Without doubt budgeting is a fundamental part of governance; a vital planning tool through which government polices pronouncement, promises, programs and projects are translated into concrete actions to address the socioeconomic challenges confronting the people. Through budget, government delivered essential public goods and services such as healthcare, education, security and infrastructure to the citizens. However, it is a well known reality that the Nigeria budgeting system is entrenched with much irregularity such as padding, frivolous spending, poor preparation and implementation, illegal insertion of projects in the name of constituency projects, inflation of price of items, the use of different names and code for the same line items expenditure. All these fiscal abnormalities slow down development in the society with adverse impacts on the masses whose voice could not even be heard. Generally, budget items estimates at all levels whether at the federal, state or local government go to
private pockets, especially of the few public officers and politicians who prepare it with little or no credence for the interest of the over 99% of the population who are critically in need of the government interventions in their respective localities.
However, if budget is a central policy instrument that provides government’s strategy for addressing poverty, it is expected that every citizens should be impacted positively. Therefore, irregularities in appropriation Act/laws reverse the trends in our welfare system, making the poor to be poorer. The Nigeria states experience is devastating one. In most state of the federation, the populace do not have clear picture of how the budget is prepared and implemented because of the “Secret Budget Approach” the government employed in the budgeting system. This closed budget practice where only synopsis of overall estimates are glance at the public during budget presentation is detrimental to transparency and accountability in budgeting. Since citizens are not well informed about the preparation, approval and implementation of state budget, how can they contribute effectively into decision that directly affects their lives? “It is possible not to be interested in what government does, but it’s impossible not to be affected by what government does”. Attempts to get access to state budget document through the bureaucracy are often viewed negatively rendering credible independent advocacy groups to undertake evidenced based policy analysis.
There is a connection between budget transparency and accountability and the level of socioeconomic development in a society. Perhaps, this explains the reason why some states appears to be backwater of development in the country. Poor access to portable water, poor healthcare, lack of good road and poor infrastructure are clear evidences of opacity in budgeting the budgeting systems. Fiscal transparency and accountability is guaranteed by the state fiscal responsibility law yet budgeting remains shut from the probing eyes of the public. The ground for misrepresentation and mischievousness will often fester when authorities deny citizens access to official information.
On this basis, it becomes a necessity to advocate for open budgeting process in the every state where everybody would be carried along in the management of public resources entrusted in the hands of the government. To be sure, open budgeting involves holistic approach that views budgeting/public financial management as an interactive system involving both supply side actors (government) and demand side actors (legislature, civil society, media, etc). Most Nigeria states practiced closed budget system, a system where masses are not given the opportunities to contribute in the making of vital decision that affects their lives. This practice has weakened its capacity to develop. Why is state governments so hostile when it comes to openness or release of essential public document like budget? Request for the budget estimate is considered by the government as a move to investigate their activities, unveil their spending process and an attempt to scapegoat them. Rather we think the state government should support open budgeting process. They should make budget available to people who need it for research or any other policy analysis purpose. Budget is a public document and must be made available to people. It needs to be published online so that people can easily access it without having to go through hell.
Moreover, making budget available will enable the NGOs to track and monitor the government programmes, point out inefficiency in the management of public resources thereby help improve public services. It must be noted that open budget promote better development outcome. It is indispensable for genuine human development given citizen information that they need to hold government accountable and given them the opportunity in the decision that affect their lives, thereby making government to see their weaknesses and make amendment when necessary. More so, it will enable citizenry to advice on how to utilize the available resources on the immediate and developmental project that will have quick impact on the life of the masses. It will ensure transparent and accountable investment of public resources in sectors that are keys to the fight against poverty, health, education agriculture and infrastructure.
Since budgeting system is a cloudy phenomenon in the state in which average Nigerians do not know, making them aware of the budget will be to answer the question of when, who, where, why and who, are involved in the budget process. These questions are; when is budget prepared? Who prepare/implement the budget? Where is the budget prepared? Why is the budget prepared? How is budget monitored? And in whose interest is the budget prepared? This will improve people budget literacy.
Therefore, most state are experiencing setback in term of social and economic development, it is believed that opening up the state budget for public access would create avenue for establishing the lost identity of the state in the realm of development. Lastly, budgeting process and implementation should involves the CSOs, the media and other interested individuals or groups whose contribution is vital to the effective management of the state resources to ensure rapid development in the state
Abdulrasaq wrote this piece from Abuja