Akwa Ibom State government has been called upon to institutionalize a framework for ensuring that citizens of the state are involved in all stages of the budget process.
The government of Akwa Ibom State has been called upon to institutionalize a framework for ensuring that citizens of the state are involved in all stages of the budget process. The charge was made in Uyo recently during the maiden edition of the Akwa Ibom Open Budget Forum.
The Open Budget Forum 2016, organized by Policy Alert (Grassroots People Empowerment Foundation), an Uyo-based non-governmental organization, was aimed at enlightening the public on the provisions of the Akwa Ibom State 2016 Appropriation Bill, creating a space for citizens to make inputs to this year’s budget, and providing an opportunity for key policy actors involved in the budgetary process to make useful clarifications to the public.
In his opening remarks, Chairman of Akwa Ibom State NGOs Forum, Harry Udoh, who also chaired the event, commended the state government for progressively moving away from the secrecy that characterized budgeting in the past by improving availability of the budget document.
He also observed that the sixth Assembly of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly for continuing in the tradition of holding Public Hearings on the Budget, but noted that the state still had much room for improvement in its journey towards an Open Budget regime.
“This event provides an opportunity for government and civil society to look at those gaps together and agree on how to address them.”
In his own presentation, Pastor Nicholas Ekarika, Permanent Secretary, Akwa Ibom State Budget Office informed the Forum of innovations by his office to improve citizens’ participation in the budget process.
He said that the operations of the Budget Office had been digitized since 2012 to improve availability of budget documents while the website of the office had been upgraded to enhance online access the budget document.
He also informed participants that the state was the first state in the country to migrate to the International Public Sector Accounting System (IPSAS), a system that improves participation and transparency by making it easier for citizens to track budgeted government projects.
Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke, represented by Assembly’s Head of Legal Services, Barr. Bassey Umoren, commended civil society in the state for their efforts towards improving the quality of governance in the state.
He noted that civil society remains an important partner in progress with the legislative arm of government as they both speak for the people.
The Speaker urged participants to take advantage of the ongoing budget defense by Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as a window of opportunity to still send in their inputs to the 2016 budget, while assuring them that the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly is ever ready to partner with civil society towards making the budget process more participatory, transparent and accountable.
Among other issues arising from the 2016 Appropriation Bill, participants at the Forum noted the decline in capital to recurrent ratio, the high cost of governance occasioned by increasing overhead and recurrent spend, huge budget deficit, as well as inadequate allocation to agriculture and social sector priorities such as health, education, water and sanitation.
They urged the House of Assembly to address the identified issues in order to make the budget a truly peoples budget.
Participants also asked for sufficient notice to be provided ahead of public hearings on the budget to ensure that a broader range of stakeholders are aware and are able to prepare meaningful inputs to the discussions.
They also noted the need for the budget proposals to be more comprehensive so that citizens can isolate, influence and track their priorities as opposed to the practice of lump summing.
Other demands of the Forum included for the development of a citizens’ version of the budget, strict adherence to a predictable budget calendar, holding of annual pre-budget hearings at senatorial district levels, and timely publication and public access to the auditor general’s report.
It also called for the enactment of Fiscal Responsibility and Public Procurement legislation in the state.
Head of Programmes, Policy Alert, Tijah Bolton-Akpan in his concluding remarks observed that the Forum was the beginning of a very important partnership between civil society and government towards improving efficiency of state institutions.
“Strengthening citizens’ participation in the budget process is a win-win proposition. It will increase overall confidence of citizens in their government, reduce incentives for corruption, and ensure that the state’s resources are utilized efficiently for the greater good of citizens.
“We are glad that this conversation has begun and we are determined to do our part as civil society to add value, but government also needs to open the door wider so we can deepen this engagement” he said.
The Open Budget Forum was followed by a training session on budget tracking and advocacy for 45 representatives of media and civil society organizations across the state.
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