Budget Reforms: Stakeholders Proffer Public Hearings, Expenditure Tracking as Solutions

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Abimbola Akosile

Subjecting the budget process in the National Assembly to public hearings to provide for an inclusive multi-stakeholder involvement has been identified as one of the key solutions to reforming the country’s public finance and ensuring equitable nationwide development.

In a similar manner, upscaling transparency and accountability through workable budget tracking measures which involve citizens at all levels has also been listed as a major step in making the annual budget work in the public interest.

These recommendations were part of a 12-point communiqué raised from the OrderPaper.ng Colloquium on Budgetary Reforms held recently in Abuja, which was attended by participants from the National Assembly, the Executive, Civil Society, Media, Development Partners, and other critical stakeholders.

The communiqué, which was jointly signed by Publisher of OrderPaper.ng, Mr. Oke Epia; Moderator of the Technical Panel, Anthony Ubani; and head of the team of rapporteurs for the colloquium, Chido Onumah, harped on timeliness of budget presentation.

It stressed that “the Executive and Legislature should adopt a more participatory budgeting process by widely consulting with the citizens and other stakeholders through public hearings.”
Other resolutions from the forum include: “That a formal forum for pre-budget consultations and liaison between the Legislature and the Executive should be created in order to reduce the instances of disagreements and bickering between the two arms upon presentation of the Appropriation bill, passage and subsequent implementation;

“That the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) should be adopted as a benchmark for determining what projects to be included in the budget which should be equitably spread across the country;

“That the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act should be strictly adhered to in the preparation and implementation of the budget while a holistic look at the Act should be considered to take care of observed deficiencies; that there should be effective tracking of projects and evaluation of budget expenditures to ensure transparency and accountability whilst the role of anti-corruption agencies in the budgetary process clearly defined and enhanced;
“Multi-stakeholder consultations including the private sector, development partners and the media should be undertaken for the budgetary process; and the media and civil society should improve their watchdog roles in monitoring the budgetary process,” the communiqué added.

Stakeholders at the colloquium which was chaired by Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, with presentations from Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and representative of the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, also resolved on some recommendations.
These include calls for: “reform of the procedures of budgeting in the National Assembly to ensure better accountability, transparency and openness; making a budget law to cover the processes and procedures of the budgetary exercise with strengthening legislative oversight being a key focus;

“That the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) should be established without further delay; and continual engagement of relevant stakeholders and to report on gains made with respect to the implementation of resolutions.”

The colloquium which also had Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu; fiscal governance expert and Lead Director at Centre for Social Justice (CENSOJ), Eze Onyekpere; and Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters (Senate) to the President, Sen. Ita Enang, in participation also commended OrderPaper.ng for “convening the conversation at such auspicious time in the country’s history and urged all stakeholders to continue to support the initiative.”

Members of the technical panel at the colloquium which had ‘Budget as a tool for Accelerated Economic Development in Nigeria’ as theme were Sen. John Enoh, Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance; Sen. Shehu Sani, Chairman, Senate Committee on Domestic & Foreign Debts, and Hon. Kingsley Chinda, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts.

Others were Hon. Lawal Garba, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Constituency Outreach; Sen. Chris Anyanwu, member of the 6th and 7th Senate; Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher, Premium Times; Victor Muruako, Acting Chairman Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC); and Imoni Amarere, Managing Director, News Services, Daar Communications.

The communiqué, which had earlier been read out and adopted by a unanimous voice vote by all participants at the colloquium, was the highpoint of the event which is billed to be an annual exercise, according to its organisers.