Lagos-based NGO, the International Press Centre (IPC) at a one day open Budget Forum on Advancing Citizens Participation in the Budget Implementation Process of Lagos State has tasked Nigerians to follow the national budget and read between the lines to be able to engage the government on development issues.
The event which held in Lagos under the auspices of Strengthening Citizens’ Engagement in Electoral Process (SCEEP) Project was implemented by the IPC with the support of ACTIONAID Nigeria through the UKAID Department for International Development (DFID).
The Open Budget Forum was organised recently in continuation of the process-led; participatory initiative of strengthening citizens’ engagement in the electoral process (SCEEP) project implemented in Lagos by the IPC with the support of ACTIONAID Nigeria and the UKAID through the Department for International Development (DFID). The forum was conceived as a way of deepening citizens’ engagement in the democratic process beyond periodic voting.
IPC and its partners aim to deploy Open Budget Forum as a platform for mobilizing and sensitizing citizens at the grassroots for increase participation in the budget process. The aim of the forum is to entrench culture of robust engagement by stakeholders to invest future electoral and governance processes with popular participation of citizens.
Open Budget Forum also became imperative against the backdrop of growing frustration and attendant apathy amongst the citizenry with regards to the lamentable failure of budget to deliver on the dividends of democracy.
Notwithstanding, lack of requisite capacities by citizens; particularly local stakeholders in engaging governance process has contributed to the exclusion of citizens in the budget process. Lack of appropriate capacities for engagement and the consequent exclusion of citizens in the process of governance; particularly, youths, women and Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) and other vulnerable groups have accounted for lack of transparency in budget formulation and its implementation in Lagos state and in Nigeria at large. Therefore, enlightenment of stakeholders at the grassroots on approaches and strategies for engaging budget process becomes crucial in entrenching openness and transparency in meeting global best practices of democratic inclusion and accountability in governance.
The Open Budget Forum was organized for local stakeholders across various civil society and community based platforms in Lagos State including participants drawn from the 6 local government areas covered by SCEEP project; namely; Somolu Local Government Area, Ifako-Ijaiye Local Government Area, Ikorodu Local Government Area, Mainland Local Government Area, Surulere Local Government Area and Amuwo-Odofin Local Government Area. The Forum was also attended by officials of the Lagos State Government including representative of the Senior Special Assistant on Community Development, amongst others.
In his opening remark, Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade reiterated the importance of participatory budget; emphasizing that access to budget by citizens will allow for proper monitoring of implementation especially at the grassroots. According to Mr. Arogundade, inclusive and participatory budgeting will “give citizens the opportunity to call the attention of the government to projects that are not implemented but were included in the budget”.
A keynote Address was delivered by the Chairman of the forum, Professor Ayo Olukotun who was represented by Dr. Tunde Oseni; Head of Department, Politics and International Relations, Lead City University, Ibadan. The forum also received various presentations on approaches for Advancing Open and Participatory Budget: Perspectives Across Stakeholders Groups as follow: (a) The Need for a citizens’ Driven Budget by Mr. Lanre Suraju of Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC); (b) Making a case for a gendered budget, by Mrs. Folake Kuti of Women Advocate, Research &Documentation Centre (WARDC) (c) Budget making and People With Disabilities (PWDs): What’s Missing by David Anyaele of Centre for Citizen with Disabilities (CCD); (d) Beyond the figures Transforming budget into development –An insiders’ view by Mr. Wale Adedayo, Social Commentator, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, Uhuru Times.
Other highlights of the forum was a presentation on ‘summary analysis of Lagos State Budget: Snapshot of sectoral provisioning’ by Mr. Ilevbaoje Uadamen Imoukhuede of BUDGIT as well as interactive deliberations by participants on advancing participatory budgeting process in Lagos State.
Participants at the forum made far-reaching contributions on the issues during the plenary session. In particular, participants deliberated on the various presentations by making valuable remarks and by seeking further clarifications on critical issues bordering on access to the budget process, strategies for networking for participatory engagement for budget monitoring and evaluation.
Meanwhile, the following observations were made by participants during deliberation:
- Participants observed that budget process in Lagos state is not participatory enough as overwhelming majority of citizens are virtually not aware of details of budgetary allocations as well as the extent of implementation at the both the state and local government levels.
- Participants also observed that budget making process in Lagos State should be made more transparent as relevant information with regards to budget passed by the Lagos State House of Assembly are not always accessible by stakeholders.
- Participants also observed that budget estimates by overwhelming majority of Local Government Areas (LGAs) and Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) are not accessible by citizens for monitoring and evaluation to enable them ascertain the level of transparency and accountability.
- Participants observed that actual costs of projects executed by Lagos state government as well as the LGAs/LCDAs are usually not made public for appropriate scrutiny by the public to enable the citizens to ascertain the level of transparency and accountability.
- Participants observed that although the periodic local forum on governance organized by Lagos state House of Assembly members as well as the by the governor of Lagos state are commendable, there was the need to make such forum more inclusive and participatory to enable relevant stakeholders properly engage government on budget formulation and implementation.
- Participants also observed that Local Government Autonomy has become imperative in fostering the culture of participatory budget process as well in monitoring of budget implementation for transparency and accountability in LGAs/LCDAs.
- Participants also noted that for budget making process in Lagos State to be genuinely participatory, inclusive and democratic, the principle of affirmative action must be complied with, by engaging women for their inputs into budget formulation and implementation.
- Participants observed that vulnerable groups including women, persons with disability, youths, etc are not well involved in the budget making process in the state
However, participants at the forum agreed to the following resolutions towards making the budget process in Lagos State to meet the expectations of stakeholders:
- Participants demand that stakeholders at the grassroots should henceforth take active part in the budget making process to increase the latitude of pro-people democracy in Lagos State.
- Participants demand that adequate information be made available to citizens to create awareness with regards to channels of engagement on budget process at both state and local government levels.
- Participants demand for increased advocacies by informed stakeholders on the process of budget making in Lagos State.
- Participants demand the involvement of women in the process of budget making to ensure proper gender budgeting that take the special needs of women and the girl child into consideration.
- Participants demand the involvement of persons with disability in the process of budget making to ensure proper allocation of resources and facilities to cater for their peculiar needs.
- Participants demand that details of appropriation and actual implementation of budget at the state and local government levels be published after the passage of budget and at the end of budget year to enable the citizens to be properly acquainted with the state of affairs of revenue generation and expenditures of Lagos State.
- Participants demand that details of budget by the Lagos State government as well as LGAs/LCDAs be made available online to the public to create appropriate channels of accessibility for the purposes of monitoring of budget implementation and tracking for transparency and accountability.
- Participants demand that budget details should be published in local languages, dialects as well as in Pidgin to enable equal budget participation and open access by all categories of citizens on budget implementation process.
- Participants demand that Lagos State government through the Ministry of Information should made information on budget making process and implementation available in local languages, dialects and Pidgin through radio and television.
- Participants recommend that budget allocations in Lagos State and at the level of LGAs/LCDAs should prioritize the immediate needs of the people; including adequate provision in the budget to cater for the special needs of persons with disabilities (PWDs).
- Participants recommend the prioritization of skill acquisition and empowerment of local stakeholders in budgetary allocations at the state and local government level to tackle the rising level of poverty in the state.
- Participants recommend increased advocacy and engagement of government at the LGAs/LCDAs on participatory budget process by civil society organizations CSOs including the media and faith based organizations.
In conclusion, participants expressed satisfaction on the objective of the Open Budget Forum in addressing the challenge of lack of capacities and exclusion of citizens in budget making process. Participants call for more platforms of engagement on issues relating to resources allocations and accountability at the grassroots to ensure sustained enlightenment of the citizenry on budget participation.
Participants also expressed gratitude to IPC and its partners; ACTIONAID and UKAID through the Department for International Development (DFID) for organizing the forum. Participants call on other civil society organizations including the media to be more involved in targeted advocacies towards making the budget process in Lagos State become more participatory in ensuring that democracy delivers on the much anticipated impacts of good governance.