By Funmi Branco
Last week, the Ogun State governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, presented a budget estimate of N449.974 billion for the year 2020 to the State House of Assembly. Before going into the details of the budget proposals, however, it is necessary to flag the philosophical background behind it. In presenting the budget, Prince Abiodun apparently took cognizance of the fact that budgeting, a critical aspect of governance and the socio-democratic process, has often been approached from a cavalier perspective in the country. No right-thinking person would doubt the claim that when budgets are not well thought out, faithfully implemented through cash backing, prompt release of funds, close monitoring of projects and evaluation of performances, they cannot deliver the expected goals. But then there is also the critical, and perhaps foundational, question of stakeholder input in the budget preparation process itself, a question that Governor Abiodun placed on the front burner. Based on the paradigm shift that has hallmarked his administration so far, in preparing the 2020 budget, Prince Abiodun had consulted widely with stakeholders in all the three senatorial districts in the state. In each of the budget consultation sessions, traditional rulers, chiefs, technocrats within the environment and the public in general brought the government up to speed regarding the various developmental challenges facing them.
This approach obviously has various positives. One, going by the very definition of democracy as government of the people, by the people and for the people, the consultation process no doubt enabled the people of Ogun State to participate in a critical issue of governance, project their needs into governmental blueprint, and set parameters through which the government’s performance in budget execution, and by implication overall performance in office, would be judged in the years to come. There is, of course, the very positive effect of project ownership by the various communities and wards in the state, as the budget is no more than a faithful documentation of their preferences and needs, anchored on a positive vision of growth by their technocrat governor. In any case, the consultation process has the added advantage of fostering a sense of belonging and participatory governance and keeping the people in the government’s consciousness.
Instructively, in an address delivered at the Ogun East Senatorial District Town Hall Meeting on the 2020 budget held at the Bisi Rodipe Centre, Ijebu-Ode, on October 10, Governor Abiodun had noted that that the people themselves were the initiators of the development plan. As he argued, “it is important that the government carries the people along when making crucial decisions, most especially those that affect the people, such as the budget preparation. This Town hall meeting, therefore, is a symbolic representation of our administration’s commitment to inclusiveness, and people-centred and participatory governance. We strongly believe that governance should be a participatory process and an inclusive one. Achieving the Ogun State of our dreams will require the inputs of all; it is our belief that the people should have a say on issues that concern them and they should, therefore, be allowed to take their rightful place in the governance process.”
The governor is in distinguished company. According to Eric Johnson, a United States scholar, several of the recommended practices in budget making encourage the participation of stakeholders (that is, elected officials, government employees and their representatives, local residents and businesses, and others interested in government finances and services) in governmental budgeting. As Johnson observes, one element in fostering this participation is the creation of budget documents and other publications that convey essential information on organizational goals and associated policies, plans, and resource allocations. This information, he avers, needs to be available to casually interested stakeholders while giving those interested in more detail an opportunity to understand much more about the workings of government and how it is financed.
Against this backdrop, it certainly came as no surprise that when Prince Abiodun presented a budget estimate of N449.974 billion for the year 2020 to the State House of Assembly, christened “Budget to Build Our Future Together”, there were dignitaries from all walks of life, including former former military administrators of the state, Oludayo Popoola, Ekundayo Opaleye, Daniel Akintonde, and Rasheed Raji; former Governor Gbenga Daniel; former deputy governors, Salimotu Badru and Gbenga Kaka; former speakers of the state House of Assembly, and traditional rulers. These stakeholders, among many others, had been widely consulted before last week’s formal presentation, and had made critical inputs into the budget. The governor therefore meant every word when, during the presentation at a plenary presided over by the Speaker, Olakunle Oluomo, at the Assembly Complex, Oke-Mosan, he stated that the fiscal estimates reflected his administration’s determination to deliver on its electoral promises to the people. Giving the breakdown of the budget, he revealed that N269.132billion, representing 60.31 per cent, was proposed for capital projects, while N180.842 billion (39.69 per cent) was set aside for recurrent expenditure, with allocation for salaries and allowances put at N83.238billion. This shows clearly that the budget is project-driven, and not expenditure-driven.
As Governor Abiodun noted, the state government would formulate policy for a holistic actualisation of the budget towards localising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through public-private partnership initiatives, having put in place a mechanism for a workable public financial management system to eliminate leakages and ensure efficient and judicious use of resources. He did not fail to emphasise the plans full automation of the state’s finance functions, strict adherence to the proposed fiscal responsibility law, credit rating for the state by internationally accepted rating agencies, strengthening of internal audit functions, and timely publication of audited accounts. The Speaker, earlier in his welcome address, had noted that the foundation being laid in all sectors of the Ogun economy by the Abiodun administration was a pointer to the massive growth and development that residents of the state would witness under the administration. He had, therefore, assured of a robust relationship of the legislature with the executive.
Given the foregoing, it can be asserted without fear that the Ogun 2020 budgets gives hope of a massive turnaround in the state. It is now left for the drivers of the various projects to ensure that the specified goals in each of the critical sectors of the economy are met, and that the people get the utmost value for their money.
“Branco writes from Mowe, Ogun State.