The launch of the Open Budget Survey Report for 2015 by Nigeria Civil Societies on the 19th of November 2015 left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand I was excited to participate in a wider collective of Civil Society Organisations partnering to launch the report, as many CSOs are working assiduously in their different fields to ensure transparency and participation is entrenched in the budget process at all levels in Nigeria. On the other hand I am saddened that Nigeria has not made significant progress over the years, since the survey started in 2006.
In the survey, Nigeria scored 24 points out of 100, meaning the government of Nigeria provides citizens with minimal, scanty or insufficient budget information. At the inception of the survey, Nigeria ranked 20 in 2006, 19 in 2008, dropped to 18 in 2010, further declined to 16 in 2012 and then 10 points in 2015.
Nigeria has consistently been classified in the category of countries providing scanty or insufficient information on budget transparency. It shares this category with other African countries such as Rwanda, Liberia, Morocco, and Zambia among others, however, Uganda, Malawi and Ghana ranked 62, 65 and 51 points respectively.
South Africa remains the only African country in the category of New Zealand, United States, Norway and Sweden with a score between 81 and 100 points, a score deemed to be ideal, which is providing sufficient budget information to the public.
The 2015 survey also ranked public participation in budget processes, budget oversight by legislature and audit at 25, 67 and 50 respectively meaning participation is weak, oversight by legislature inadequate and oversight by audit limited.
The Open Budget Survey is conducted biennially by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) covering 102 countries across different continents of the world, and assesses participating countries based on three pillars of accountability, which are transparency, participation and oversight. The Open Budget Index measures budget transparency of Central Government’s based on 109 questions, for which scores are assigned ranging from zero to 100 points.
From discussions that ensued after the reports were presented to the public, it was clear that the government needed to do more on budget transparency to improve on weak budget participation by citizens as the two concepts are closely interwoven.
Although budget and audit oversight seemed to have been adequate due to supportive policies and laws that facilitate oversight, but in practice, there are challenges that impede effective oversight. For instance, the representative of the Office of the Account General of the Federation (OAGF) admitted that out of 14 annual audit reports submitted to the National Assembly for deliberations, only one report was brought to the plenary of the Senate, and it was never passed.
Nigeria still operates an Audit Act of 1956, which is obsolete and the audit bill seeking to make the OAGF an autonomous institution had been presented to the National Assembly on several occasions but never got signed in to law. However, in the twilight hours of the 7th assembly, they hurriedly passed the audit bill, but which did not get signed in to law within the time limit provided by law, during the period of the then President Jonathan and thereafter President Buhari. Thus, following Nigeria’s standards, the bill has to be presented afresh in the 8th assembly.
Nevertheless, participants drew the attention of the OAGF to the fact that blaming the National Assembly for not acting on the audit report did not exonerate the institution for failing to publicise the audit as no law prevented the OAGF from doing so, either before or after sending the report to the National Assembly.
Another example of poor transparent practices leading to weak participation is the late presentation of the Executive Budget proposal by the Executives to the National Assembly, which often times occur less than three months to the start of the next fiscal year as stipulated by the Fiscal Responsibility Act, thus reducing the time to meaningfully deliberate on the budget proposal and hold wider stakeholder consultations.
To address these identified challenges, participants prioritised actions to be taken by government agencies as well as CSOs along the lines of Transparency, Participation, and Oversight, to improve on budget openness. These recommendations are as follows and in the parenthesis you see the Responsible Agency.
Publish, in a timely manner, all the budget documents that international practices require countries to publish (Budget and Planning Commission)
Citizens should be sensitized about the budget process and how they can contribute to it (Budget and Planning Commission)
A timetable, with dates for the various budget phases and documents publication, should be made publicly available and adhered to (Budget and Planning Commission)
Institutionalize transparency in the budget process (for example including transparency as a legal requirement, from all institutions, in the budget law) (National Assembly)
All MDAs at state and federal level should be mandated by law to consult with citizens (Federal and State MDAs)
In order to make public engagement meaningful, information on venue, dates and time of consultation should be made publicly available with sufficient time for preparation (Federal and State MDAs)
There should be stronger collaboration between the various stakeholders - CSOs, government agencies (MoF, Budget/Planning Commission, Fiscal Responsibility Commission, etc) for effective budget monitoring (Civil Society, all institutions involved in budget monitoring)
Priority should be given to local contractors where possible so that they can easily be held accountable by communities where they are implementing the projects (Bureau of Public Procurement)
Priority should be given to the passage and accent to the Audit Act to ensure the OAGF is autonomous (National Assembly, Presidency)
Publish all Audit reports as soon as it is sent to National Assembly (Accountant General of the Federation)
Civil Society should be integrated within the oversight process of Legislature and Audit to provide support and evidence for the monitoring and oversight activities (Civil Society, Donors, Institutions that work to strengthen parliamentarians and audit officers’ skills)
Budgets should be linked to specific goals. Budget lines should be tied to projects and programs for better monitoring of disbursement and expenditure (Budget and Planning Commission)
Definitely, this is not the first time the Open Budget Survey Report and recommendations such as these have been presented to agencies of government. But, it is my hope that now that CSOs have collectively launched this report, we will work together to put pressure on the relevant government agencies to act on these recommendations.