By YUSUF GOJE
The present administration of Governor Nasir Ahmed El-rufai, since coming into office in 2015, has initiated a number of reforms. These reforms are aimed at strengthening the State’s public finance management system and improving public service delivery to the residents. The reforms are rooted in key laws such as the Fiscal Responsibility Law, Public Procurement Law, Tax Codification & Consolidation Law, Public Finances Law all in 2016, and Planning & Budget Commission Law in 2017. They provide the mechanism for achieving the developmental and socio-economic aspiration in the State Development Plan (SDP, 2016-2020) through the Sectors Implementation Plan (SIP, 2016-2019) and annual budgets.
The high point of these reform initiatives came in 2017 when the State government signed into the Open Government Partnership (OGP). In fact, making it the first subnational in Nigeria to do so and was later elevated as a member of OGP global in 2018. This was followed by the inauguration of a State Steering Committee (SSC) supported by Technical Working Groups (TWGs). They are made up of equal number of government and civil society partners headed by co-chair that led to the development of the State Action Plan (2018-2020). Initially seven commitment areas were adopted but later reduced to five. The commitments are open budget, open contracting, ease of doing business, access to information and citizens’ engagement.
The OGP has provided a platform for state and non-state actors to champion reforms that enable the principles of transparency, accountability and responsiveness to citizen’s engagement in governance. It envisages a permanent dialogue mechanism where actors can co-create decisions that ensure good governance leading to improved service delivery. Even though we are far from where we want to be in terms of service delivery and security, the bar of governance has been raised as a result of some of these reforms.
My reflection here is hinged on the basis of OGP commitment one on open budget, which envisions an enabling environment that ensures more effective citizens participation in the entire budget cycle. The administration in this regard has been consistent in providing budget information on its official website (www.kdsg.gov.ng). This might also not be unconnected to the World Bank’s State Fiscal Transparency, Accountability & Sustainability (SFTAS) program that requires the subnational governments to disclose key budget documents to access its incentive-based grants.
It is common knowledge among keen observers, that the government has consistently engaged citizens during its annual budget process. This is evident in the annual consultation with stakeholders during the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) process in line with section 18 (2, a) of the State Fiscal Responsibility Law. Recently, the Planning & Budget Commission for the first time invited civil society to make inputs into the 2021-2023 MTEF projections and assumptions before the consultation.
So also, the government has held annual budget town-hall meetings (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020) with stakeholders before taking it to Kaduna State House of Assembly for enactment. Furthermore, history was made last year as the State House of Assembly held, for the first time, an appropriation public hearing. However, both the executive and legislature have fallen short in terms of effectively engaging citizens during supplementary budgets (2017, 2018 and 2019), with the latest being the approved revised 2020 budget.
Nonetheless, the administration has been recognized and commended internationally and locally for providing platforms for citizen’s participation in the budget process. More importantly, questions have been asked by stakeholders as to the scope in terms of coverage, quality of engagements and responsiveness in capturing citizens’ needs. As the town-hall meetings have only been held in the urban center leaving out those in the rural areas. Another major challenge being that the annual draft budgets are not made available timely to allow for meaningful stakeholder’s scrutiny and inputs. Furthermore, there is yet no sufficient evidence to demonstrate how citizens’ inputs inform and influence the annual budget, or how many needs have been captured and delivered.
Granted that the State has achieved two key milestones in its OGP action-plan – the establishment of office for processing of community charter in the Planning & Budget Commission, and development of a framework for citizens to effectively prioritize their needs; however, the desired result is yet to be achieved. This is so because the State is yet to meet some of the key action-plan’s performance indicators. They are – the number of community projects from the charters that informs the budget; and a bill on Community Development Charter (CDC) drafted and tabled before the House of Assembly.
During this year’s budget formulation, CDCs generated from some of the local government areas were submitted to the Planning & Budget Commission, but no evidence to show that a single one was captured in the 2020 approved budget. It is more worrisome as it seems we are about to miss our final opportunity to deliver on the key performance indicators, as the State Action Plan (2018-2020) cycle will end this year. This if not timely addressed during the 2021 budget process will surely see the State scoring low during the OGP Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) assessment on open budget.
The 2021 Budget Call Circular (BCC) recently released by the Planning & Budget Commission indicates we might miss out on this opportunity. As Ministries, Departments & Agencies (MDAs) were only encouraged as against being mandated to engage with stakeholders. The implication of which is that, it is now left at discretion of the MDAs to either engage stakeholders or not. This is largely because, a part from a few, many of the heads of the MDAs have limited understanding of the OGP and the commitments in the State action-plan.
May I conclude by recommending that a letter be circulated to heads of MDAs mandating them to engage with relevant stakeholders in formulating their 2021 budget. The Planning & Budget Commission should see to it that they make provision in their budgets for low-cost CDCs in alignment with our fiscal reality, government priorities and response to Covid-19. Also, an amendment bill of the Fiscal Responsibility Law (FRL, 2016) should also be sent to the House of Assembly to capture the CDCs as an integral part of budget process. This will surely boost citizen’s confidence in the State government and ensure we deliver on our OGP key performance indicators on open budget.
Goje is Head – Leadership, Governance & Advocacy of the Coalition of Associations for Leadership, Peace, Empowerment & Development (CALPED)