September 16, 2016

Bayelsa low on public finance transparency – Research

A research work on budget transparency and implementation in the Niger Delta has scored Bayelsa low on public funds management and transparency.

The report of the research was presented at a one-day forum on Friday in Yenagoa for stakeholders in Bayelsa organised by Bayelsa Non Governmental Organisations Forum (BABGOF).

The result of the empirical research revealed lack of budget governance practice by the Bayelsa government.

The research conducted in five states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Rivers, carried out by the Niger Delta Citizens and Budget Platform (NDCBP) reviewed the 2014 budgets of the states covered.

The report titled: “Campaign Votes: Citizens’ Report on State and Local Government Budgets in the Niger Delta 2014”, was done by a civil society group, the Social Action Development Integrated Centre (Social Action).

It was funded from the Strengthening and Civic Engagement Programme of U. S. Agency for International Development.

A total of seven NDCBP implementing member organisations, including BABGOF participated in various stages of the programme implementation.

Bayelsa government in the 2014 fiscal year signed a budget of N332.826 billion with recurrent expenditure profile of N183.989 billion comprising 55.3 per cent and N148.836 billion for capital expenditure 44.per cent of the budget.

Mr Ekpere Prince, Social Action’s Project Officer, who spoke on the theme, “State of Open Budget in the Niger Delta” noted that Bayelsa scored only eight out of the 28 indicators used to assess its transparency in budget governance.

He listed some of the indicated shortfalls to include non executive consultation on budget, legislative defence not open to public, no public hearing at legislature on the budget, among others.

He said that Bayelsa’s attempt to make the budget document public started in 2008 and ended the following year 2009.

Ekpere said that in spite of claims of operating a transparent government, the Dickson administration did not respond to Freedom of Information Act-based request for copies of the 2016 budget of the state.

“In 2008, Bayelsa state became the first in the state Niger Delta and perhaps in Nigeria to post its annual budget online. At the time, this was a major departure from a tradition of secrecy which prevailed in relation to state budgets.

“This practice was brought to an end in 2009. Since then, the state budget has been recluse.

“In 2016, Freedom of Information request was dispatched to the Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning, Ministry of Information and Ministry of Education requesting 2016 budget and other basic information.

“None of the agencies responded to the request. The practice of opaque system in Bayelsa state has continued in spite of the passage of a transparency law ostensibly meant to make fiscal information proactively available in the public space.”

In their contributions, some stakeholders who spoke at the meeting advised the state government to prevail on political appointees to refrain from personalising public offices for citizens to enjoy the dividends of democracy.