For any meaningful change to occur, transparency is key especially as it concerns public finance. Until all levels of the Nigerian government embraces budget transparency by releasing to the public a copy of the budget including, but not limited to, the budget implementation report; any reform agenda will remain surface level.
At BudgIT, we believe it is the RIGHT of every citizen to have access to and also understand public budgets. We also believe budgets must be efficiently implemented for the GOOD of the people. To further drive this agenda, every fiscal year, we actively engage the government and the citizens on this issue. Let’s look at four things that we have been up to:
1. Simplified Budget Analysis For Citizens
This year, part of our advocacy efforts have included developing and disseminating a budget analysis report on the proposed 2019 federal budget. The report which is a 44-page document gives a general overview of the Federal Government’s plan for the 2019 fiscal year. It further gives a holistic breakdown of where the federal government expects its revenue to come from and also where it proposes to direct its expenditure obligations. We also revisited the fundamentals of the 2019 budget as well as the capital allocations via a series of infographics on social media.
Beyond the 2019 proposed budget analysis report, we also did an analysis and breakdown on the 2018 Q3 implementation report for the federal government budget. Through this report and analysis, we compared the approved budget with what was implemented to show the difference both for revenue and expenditure.
2. Alarmed by Frivolous Items in the Budget
To continue our fight for budget transparency and credibility, we dug further into the proposed budget and came up with items we tagged Suspicious items or Frivolous items. We found quite a number of line items in the budget that could not be accounted for or that needed further breakdown as the need for the line item could not be easily ascertained. We expect that the National Assembly committee will review our submissions on the budget as they have done in the past, by removing frivolous items in the budget.
A publication of these line items was also developed and presented to ALL members of National Assembly alongside copies of the 2019 budget analysis report. We also estimated the reach of both reports to over 875,702 Nigerians through our online and offline channels.
3. State Budgets: These are Exciting Times
Beyond working to get the federal government’s budget open and transparent, our campaign also focuses on sub-national transparency [for state governments]. What we try to do is to get state governments to make available online, a copy of their budget, as well as a simplified citizen’s budget.
As at the end of Q1 2019, only 15 states had published their budgets online, compared to 21 states which had done so in the entire 2018.
Clearly, we still have a long way to go and we will continue our campaign for subnational transparency amongst state governments to get all 36 states to publish their budget. A member of the team was also on Good Morning Nigeria Show aired on National Television Authority to further discuss the issue of subnational transparency and the need for state governments to open their books.
What we have also done is to help some states design a citizen’s budget that not just simplifies the budget but also empowers the citizens to ask the right questions. We are currently partnering with the World Bank to make citizen’s budgets happen for all states.
With the World Bank, Open Government Partnership Secretariat, we developed a citizen budget template, which has been adopted by all Nigerian states. The states are highly incentivized due to their participation in the World Bank States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability, and Sustainability Project for Nigeria, which allocates up to $21m to states based on fiscal transparency metrics. We have developed and created designs for Kaduna, Kogi, Sokoto, Benue and Delta States. These are exciting times. We hope this becomes the norm for states. However, we are glad that states are working to open up their numbers for citizens.
4. We Opened NASS Budget Again
To further drive the need for a transparent society, we also extend our engagements to the National Assembly. As the 2nd arm of government, our legislators need to champion the openness and transparency agenda needed for this Nation to progress.
Part of our #OpenNass campaign included a press statement that was widely circulated by various media houses across the nation, where we called on the Senate President and by extension the entire 8th Assembly to leave behind a legacy of openness by releasing the 2018 NASS budget. Other activities that formed part of the campaign included: massive social media campaigns, a courtesy visit to the Senate President, as well as Special features in prominent national dailies.
We are excited to note that all these efforts yielded results as the 2018 National Assembly Budget has been made public. Of course, our work did not stop there as we began to probe discrepancies in the budget. We are not satisfied with the details.
The fight for a transparent Nigerian government is far from over. The walk to radical transparency and a meaningful account is long but we are also in a hurry. So with the help and willingness of the average Nigerian to #AskQuestions, we believe that the Nigeria of our dreams will be actualised. We will continue our advocacy and campaigns for an open and transparent government that is accountable to the people who elected them to office.
We want to deepen our interest in sectoral allocations as we expect the 2019 Budget to be passed in the next few weeks. We will also pay more attention to sub-national budgets. We are also supporting the Budget Office of the Federation in curating feedback from the public, on a budget participatory tool.
Esohe Osinoiki, Monitoring & Evaluation Manager, BudgIT