The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), Africa Centre for Rural Development and Environment (ACERDEN) are pushing for efficient budgeting and good governance in the country. RAPHAEL ONYEKACHUKWU captures proceedings at a stakeholders’ forum on fighting corruption through community involvement in Budget processes.
Tuesday, July 18, 2017 heralded a new dawn for all communities in the 17 Local council areas of Enugu state as they were engaged in a cheery brainstorming on effective budgeting and community involvement in governance.
It is an unforgettable Tuesday marking the end of a 6-day capacity building workshop held at Danic Hotel, Enugu for stakeholders in the three senatorial zones that took two days each for their rendezvous with the organisers.
Teeing up participants at the event, Executive Director of ACERDEN, Professor Daniel S. Ugwu said the capacity building engagement was to educate, and enlighten grassroots communities on the need for them to participate in the budgeting processes because of its importance as the second most vital tool for governance after the Constitution.
Explaining that government cannot do anything without the budget, Prof Ugwu said with the budget articulating projects and services with the financial implications of their delivery to the citizenry, it is important the people benefiting from these services are involved in the planning, monitoring and evaluation processes.
The ACERDEN chief regrets that citizens have, over the years, been passive about the budget with successive administrations, especially at state and local government levels, making secrecy of the document that inadvertently breeds corruption, now a monster difficult to contain.
He said the capacity building programme, supported by ICPC, and funded by United Nation Development Programmes, (UNDP), targeted the grassroots’ stakeholders, who should ordinarily have a say in the budgeting processes, but have been deliberately excluded by those in government.
Prof Ugwu said with the training, participants are exposed more to their individuals and communities’ roles in budget preparation, presentation, and execution, adding that, “There is a link between budget, service delivery, and corruption. Budget padding is evil, be it corrective accounting or otherwise”.
While highlighting the common challenges in budget process to include poor planning, weak financial management system, corruption, inadequate funding, diversion of funds, weak budget oversight, and the docility of the grassroots, Professor Ugwu said though some government agencies and departments both at federal, states, and local council areas, undertake project monitoring, the process remains non-participatory, even as he queried, “Do they involve stakeholders? Do they engage the CBOs and NGOs in the exercise?”
The ACERDEN’ Executive Director said Community Based Organizations (CBOs) must take greater interest in the budget at all levels. “You must demand to know how much is received from the federation account, how much revenue is generated, what projects or civilities are contained in the local government budgets, where they could be located and at what cost”.
According to him, “the active involvement of CBOs and NGOs in monitoring activities is very fundamental; it creates room for local councils’ development while also recognizing their leadership role and responsibility in the partnership arrangement with government. The involvement of community people through organizations in both initiation and monitoring of budgets brings many benefits. It contributes local knowledge to the process and ensures the problems that are addressed are priorities of target community”.
“Since 2006 till date, it appears government has made the budget a secret affair with people left in the dark. Regrettably, the citizens have also been quite passive with many describing budget an annual ritual. This capacity building is to sensitize the citizens that you cannot continue to seat on the fence; that you must be involved in the budget; and demand to know what the governments at various levels are doing”.
Prof Ugwu praised the Enugu State government for developing the ‘Visit Every Community’ (VEC) as part of its efforts to engage the people in the budget process. “Enugu State government is now going to the communities to know their needs, prioritize them into 3, 4 or 5 elements and reflect same in its budget so that such projects are implemented to meet the people’s needs.
“But with the community people unable to read, interpret the budget or effectively participate in the process, the government has taken steps to establish a directorate of VEC, where communities can send their feedback on its service delivery. So, this training is basically to sensitize and educate citizens about the budgeting processes so that services are delivered for their overall benefits.
In his remarks to the participant, ICPC Chief Superintendent, Enugu Zonal office, Mr Eze Ansell said the Commission has set up a national anti-corruption coalition forum where NGOs participate in anti-corruption campaign.
He said given the NGOs and CBOs’ closeness to the grassroots, ICPC has found them useful in engagements with the grassroots on anti-corruption messages, stressing that with the grassroots effectively engaged in budgeting, the state and the citizenry would be better for it.
Mr Ansell said with such robust engagements, “The issue of siting projects that are irrelevant to communities will be avoided as things would now be based on the needs of the affected communities. It will ultimately eliminate the problems of abandoned projects by successive administrations since the communities will not only be involved in budgeting process, but will monitor, track and evaluate projects being executed in their respective communities.”
He said, similarly, “it will also aid in eradicating corrupt practices among the contractors and some government officials as communities will now hold the government responsible for any project through effective monitoring to ensure the funds released are properly utilised in delivering on contract within the communities”.
Eze said greater awareness among communities will assist government and ensure sustainable development in various communities.
About 450 participants, mostly key stakeholders selected from all communities in the state, were trained in groups according to their council areas and development units.
The event witnessed presentations on ‘Budget monitoring, tracking and evaluation’; ‘Strategies to overcome engagement challenges’; ‘Governance’; and ‘Fundamentals/basics of budgeting’. Group work was also organized with presentations made by different groups to round up proceedings.