13 civil society organisations under the aegis of Concerned Civil Society in Kaduna on Thursday raised concerns over Kaduna State 2020 draft budget’s planned town hall meeting.
Political Adviser to Governor Nasir El-Rufai, Ben Kure, had in a letter of invitation sent to the Co-chairman (citizen arm) of Open Government Partnership (OGP), Mustapha Jumare, said, the town hall meeting to discuss the 2020 draft budget was scheduled to hold on October 10 without making the copy of the 259 pages document available until a few hours to the scheduled meeting.
This development did not, however, go down well with the concern civil society in the spirit of co-creation which stipulates that, both the government and citizens arms of OGP need to sit and come up with the draft budget in order to capture top priorities of the citizens.
Addressing journalists at the secretariat if the Nigeria Union of Journalistis (NUJ) in Kaduna, Leader of the team and Co-chair Technical Working Group of OGP, Barrister Rebecca Sako-John said, though the town hall meeting had been postponed for two days, the group faulted the idea of having a single town hall meeting as against earlier agreement to hold in the three senatorial districts of the State.
Rebecca Sako-John said, “as you are all aware, recently Kaduna was ranked number one in Nigeria on transparency and openness as a result of governance reform initiatives that is driven under the umbrella of the Open Government Partnership (OGP).
“It is also no longer news that, Kaduna State is the first sub-national to sign onto the OGP at the national and global level; which commits the government to co-create key decisions on governance with the civil society as equal partners.
“Through the co-creation principles both the government and civil society partners developed and adopted the State Action Plan (SAP) with five commitments on open budget, open contracting, ease of doing business, access to information and citizen’s engagement.
“It will interest you to know that, the commitment on open budget states that, ‘ensure more effective citizen’s participation in the entire budget cycle’; which means that through-out the budget process, there should be evidence of citizens informing and influencing budgetary decisions.
“Without doubt, much progress has been made in opening up spaces for citizens to engage in the budget process, but the notice that the 2020 budget town-hall meeting is scheduled for today, October 10, 2019 without adequate consultation, threatened the desired organic process of co-creation as envisage in the letters and spirit of the OGP.
“It is in this regard that we received the news of the postponement of 2020 budget town-hall meeting earlier slated for 3pm today (Thursday).
“This is considering that the OGP civil society State Steering Committee and Technical Working Group members and the larger citizens only got the draft budget document this morning. This is unlike previous years when the draft budget was made public at least two days to the meeting to allow for an informed engagement.
“We want to specially commend the government for hearing our outcry and taking the difficult but necessary decision to postpone the town-hall meeting to Saturday, October 12 2019. This is a clear demonstration to the entire world that you are responsive and accountable to the residents of Kaduna. Indeed, this is OGP in practice.
“More so to why we are addressing you here today, the decision on the town-hall meeting which we felt was taken by the government with little or no civil society consultation or consensus to be held in one location was contrary to the letters and spirit of the OGP. This comes after initial change of plan which was to hold it across the 23 local government areas, and then it was changed to 3 senatorial zones, before the recent unilateral decision to hold it in one location.
“The civil society is displeased that the budget town-hall meeting is being organized by the office of the Special Adviser Political to the Governor as against our expectation that the Planning & Budget Commission should put such a multi-stakeholder engagement together. This has been our advocacy over the past three years, as previous town-hall meetings had been overshadowed by party faithful of the government and praise-singing.
“We call on the government in line with their mantra of putting the people first to: hold a non-political budget town-hall meeting with stakeholders that have taken time to analyze the budget and collated the Community Development Charter of the 23 local government for consideration into the 2020 budget within the timeframe that will allow us meet the December deadline of signing the budget; achieve the commitment on open budget by reverting back to holding the town-hall meeting in the 3 senatorial zones in order to ensure that there is more effective citizens participation in the process; that the Planning and Budget Commission in collaboration with the OGP technical working group on open budget should be assigned the responsibility of organizing the town-hall meeting,” she added.
The 13 civil society organisations include OGP Civil Society Steering Committee Co-Chairs, Concerned Civil Society, Aid Foundation, Campaign For Democracy, Coalition of Association for Leadership, Peace, Empowerment and Development (CALPED), Legal Awareness for Nigeria Women (LEADS-NIG).
Others are Initiative for Collective Voice Accountability and Progress (ICoVAP Africa), BridgeThat Gap Initiatives, Open Kaduna Radio, FollowTaxes, Association for Promotion of Parliamentary Relations (APPAR), Hope for Community & Children and Afaka Youth Assembly