[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.
The most important factor for economic development is not capital, but appropriate policies and institutions
If Nigeria’s population is the 7th largest in the world, and we really, want to grow, then we must not be doing 7.29 trillion Naira, as our budget (Just before you say, it’s only the federal budget, even if you average what the state, and local government present, as budget, it is still not worth it). That’s a paltry 23.9 billion dollars, see below, what the top 10 countries with the highest population, budget for their citizens, at the “federal” level. Coming down home to Africa, Angola with a population of 25 million, has a budget of 38.53 billion dollars. I will advise we start thinking about reducing our population growth – 2 per woman will be most reasonable, at this time, if we “really” want to grow! Japan has done it before, and I am saying, there is no reason why we cannot grow within this top 10 populated countries, it will take time, but we must be decisive, and serious!
2015 budget estimates for other countries are from the Central Intelligence Agency World Fact Book. The Nigeria Budget estimate is the 2017 proposed figure in the appropriation bill.
In the breakdown of the Nigeria 2017 budget, it is expected that only 30.7% will be available for the provision of basic amenities and infrastructures – health facilities, schools, roads, water, while about 40% will be provided for overhead expenses – salaries, travels, office expenses et al. The success of any business in the world lies in its people, and I also mean PEOPLE working in the various government institutions – executive, legislature and judiciary. Ideally, their business is to implement government agenda, policies, projects and programme, but in Nigeria, their performance is appalling. Although this sector employs a larger percentage of employed people, the numbers cannot account for the value it can create. Just as the numbers of ministries were reduced by the Buhari led government, can it also “significantly” reduce the number of people in the public sector, so as to reduce overhead expenses to 20% of the government budget. All Joe Abbah, and the bureau of public service reforms need do, to perform effectively, is to embrace technology and uphold strict staff performance management (and just before you will say, where should the retrenched go – read my blog, on the rice economy or get to the last paragraph). In Nigeria, most people in the public service which comprise of the executive, legislative, and judiciary in federal, state and local government, got to the position, in the spirit of “clientelism”. “They have just finished recruiting in the Nigeria Police, but leave story, they only chose senators, house of reps families and you know the oga at the tops people” affirmed my friend in the Nigeria Police. This needs to stop if we really want to grow!
Many developed and developing countries are still working towards linking performance to public expenditures framework or strategy. If these linkages are not made, there will be no way to determine if the budgetary allocations that the support programs are ultimately supporting are successful. On a lighter mood, I must thank the Budget Office for publishing actual money received by government agencies for capital expenditures (actually there is an open data version of it here), but we should not be thankful for seeing that except, we want to stay like Angola, if we want to grow like Malaysia, we should be publishing tangible outcomes the expenditures in the agencies are achieving. In essence, we should stop the line – item kind of budgeting, and adopt the result-based budgeting system. For instance, if Nigeria needs to produce the 4,700,000 million tonnes of rice, that china imports every year, the Ministry of Budget and National Planning can have an overhead budget from the Ministry of Agriculture for only the number of people that will implement that through a policy paper, coordination and regulation, as they will not be the one to work on the farm. Simple as ABC right? yes! but do you have the political will – (To be continued) in my other story on Nigeria and its National Planning.
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.
So have you heard about the Colorado Springs? Our team members – Emmanuel Njoku and Babatunde Adegoke are there to observe the United States Presidential Elections in Colorado, on the auspices of Ford Foundation, Independent Republican Institute and the Institute of International Education. On November 7, 2016, They met the Chairman and CEO of El Pomar Foundation – William J. Hybl and his team of very cool people hosted them to a luncheon alongside Secretary of State of Colorado – Wayne Williams, and some wonderful young observers from South Africa, Botswana and Namibia at the prestigious Penrose House in Colorado Springs, where they discussed Leadership, Democracy, Governance and the November 8, 2016, presidential elections and processes that have been put in place to ensure that the polls is credible and trusted by all.
From right, Colorado Secretary of State, Emmanuel Njoku, Tunde Adegoke and a state representative during a meeting on November 4 at the Broadway
Interestingly, they were informed that the State of Colorado has about 3.5million registered voters, and about 2.6million of these people are expected to vote, of which 2 million of these votes have already been cast, which simply means that just about 600,000 persons will be voting during the elections today across the 64 Counties(LGA) of Colorado. So that you know, you can cast your vote 21 days before the real election day!
This early voting practised in the state of Colorado will completely eliminate all the pressure that usually will be witnessed on a typical election day. This brings me back to Nigeria, where elections are held in one day, and the economy of the whole country is put to a halt, due to the elections. Perhaps, the Independent National Electoral commission (INEC) should take a cue, and leverage technology to make voting possible even before the election day.
Group picture of African Observers meeting with the Secretary of State of Colorado at the El Pomar Foundation
That sounds like a pinch of salt, right? if INEC is to achieve this feat, it must yield to a whole change management system which should be initiated by the leadership of INEC. Again, I will not subscribe to lack of funds as an excuse, INEC only needs few dedicated experts that can always look up to the leadership for unflinching support in providing a methodology and system that allows for early voting. Unfortunately, I just remembered, INEC is still struggling with the registration of voters like myself, while you can register on the day of elections in the state of Colorado – See you in 2019!