Special Feature

Social Action, ACoNet To Host Niger Delta Confab On Anti-corruption, Accountability In Public Service

By Mark Olise

The citizen groups in Nigeria appear to have taken over the leadership of the country’s Anti-corruption effort with a plethora of strategy based activities targeted at stamping out the cankerworm. This is a welcome development!

The Anti-corruption Network (ACoNET) a network of citizens’ groups coordinated by the Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action), has finalized plans to organize the 2019 Regional Conference on Promoting Accountability in Service Delivery and Public Finance Management at Sub-National Level at Asaba, the Delta State capital.

According to the network, the regional conference is being organized under the framework of the MacArthur Foundation supported On-Nigeria Project; Strengthening Citizens’ Advocacy Against Corruption in the Niger Delta, which works at amplifying accountability through campaigns and advocacy that promote transparent and accountable governance and effective public service delivery.

They said the ultimate aim of the above project is to ensure that public funds, particularly at the sub-national level, are used for the development of social infrastructure and the benefit of the people.

The network, which most of its participating groups are engaged in Budget Analysis, Monitoring and Advocacy in the Niger Delta, asserts that “among the several governance instruments that exist in the polity, the budget is, without a doubt, one of the most important of these, as it encapsulates the policy thrust and direction of any government”.

“Importantly too, it is a tool through which the development aspirations of the people and government intents are translated into reality through the provision of public goods in tandem with the social contract.

“However, despite the significant amount of resources that have been allocated to governments at the sub-national level in the Niger Delta, and the yearly appropriations made by same for over four decades since its creation, development aspirations of the citizens remain largely unmet with critical public goods and social infrastructure still below standard levels. Social Action has annually monitored the fiscal performance and budgets of sub-national states in the Niger Delta (and others) and has consistently noted that budgets and budgetary provisions have failed to meet the needs and aspirations of the people.

“While State and local governments have struggled to provide justification for the level of budget performance and consequently development in their domains citing reasons which range from accruals not reaching projection, citizens, on the other hand, have argued that even when the accruals are significant, the budgets still fail, due to a combination of factors including lack of citizen participation, corruption built into the processes, near-zero oversight, unrealistic projections and  inefficiencies around project planning, implementation and monitoring. To date, the level of budget performance and public service delivery has remained a subject of contention between citizens and governments at these levels with prevailing wide-spread discontent,” ACoNET added.

The conference, according to the network, is therefore being organized against this backdrop to examine the underlying issues around public service delivery and accountable governance with a view to preferring solutions and engendering support systems towards helping to close the gaps between wishes and actualities.

The Anti-corruption Network stated also that the forthcoming regional conference will be used to launch the Social Action’s Citizens Report, being a report of the findings of analysis and monitoring of budgets of selected Niger Delta states and two northern states for the year 2018. The report is a product of active citizens engagement in tracking budget implementation for effective service delivery.

The issue of public budget implementation is one that cannot be overemphasized. Globally, governments use the budget to consistently try to meet their expenditure and revenue targets but with many struggling to implement such budget including Nigeria. Annually, the federal, state and local governments in Nigeria prepare budgets to itemize their basic expenditure, revenue estimation, and indicators to evaluate performance during implementation.

“However, budget performance has consistently been an issue of concern due to its low evaluation thereby making a budget annual ritual that has little or no impact on the lives of the people.

“For decades, Government’s development agenda both at the national and sub-national has been far from attainment as monitoring and investigative results from various quarters indicate a wide gap between governments’ intents as revealed in the budget and the reality of its achievements. There have been widespread concerns over allegations that the monies voted for projects are often misused by individuals who, at best, execute outlandish projects.

“Annually, billions of naira are being budgeted by States for public projects with many not seeing the light of implementation while many others hitherto started are abandoned,” the group observed.

A 2018 Report by the Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action) revealed that 80% of state-initiated projects were abandoned as a result of corruption leading to budget failure.

The Report spotlights the performance of selected states in Nigeria – Rivers, Bayelsa, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Nasarawa and Kano – in the management of revenues and expenditures in the year 2018. The study is based on months of field assessment of performance, analysis of budgets and fiscal documents, interviews with local residents and relevant officials.

Besides reviewing the budget parameters across the studied states, the assessment appraised the implementation of randomly selected projects in three key social and economic sectors of education, health and agriculture (Food Sufficiency). The aim, amongst other things, is to enhance understanding of how and why the earnings by and accrued resources to these states, contributed to or deviated from the goal of sustainable development.

Major factors responsible for the failure of budget to deliver the desired improvement in public services and infrastructure development, as identified by the Report, include poor planning, poor budget estimates and unrealistic assumptions of income and expenditure; corruption and the lack of will on the part of successive governments to honour contractual commitments.

These factors, according to the Report, are further incited by the near secrecy in the implementation of the projects starting from the release of funds to procurement opacity and to final implementation. Over time, Social Action said it was observed that projects are approved with no definite source of funding or robust plan on how the projects would be delivered over the project life and that these situations have consequently led to many abandoned projects scattered across the country.

The Report also stated that often times, projects inserted into the budget are elaborate and unrealistic and as such implementation becomes difficult to execute and maintain as projects drag and are passed from budget to budget and thus affect the overall budget performance. And that, over the years, successive budget performance has ranged from 50% to at most 60% leaving huge vacuums of unrealized expectations. Issues of unrealistic budget projections were also identified as the reasons why sub-national governments despite yearly poor budget performance have continued to increase their budget portfolio without adequate plans on how these expectations will be met. This is said to account for why almost 50% of projects initiated over the years have gone limbo.

A major factor also identified by the network as responsible for the continued flamboyant budgets is the lack of citizens’ participation in the budgeting process and or lack of critical inputs from the citizens into the budget document. This lack of citizens’ participation is reported to give room for budget secrecy, mismanagement and misplaced priorities.

It is in view of this, according to the Anti-corruption Network, that the regional conference is proposed to open up discussions between citizens and government institutions that will help close the gap between government budget intents and development realities.

The organizers say the goal of the conference is to bridge the gap between governance intents and development actualities, by midwiving all-inclusive dialogue on issues around the theme of the conference.

Specifically, they stated the objectives of the conference to include:

1.     Open up discussion(s) around realistic budget estimates and projection for improved budget performance and service delivery.

2.     Promote constructive dialogue on how corruption in the budgeting process can be eliminated to bring about improvement in service delivery.

3.     Promote discussions around transparency in public projects implementations and the need for active citizen engagement and participation.

4.     Create a platform to build trust between citizens and government through constant interaction that will lead to the achievement of good governance objectives.

The conference participants is expected to be drawn from policymakers, State parliaments across the Niger Delta region, government institutions, anti-graft agencies, academia, civil society organizations, and the media – investigative reporters etc, to dialogue on approaches to combating the phenomenon of low public budget performance and service delivery at the sub-national level, towards achieving the development aspirations of citizens in these areas.

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