Budgets and public finance came under scrutiny in the five South-eastern states recently as stakeholders called for accountability. OKECHUKWU ONUEGBU reports.There is no doubt that the annual budgetary allocation of every country is a roadmap to the country’s expenses and general development in a given fiscal year. This encompasses government planned actions such as planned projects, programmes, appropriations and other useful data that could help in the effective execution and monitoring. It’s therefore necessary to always get it right in all its processes because going contrary would affect the entire process and ultimately the populace. That means it requires a collaborative efforts of the executive, legislature, judiciary, civil societies, the media and governed from when it’s being articulated, computed, presented to the legislative chamber till passage and implementation. This entails why both federal and states governments including some non-governmental organisations, CSOs and international donors have invested in training various stakeholders in developing countries with a view to equipping them to cue into global or international best practices in budgetary and procurement processes. Nigeria is among the country benefitting from this largesse. This has not only led to enactment of laws at the national level and state levels but added to successful budgetary implementations and overall development in some parts of the country. However, most states in the South-east geopolitical zone seem to be lagging behind.
The collaborationPerhaps, this prompted some NGOs and donor agencies like Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL) in collaboration with Christian Aid, Development Strategy Centre, Hope Givers Initiative and United Kingdom Aid (UKaid) to organise a one- day workshop on Public Finance Management Systems in Enugu to engage lawmakers, CSOs, community leaders, account and budget officials and journalists in the five South- eastern states namely, Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi and Imo states.
Speakers and their presentations
Speaking at the occasion, Mrs Ifeoma Chukwuma, regional team leader for PERL said the event was aimed at reviewing what had been done for the past three years.“We have been working with partners to improve processes in budgetting using experience sharing and learning. We have been championing the course for inclusive and participatory budgeting in the South-east. We believe that time has come for us to take it a step further by checking if what we have been clamouring for in the region has begun to yield fruits. We also wish to check their budget performance to see if it is making impact. “We also wish to identify factors that are making it difficult for us not to get it right in our budgeting or not getting where we should be. Everyone has a role to play to get it right. Lawmakers, finance ministries, the media, budget office, researchers, community leaders all have their respective roles to play in this. We need to put our heads together and get things working rather than complaining that the region is being marginalised. We have to identify our challenges and ways forward,” Chukwuma added.
Reviewing the auditor general reports of the respective five states in 2018, Dr Cosmas Ohaka of Development Strategy Centre, identified issues of under/non-submission of financial reports by ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) with Abia having 36 of such cases, Anambra (23), Ebonyi (19), Enugu (33) and Imo whose board of internal revenue has been failing to submit relevant financial reports for audit.
State by state analysisThe researched work also uncovered MDAs issues of non response to audit queries across the five states with Abia having a record of 26 queries yet to be responded to, Anambra (8), Ebonyi (none was mentioned) while in Enugu and Imo, some MDAs have not responded to audit queries issued to them but none was specifically mentioned. Likewise, Abia state has issue of extral budgetary expenditures as N2,321,742,619.00 was spent as excess of the budgetary provisions for personnel costs across 21 MDAs of the state. There was also issue of inappropriate financial report across the five states with 26 of such cases in Abia, Anambra (64), Ebonyi (nil), Enugu (only the state town planning authorities was mentioned even though it acknowledged that queries were issued to several MDAs), Imo had a number of issues of inappropriate financial reports with a total value of N1,615,008,530.“In Abia, 36 parastatals are yet to submit their annual audit reports with some since 2008. In Anambra, 23 MDAs are in arrears of financial report. While seven of them stopped submitting for many years now, 16 had never submitted. The 2018 report did not mention any MDAs that failed to submit financial report in Ebonyi; however, 19 MDAs that had revenue budget but did not report any revenue for the period. 33 MDAs are in arrears of financial reports in Enugu while in Imo state, the report indicates that the state board of internal revenue has been failing to submit relevant financial reports for audit,” he added. He called for adequate capacity-building of audit and account departments, saying that lawmakers should always prevail on indicted MDAs to give account on how the funds were approximated.
Another resource person, Mr Benjamin Ekeyi, while stressing that the parliaments’ require information and technical support to effectively hold the government accountable, enumerated core principles of public accountability to include transparency, fairness and trust which, according to him, are needed in budgetary processes such as budget formulation, budget approval, budget execution and budget oversight.In a report, Assessment of Participatory Budgeting Practices used by South-east states in preparing the 2019 budget, Dr Uzochukwu Amakom represented by David Onyinyechi Agu, tasked the five state governments on production of citizens budget, a simplified version of the State Draft Budget Estimates that must be released at the same time as the state budget as well as to provide a law on citizens’ participation in the budget process which none of the state complied to.“Citizens driven participatory budgeting looks more resilient in terms of sustainability than state- driven participatory budgeting. Several regional learning sharing events organised by PERL have significant impact in terms of their receptiveness of citizens’ engagement both by state and non-state actors. There seem to be limitations to what can be achieved through only sharing events without any state specific intervention.“Non-state actors should go beyond NGOs for it to be effective. The involvement of president generals, traditional stools, professional associations, faith-based organisations (FBOs), business associations, organised private sector (OPS) groups and market associations (MAs), etc contributed to the sustenance of citizens engagement in Anambra state and to an extent in Ebonyi state,” Amakom added.Presenting a report entitled questionable line items in the 2020 Approved Budgets of five South-east states, David Onyinyechi Agu, explained that, “What constitutes Questionable Line Items in the Capital Expenditures Budget Pullout of South East states include unclear/unspecific/lumped up line items that a citizen cannot easily comprehend what it stands for.”Grouping several items in one line item without showing the value of each item and giving a blanket price to the entire group, repeated line items, giving several names to the same project/item even by several MDAs, overestimated/underestimated line items, quoting humongous or very little amounts for line items, wrongly located projects and line items that are budgeted for in an MDA that does not have the statutory mandate of executing such projects,” he further maintained.He advised, among other things, that budget offices should be coordinated and provide more details about whatever projects are identified in the budgets while the state Houses of Assembly should scrutinise the Executive Proposals before passage, as well as seek collaboration between the CSO/experts.Contributing, Mrs Onyeka Okey Udegbunem of Hope Givers Initiative and Ms Uzor Uzoma of Christian Aid, said they are optimistic that the region and Nigeria generally would be developed when all the stakeholders identify their roles in governance and play them accordingly. Legislative collaborationSome Houses of Assembly members: Hon Obinna Emenaka and Godwin Okafor, while assuring their readiness to assist through legislation and oversight function, entreated that the training should be stepped down to the executive for effective implementation.
In an interview, Hon Simon Ogo-Onwe, president of Ameke Okposi Town Union, Ngbo in Ohaukwu LGA of Ebonyi state and also state public relations officer, Ebonyi State Association of Town Union (ESATU), assured that he would relate the information with his colleagues with a view to ensuring that citizens are not only aware but contribute effectively to public finance management in their respective states.