Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State

By Yusuf Goje

On the 4th of October, 2020, the Kaduna state government scored a first, as it became the first sub-national government in the country to hold a virtual town-hall meeting with citizens on its 2021 draft budget. The consultation provided an avenue for non-state actors to raise their observations and make recommendations on the draft budget.

The participants included community stakeholders who were clustered and connected real time via Zoom app at the various secretariats of the local government areas in the State. This was in adherence to Covid-19 protocols which restricts large gatherings.

Through-out the 2021 budget formulation process preceding the town-hall meeting, there were different levels of consultations, even though not without some avoidable gaps. This signaled a marked departure from the immediate past. When civil society actors were only invited to consultations without being part of the planning process or given adequate time to prepare to meaningfully engage.

Commendably, this year, non-state actors were invited to give feedback on the projections and assumptions for the 2021-2023 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF). It was followed by a pre-planning meeting held with representatives of citizens’ groups; two each, from the 23 LGAs in preparation for the budget town-hall meeting.

Not to forget that when the 2021 budget call circular was issued, the Planning & Budget Commission (P&BC) encouraged the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to consult with stakeholders in their sectors. Sadly, many of the MDAs ignored it – probably a categorical directive would have been better.

Also, the non-state members of the State’s Open Government Partnership (OGP) technical working group on open budget were intermittently consulted during the planning process for the town-hall meeting. Due to last minute changes to the initial plan of holding concurrent zonal physical engagement with wider interested citizens linking up virtually, only the virtual engagement was held. The draft budget was made public one week to the town-hall meeting, unlike previous years when it is released not more than 48 hours to the engagement.

During the engagement, a brief presentation of the draft budget was delivered by the Commissioner, Planning & Budget Commission. The panelist made up of non-state actors (from the OGP, concerned civil society, academia, private sector and media) provided feedback on key sectors of interest. Furthermore, Community Development Charter (CDC) champions from Lere, Jema’a, Chikun and Giwa LGAs were given the opportunity to speak. Also, few comments were read from the question and answer section of the App by the moderator.

The responses to the citizen’s feedback still left much to be desired, as the interaction was not as robust and engaging as anticipated. Regardless of this observation, one can say without fear of contradiction that – even though we are not where we want to be, there is progress in terms of citizen’s engagement in the budget process.

Nonetheless, it is still alarming that we are on the verge of missing out on the last opportunity to demonstrate with evidence that our budget is truly citizens-driven. Communities over the past two years have used the CDC tool through a credible, inclusive and participatory process to prioritize their needs with the hope of influencing the State’s budget. This is not to say that the 2021 draft budget as proposed does not have pro-people line items; but might lack citizen’s ownership because there is yet to be evidence, which the CDC provides, to demonstrate citizen’s influence.

Equally worthy of mention is that the current State Action Plan (SAP, 2018-2020) of the OGP, precisely commitment on open budget, recognizes the significance of institutionalizing the CDC process. This is evident as three out of the five performance indicators are on the CDC. In this regard, it is alarming that we are about to lose the last opportunity to deliver on the indicator, as this cycle of the SAP will end by December, 2020.

The indicators are: number of communities that submit their CDC timely; number of community projects from the charters that inform the budget; and a bill on CDC drafted and tabled before the House of Assembly. Hopefully, the State House of Assembly will come to our rescue, as the representatives of the people, by ensuring that we meet at least two of the indicators before the end of this year. This can be achieved during its Assembly’s public hearing and defense by MDAs, and sponsorship of a private member bill to provide a legal framework for the CDC.

It is perplexing that the State government, through the Planning & Budget Commission and Ministry for Local Government Affairs, has successfully supported the 23 local government councils to institutionalize the CDC as part of their budget process but it is yet to do same at the State level. Interestingly, the local government CDC influence tracker, a tool developed by civil society partners to measure performance of community inputs in the annual budget, has shown on average 50% of the Local government budgets are informed by the CDC.

Then, the question begging for answer is – why is the State government reluctant to replicate the same success recorded at the local government in its budget process?

In conclusion, participatory budgeting has been proven to provide a clear picture to the governments on “what” communities need around service delivery; reflects a social contract that allows citizens to effectively hold the government accountable; enabled governments deliver better development outcomes; boost confidence and trust in government; and allow citizens to take ownership of government’s programs and projects.

Goje is from the Coalition of Associations for Leadership, Peace, Empowerment & Development (CALPED) based in Kaduna state.

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