.8 billion for 2020, which is about N75.1b lower than its total approved budget for 2019. Consequent upon this reduction in the budget size, there is a concomitant reduction in allocations to all sectors, education is not an exception. This does not, however, mean that the administration plays less premium on education.
Akwa Ibom State under Governor Udom Emmanuel has got the third place on the fiscal sustainability index among the 36 states of the federation in the latest report by BudgIT. What this means is that the Akwa Ibom budget can survive economic uncertainties and can self-sustain. This can only say one thing, that the Udom Emmanuel administration has a good grasp of the workings of the macro-economy and strategic planning. Lead research and policy analyst at BudgIT, Ojiugo Uche have noted rightly that "reducing the probability, the unreality of inflated budget is the new way to go." This is exactly the new way the Udom Emmanuel administration is going.
It may be important to point out that it does not mean that the higher allocation is to a sector, the higher the budget to the sector will be implemented. In this state, we have had several counts where the education sector got very high proposals which ended up at less than 50 per cent performance. Akwa Ibom state has consistently published its budget performance report since 2000. Looking at previous budgets over the years, one would see that budget performance level for education has been fluctuating downwards as follows 53% (2013), 64% (2014), 36% (2015) and 43% (2016). This is reported in the Akwa Ibom State (2012 - 2016) Public Expenditure Review published online. As it were, it is pragmatic to slash the allocation to a realisable figure to guide targeted implementation.
The Udom Emmanuel administration has shown sufficient commitment in the development of education at all levels. Recently, the state convened the first education summit which was attended by over 3000 stakeholders. The governor has put a technical committee in education to review the recommendations of the summit which the governor said is intended to holistically restructure the education system in the State. The governor said his administration is desirous to drive our development through education.
The administration has in the past four years been paying N600 million annually as examination fee for students in the State who write the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in addition to the payment of subvention to teachers. About 4800 teachers have been added to the personnel pool; currently, the process for targeted recruitment of more teachers to fill specific subject needs is ongoing. The administration has renovated more than 100 blocks of classrooms in primary and secondary schools the last four years and has given serious facelift to other infrastructure such as roads, laboratories, lecture theatres, libraries in state-owned tertiary institutions including state-owned College of Education, Afaha Nsit; Akwa Ibom State University, Ikot Akpaden; Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic, Ikot Osurua; College of Health Technology, Etinan; and the College of Arts and Science, Nung Ukim. This is in addition to the opening of two new command schools.
Repeatedly, Governor Udom Emmanuel has said that his administration is working hard to give the state the kind of education system the state needs to build a pool of manpower that will match its new skill needs of an industrialised state. Matching words with action, the governor recently ordered complete reconstruction of the moribund Government Technical College, Ikot Adaidem.
Education and human capacity development are among the strong points in the governor's completion agenda. The Udom Emmanuel administration is much more interested in the performance of the budget than posting bogus figures that would not be realisable in the end.