Abbas: House Will Amend Fiscal Responsibility Act to Strengthen Existing Provisions

Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Tajudeen Abbas, has revealed that the House would review the Fiscal Responsibility Act  (FRA) 2007 to strengthen existing provisions to improve access to information and public consultation during all phases of the budget cycle.

He said specifically that the Green Chamber would amend the FRA to require and define public participation explicitly.

The speaker gave the hint at the citizens town-hall on the 2024 appropriation bill held yesterday in Abuja

He said he considered the meeting highly relevant to deepening democratic governance and strengthening public financial management.

The speaker noted that the town hall provided a platform for direct engagement between legislators and citizens, focusing on matters related to the national budget.

Abbas stressed that this was crucial to enhancing the transparency of government spending and to also allow the public to be more informed about how public funds are to be used and, by so doing, build greater trust in government institutions.

Besides, he noted that the town hall would allow the National Assembly to understand citizens’ needs better and explore ways to address them through the budget.

The speaker stated: “The relevance of this interface is best understood within the larger context of diminished public trust in government institutions in Nigeria and all over Africa.”

Abbas emphasised that the Afrobarometer study across 36 African countries in 2014/2015 found that people express more trust in informal institutions such as religious and traditional leaders than in the formal executive agencies of the state.

He said public trust in parliaments and electoral institutions was lowest across 36 countries.

The speaker added that the Open Government Partnership (OGP) found that Nigeria provides “few” opportunities for the public to engage in the budget process, adding that in 2017, it ranked Nigeria 13 out of 100 points in public participation.

Abbas noted: “This poor ranking was due to the dominant role played by the political elite and government bureaucrats in the budgeting process. While some progress has been made since 2017, many traditional challenges remain. The most notable is the absence of functional government mechanisms that show how citizen input informs the budget-making process.

“This town hall represents a major step in changing the narrative. As indicated in our legislative agenda, we are the People’s House.

“As such, we firmly commit to strengthening public engagement and seeking inputs into the budget process, starting with the pre-budget statement, executive budget proposal, budget debate through public hearings in the legislature, and implementation, monitoring, and reporting of the budget,” he said.

Abbas stressed that greater citizen engagement required action not just by the legislature but more so by the executive.

He said the Nigeria National Action Plan (2017-2019) under the Open Government Partnership identified the Federal Ministry of Budget and National Planning as the lead institution, with other government organs and agencies and the civil society as support institutions.

The Speaker said: “This places the burden for improving public participation in the budget largely on the Executive.

“Some of the ways to achieve this include regular publishing of MDA budgets and quarterly and annual budget implementation reports on their websites, annual publishing of a comprehensive citizen’s guide to the budget, conduct of annual citizen’s satisfaction survey and timely publication and dissemination of all key budget documents to facilitate citizens’ participation.”

The Speaker stressed that the House  had taken the lead in facilitating greater citizens’ participation in the budget process, and therefore challenged all MDAs to do the same.

“On our part, the House will review the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 to strengthen existing provisions to improve access to information and public consultation during all phases of the budget cycle. Specifically, we will amend the FRA to require and define public participation explicitly,” he said.

He recalled that in August 2023, the headline inflation rate increased to 25.80 per cent, relative to the July 2023 headline inflation rate, which was 24.08 per cent.

Also, the Clerk to the National Assembly, Sani Tambawal, said the town hall meeting was a thoughtful and productive initiative that would advance the democratic process of public policy formulation.

He pointed out that the approach to the national budget and appropriation process would lead to greater inclusivity, citizen participation, openness, and transparency.

The clerk stressed that if followed through, it would also improve budget performance and accountability.

Tambuwal noted that the town hall marked the second attempt by the National Assembly to embark on what could be described as a consultative meeting on the national budget.

On his part,  the Chairman, House Committee on Appropriations, Hon. Abubakar Bichi, said  the committee would always maintain an open door policy to accommodate the interest of stakeholders in making the process more credible, people oriented and veritable instrument towards good governance.

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