Ndubuisi Francis and Udora Orizu in Abuja
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) in collaboration with the Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC) Monday launched the Budget Inequality Index (BII), the benchmarking framework for analysing, assessment and scoring of ministries, departments and agencies’ (MDAs) annual budgets (2014-2016).
Speaking at the media launch in Abuja, the Convener of CSJ, Mr. Eze Onyekpere said that the budget BII idea came about two years ago to mainstream the discourse on inequality in the formulation and implementation of fiscal policies.
Onyekpere stated that the idea was to focus on how issues of great concern to women, youth, vulnerable and marginalised groups were considered at the stage of plan and policy formulation, during budget preparation, approval and implementation as well as reporting on the implementation of policies and budgets.
“This was at the onset of the economic meltdown in Nigeria when the price of crude oil plummeted and Nigeria had no meaningful reserves and savings to fall back on. However, this aforementioned group of Nigerians did not participate in the jamboree and bazaar that was the name of economic (mal) administration of the time. And the government had a basic obligation to meet their existential needs under several international and national standards.
“Nigeria was and is still at a fork in the road and needs to take effective decisions on its next fiscal and economic steps. The petrol dollar boom is over as commodity prices have collapsed, hard choices need to be made on how to expend the little available resources and new sources of generating revenue.
“Headline inflation has breached the single digit rule; real gross domestic product growth slowed to 2.79 per cent in 2015 and shrank to -1.51 per cent in 2016 whilst our population grows at a little less than 3 per cent a year,” he said.
He noted that CSJ therefore worked on a theory of change which states that women, men, youths and the vulnerable have the opportunity to be strategically positioned and have the capacity to demand for change and improvements in economic and fiscal governance.
Onyekpere highlighted that the MDAs benchmarked to collaborate with for implementation include Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, Ministry for Education, Ministry of Health, and Ministry of Agriculture.
Others are Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Labour and Employment and Ministry of Transportation, he said, adding that they were selected on the basis of the impact of their programming on the rights of the target of group.
Also speaking at the launch, the acting FRC Chairman, Mr. Victor Muruako, who was represented by Mr. Charles Abana, stated that inequality, wherever it exists, cannot be good for a nation.
“We know that economically speaking there’s a wide gap between the so called haves and the haves not , and it’s part of government’s responsibility to find ways to bridge the gap. And that is why we are delighted that this struggling has come to a successful conclusion and we are presenting the report. “We will make sure that going forward, some of the issues that have been brought up in this report will be taken into account and considered in the formulation of future budgets and MTEF (Medium Term Expenditure Framework).
“The commission will continue to partner with the CSJ and other CSOs who have the same vision and bring these issues to the front so that those in the hem of affairs will know these things are important and for the benefit of the people,” Murako said.
Also, Dr. Amakom Uzochukwu, who presented the BII report explained that inequality does not just happen, noting that it is a product of the economic, social and political policy decisions and choices made by the state and citizens.
“Reducing inequality is not only a moral imperative; it is good economic as well. The budget is an essential instrument for the reduction of inequality, just as it is also an instrument for creating inequality”.
“The goal of this index therefore is to support the achievement of closing the inequality gap, through not just fiscal discipline but strategic allocation of funds, value for money and probity in the use of public funds.
“The benchmark was based mainly on gender, youth and the vulnerable related budgets and budgeting with emphasis on accessibility, inclusiveness and safety nets. These were interrogated to ascertain budget credibility, comprehensiveness and transparency and how the budgets are derived from the existing policy,” he said.