[During one of our townhall meetings at Uratta Umuoha Community, Abia State – a key social accountability strategy through which we have enabled communities organize stakeholder engagements to facilitate the implementation of projects intended for them]
On the 11th of April 2017, the boardroom of MacArthur Foundation Nigeria was filled with several civil society actors on accountability, transparency and civic engagement. In attendance were over 30 representatives from domestic non-profits who are MacArthur grantees. They were there for a conversation with two accountability scholars, John Gaventa, and Walter Flores. An event in which staffers of MacArthur Foundation Headquarters joined virtually from the United States, the aim was to share ideas and have grantees move from tactical accountability approaches to more strategic approaches. As one of the representatives of Connected Development [CODE], I went in with several expectations which were met.
The conversation started with a presentation, Dancing the TAP Dance: Linking Transparency, Accountability and Participation, by Prof John Ganveta who teaches at the Institute of Development Studies, United Kingdom. He started with sharing key governance issues that led to the rise of accountability and transparency movement globally. Most of them encompass accountability deficit, democratic deficit and impecunious active citizen participation in governance. He then went on explaining how several tools such as ensuring service delivery, improving budgetary processes, ensuring open government, aid transparency and NGO accountability can be utilitarian in addressing these challenges. Addressing these challenges would consequently lead to better services through monitoring, improved democracy, reduced public service corruption, empowerment, human rights, greater access to information and challenging inequality.
Another presentation, Citizen-led Accountability: Power, Politics and Strategies, was by Dr Walter Flores of Center for the Study of Equity and Governance in Health Systems (CEGSS) who took time to share his organization’s works on accountability and challenging inequalities in Guatemala. He emphasised that the roles of transparency and accountability in curbing inequalities include turning citizens from passive to active users of services who can demand accountability from the government. According to him, when they started, they first of all started collecting data on how a particular faction of the society was being marginalized in getting services in drug stores and hospitals. The data was collected through sms, audio/visual evidence and they embarked on advocacy and engaged the government with such evidence for appropriate response. They also created channels of engagement for such citizens to discuss problems and implement solutions.
At a time, politics came into play and they were challenged by governmental authorities for not having the legitimacy to advocate for the communities. They then were forced to decentralize their operations to let citizens and communities lead it through their building capacities. Communities were then organized for monitoring. In a presentation in which he shared most of their successes, he finalized by stating that social accountability is crucial for accountability to work. And that in such work, it’s better to start with community organizing and rights literacy, while collective and participatory interventions, strategies and results are imperative.
After the phenomenal presentations were questions, comments and commitments from organizations present. In line with Dr Flores presentation, I made a remark on the effectiveness of his social accountability strategy which we use at CODE. At CODE, in tracking governmental expenditure in rural communities for service delivery, we start with rights literacy in the concerned communities and co-organize town hall meetings with their community leaders for conversation around the particular projects with implementing governmental agencies and contractors. The town hall meetings have helped to embed community ownership in our works and within the chain of our participatory strategies, communities are empowered to ensure these projects are implemented long after we have pulled out. Also in the same line, for sustainability, decentralization of our strategies and community ownership, we activated ifollowthemoney.org to mobilize young people in these communities to ensure governmental accountability themselves.
The conversation was quintessential and more of it are crucial with respect to capacity building of the civil society and sharing of ideas.
Chambers Umezulike is a Programme Manager at Connected Development and a Development Expert. He spends most of his time writing and choreographing researches on good and economic governance. He tweets via @Prof_Umezulike.
On 23 February 2017, the Director-General (DG) of the Budget Office of the Federation choreographed a media briefing on several issues surrounding the 2017 Budget Proposal. The DG also used the briefing to make certain clarifications on public outcries over several budget items on the proposal. Most of these outcries were on many frivolous items (especially on electricity and utility bills of MDAs; several humongous expenses on the state house budget on utensils and feeding, electricity bills, travel expenses etc.); repetitions of budget items; budget cycle crisis; the budget preparation expenses; lack of details on some of the items; budget padding etc.
In attendance at the briefing were the media and Civil Society Organizations (CSO). In responding to some of these concerns, the DG took his time to counter some of the claims:
1). He stated that there was no sort of budget padding on the 2017 budget proposal.
2). That there were no frivolous items. That most of the extensive increments such as state house proposed expenditure on utensils and utility bills; electricity bills, security and cleaning services payments in MDAs etc. were either as a result of arrears of such bills/expenses or because funds were not later provided for them on the 2016 budget (meaning they were not implemented.)
3). He stated that there were no repetitions on the proposal, unless the repetitions being referred to were budget items on the 2016 one that re-reflected on the 2017 proposal, which was as a result of the fact that funds were not provided for such items on the former.
4). He reassured the audience of his liaison with the National Assembly to ensure that budget cycle would be from January – December of every year, which was clearly stated on the constitution, as against the culture of having a previous budget being implemented in another fiscal year.
5). He also explained that the details-deficit on some of the budget items were as a result of the perspective to keep the budget simple, for public consumption. That however that his agency would ensure further details on budget items when preparing subsequent budgets.
Representing Connected Development (CODE) at the event, I further engaged the DG and raised concerns over the NGN305/$ calculation on the budget proposal (while $1 is valued at NGN 520 at the contemporaneous market); if there are extensive plans for enhanced transparency and accountability in the 2017 budget implementation; our expectancy to lay hands on the 3rd and 4th quarters’ reports of 2016 budget implementation; his plans to ensure that revenue realization deficit would not frustrate the 2017 budget implementation drawing on the country’s experience with the 2016 one; and getting access to an extensive version of the budget that had further details on some of the line items. For the latter, I mentioned the ‘Talking Sanitation’, as well as ‘Afforestation’ and ‘Tree Planting’ budget items on the proposal, under the Ministry of Environment, which all lacked details such as where and how. Lack of such specific details has frustrated the works of CSOs that are into governmental capital expenditure tracking.
In addressing my concerns, the DG made commitments that were all in line with Nigeria’s commitments on the Open Government Partnership. He stated that the 3rd quarter 2016 budget implementation report would soon be in public domain while the 4th quarter’s would soon be out too. He further stated that there would be increased transparency, accountability and citizen engagement in the 2017 budget implementation. On this, he cited plans to have a digital platform for 24/7 citizen engagement on the budget. He also mentioned that there would be a breakdown on project basis subsequently when funds are released to MDAs. In addition, he promised a quarterly media briefing on the 2017 budget implementation. These were all good news and great outcomes for nonprofits that are into Open Governance advocacy. He mentioned categorically that the revenue realization plan on the proposal is quite realizable and that the FOREX regime crisis would not affect the budget implementation.
This media engagement is a step in the right direction as bringing all stakeholders involved and addressing public concerns on the budget proposal have boosted citizen participation in governance and also provided a platform for clarifications on several portions of the budget, as well as for stakeholders to make suggestions. It is hoped that the Director keeps to all the new commitments he made at the briefing and ensuring extensive open financial governance in the budget implementation. From our part, we are sending an FOI request for an extensive version of the budget, which he promised CODE would be provided with. And before I forget, he commented that he likes our name, ‘Follow The Money.’
Chambers Umezulike is a Program Officer at Connected Development and a Development Expert. He spends most of his time writing and choreographing researches on good and economic governance. He tweets via @Prof_Umezulike.
Following our works in ensuring transparency, accountability and citizen engagement in governmental spending, I represented Connected Development (CODE) in the public presentation and breakdown of the 2017 budget. This was held on the 19th of December, 2016 at the Conference Hall of the State House, Abuja. The invitation was from the Honourable Minister of Budget and National Planning, Sen. Udoma Udo Udoma. The event was a postscript of the 2017 budget presentation to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari.
In the event, in which relevant governmental/non-governmental stakeholders were in attendance, Sen. Udoma took about 90 minutes to breakdown/present the lustrated ”Budget of Recovery and Growth.” He stated, “the budget reflects the government’s commitment to restore the economy on the path of sustainable and inclusive growth.” He started with a brief analysis of the performance of the 2016 budget. Highlights from the analysis showed that as at the Q3 of 2016, oil production was at 1.81 mbpd as against the predicted 2.2mbpd on the 2016 budget. The exchange rate was at N305/US$ as against the predicted N197/USD. In addition, GDP growth rate which was predicted at 4.3% was at -2.24%. Inflation which was predicted at 9.81% was at 17.85%. And ultimately, the government has only realized 75% of the 2016 budget revenue. A take home from his analysis is that poor performance of the 2016 budget, hugely contributed to the country’s economic recession and worsening macro-economic indicators.
In the breakdown of the 2017 budget, the Minister commented, ”the budget was designed to expand partnership between public and private sectors, including development capital to leverage and springboard resources for growth.” In sum, the budget intends to focus on infrastructural expansion, establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZ), expansion of agriculture, encouraging the growth of small & medium industries, and providing a social safety net for poor Nigerians. The N7.298 trillion budget has key assumptions such as: oil production at 2.2mbpd, benchmark oil price at US$42.5/b, exchange rate at N305/US$, GDP Growth Rate at 2.5%. The 2017 budget envisages a total revenue of N4.94 trillion, exceeding that of 2016 by 28%. The projected revenue realisation from oil was N1.985 trillion and Non-oil, N1.373 trillion.
The capital expenditure was at N2.24 trillion (30.7%) with ”Ministries” such as Power, Works & Housing, Transportation, Special Intervention Programmes, Defence, Water Resources etc. taking N529 billion, N262 billion, N150 billion, N140 billion, N85 billion respectively.
While there in several initiatives on the 2017 budget, such as the recapitalization of the Banks of Industry and Agriculture by N15 billion, N50 billion for the establishment of SEZs and the benchmark oil price at US$42.5/b (if OPEC keeps on its esplanade of cutting down oil production), there are several key concerns that quickly comes to mind:
1). The problem has always been implementation crisis as well as lack of transparency, accountability and citizen engagement in governmental spending. We call for increased transparency and accountability in the budget’s implementation.
2). Participatory budgetary process in the preparation of the 2017 budget was very poorly implemented especially with respect to involving CSOs and leaders of local communities.
3). The performance of the 2016 budget still remains poor, most of its capital items are still at the contracting stage.
4). No. 3 leads to a key concern about how the government intends to manage the whole kerfuffle of the 2016 spill-over in 2017, with the weak coordination chain we are seeing now.
5). Planning the 2017 Fiscal Year on N305/US$ is quite unrealistic with several FOREX rates out there. The Central Bank should find a way to address the worsening FOREX crisis and harmonize the rates.
6). The 2.2mbpd oil production estimate might not be realized, following the continuing oil pipeline vandalisation in the Niger Delta which the government has not found a sustainable means to address.
7). The N2.2 trillion budgeted capital expenditure is still so nanoscopic to what is needed to stimulate the economy. The government must find a way of reversing the trend of having recurrent expenditure taking over almost 80% of the budget of several sectors.
8). While the government is preaching financial prudence, it’s quite paradoxical that several overhead items of the State House have increments on the average of 250% from their 2016 appropriations.
9). #FollowTheMoney team of CODE urgently await a part release of the performance of the 2016 budget performance, while we continue tracking the implementation of its capital items in rural communities.
CODE participated in the Stakeholder Briefing on Primary Healthcare Centres (PHC) which was held on 29 November 2016 at Spice Platter Gallery, 18 Libreville Crescent, Wuse 2, Abuja. It was choreographed by the Public and Private Development Center (PPDC) and was a briefing on the findings from PHCs visited by PPDC and CODE, in 2016.
PPDC on its part has been mobilizing procurement monitors to track and verify the performance of contracts awarded for projects such as PHCs across the country. This is with the aim of ensuring that public resources are been judiciously utilized in providing public services. CODE also through its Follow the Money initiative has been tracking government implementation of capital funds that are intended for local communities in health, education and environment.
The stakeholders meeting then provided a platform for the two organizations to interact with relevant stakeholders drawn from the National Assembly, State Ministries of Health and several media agencies. The event featured a presentation by PPDC on their procurement and budget tracking works in local communities. In the event, the organization also presented its Budeshi online platform. The online platform is a dedicated site that links budget and procurement data to various public services. It is accessible to the public to interact with and make their own comparisons. This is in a bid to make information around public contracts and procurement process more coherent. Budeshi is also an attempt to demonstrate the Open Contracting Data Standards across the public procurement value chain.
CODE on its part made a presentation on its monitoring of the implementation of capital funds for the rehabilitation of PHCs in Akwa Ibom, Enugu, Kano, Kogi, Osun, and Yobe states. Part of the funds include the $1.5 million health grant from the World Bank to each of the 36 Nigerian states & the FCT and N10.5 earmarked by NPHCDA for the rehabilitation of a PHC in Afia Nsit Urua Nko, Akwa Ibom State. The presentation also accentuated the fact that no sort of implementation is going on with respect to the funds and that governmental agencies are so lackadaisical in replying FOI Requests on further perspicacity on these funds.
The concerned stakeholders such as the personnel from Oyo and Osun States’ Ministries of Health commented that most states have not accessed the World Bank Health Grant. This is contradictory to information that CODE has at this time which is that some states have gotten access. Moreover, our interest is on getting the costed work plan for the grant’s employment, as well as safeguarding citizen engagement on the usage of the fund – which all do not have anything to do with the technicalities of funds provision, assessment, receipt . . . The representative from Osun State Ministry of Health promised to provide the costed work plan of the $1.5 million usage in Osun State to CODE. We hope he does this, and that the State Ministries of Health put information on all the expenditure and intended projects in the public domain.
Nigeria still has deep challenges in ensuring transparency and accountability in governmental activities and expenditure. Citizen engagement in governance has remained pretty poor. Participatory budgetary practices have remained poor and governmental data are still limitedly open to the public. Currently, the country has signed the Open Government Partnership with several commitments from Abuja to ensure and promote transparency and accountability in governance. Following this, on 15 November 2016, the Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL) programme funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) organized a roundtable discussion with Civil Society Organizations (CSO) and the Media on the proposed online budget portal for citizens. This was in partnership with the country’s Budget Office or Ministry of Budget and National Planning (MBNP). In attendance were CSOs with core in ensuring transparency, accountability and citizen engagement in governance.
PERL is currently supporting the MBNP in developing an online portal for citizens to access budget information. The roundtable was then for relevant civil society groups to make inputs and suggestions on what information government should put on the online citizens’ portal. This was to ensure that that the online portal is reflective of citizens needs on the budget.
The portal encompasses features such as: Citizen Guide to the ‘2017’ Budget, Sectoral budget information, Geopolitical allocation of funds, Planning and key policy documents to be included on the portal, ‘2017’ Budget facts, Budget monitoring reports, FAQs, Budget Calendar and A feedback platform.
CODE made some inputs and suggestions on other features of the portal such as. 1). A mechanism for citizens to be able to sort/filter the budget sectorally, by states, LGAs, communities, quoted amounts etc. 2). A mechanism for one to be able to click on a budget item and have further details. 3). A mobile application component. 4). A Live chat. 5). And ultimately, for the portal to have information on budget implementation such as implementation stage, procurement processes, contractors etc. Other CSOs also made suggestions such as for the online portal to be in different languages, for the use of infographics and information of policies guiding the budget.
We are expecting that further collaboration between DFID PERL and the Budget Office while carrying other stakeholders along would see to the successful implementation of this platform. This we also expect would go a long way to ensure transparency, accountability and civic engagement in Nigeria’s governance.
“Amongst the 70 member countries of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), African countries has the most ambitious commitments, and also has the least number of implementations of their commitment as seen in the independent reporting mechanism but Nigeria can reverse that order as the country has made huge commitment at the London Corruption Summit and hopes to make it tandem with its anti-corruption campaign in the country” says Sanjay Pradhan during the first day of the OGP retreat in Nigeria on October 24, 2016 at the Hotel Seventeen in Kaduna .
The OGP CEO, Sanjay Pradhan making a presentation on OGP during the retreat in Nigeria
Looking at the panel to discuss commitments around the Nigeria OGP National Action Plan, I was deluded by the fact that the government representatives except for two, were not appropriate enough to discuss pertinent issues around beneficial ownership, open budget, open contracting, transparency in extractives, access to information, and open data. I quite understand that the people in authority, in this ministries are hard to get for such conversation, but if it were really a “government – driven initiative” we should be seeing them coming to talk about these issues in the public.
I would have expected to see Zainab Ahmed, the Minister of State, Budget and National Planning making commitments of publishing online, location – based infrastructure data with their baseline indicators (current state) to the public by December 2017, so this can aid better planning; also the out-spoken Funmi Adeosun, the Minister for Finance committing that “detailed” government spending will be made available to the public by default as from November 2017, and also that the Bureau of Public Procurement will upgrade their website to include procurement plans, tender notices, bid evaluation,contract award documents, and termination information, while connecting it to a citizen feedback platform that can help make sure projects are really been implemented by contractors.
Nevertheless, there were some takeaways from the panel Joe Abbah, of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms had stated that by 2019, all FOIA request will be responded to in 2 minutes! In – fact, they have started something that looks like that in the Bureau, if you want to request for an information from the government, [APPLY HERE] I am sure you are all looking forward to this, it might not be rocket science! Also, the representative from the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) mentioned that for beneficial ownership to work, the Corporate Affairs Commission and the Companies and Allied Matter Act must be amended immediately to disclose beneficial ownership of companies, and not just the publishing of company names that are registered with the CAC which anyways, is a step in the right direction.
Looking across the Panel of government + CSOs
But why does it take the government a longer time than the 7 days proposed in the law to get a response to an FOIA request, the representative from the Ministry of Budget and National Planning stated that the oath of secrecy signed by civil servants prevents most of them to disclose information requested for through the FOIA. That’s so unimaginable! However, Joe Abbah, stated clearly, that we need to amend the public service rules because civil servants abide by rules and not laws!
My worry is not that leadership in the executive arm of government would not come out and make commitments, my worry is that implementing such commitment on the basis of a system that would not allow it to work efficiently is the reality, and such is the case for most African countries. As much as this becomes a drawback for me in this “government – CSO “driven movement, I am certain that few positives might be recorded, as we have started seeing from the Ministry of Justice, the agent of the state where the OGP is domiciled in Nigeria.