By Chinonso Alozie, Owerri
IT was like a time of final decision to initiate a process for good governance in Imo State when more than 100 Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, and lawmakers from the Imo State House of Assembly, declared their full support for participatory budget arrangement in the state.
Southeast Voice captured the first of its kind event tagged Stakeholders Open Budget Forum, held in Owerri and organised by Citizen Centre for Integrated Development and Social Rights, CCIDESOR.
The discussions also featured the Imo State Head of Service, Mr. Calistus Ekenze. Southeast Voice gathered that out of 27 lawmakers of Imo State House of Assembly, three present at the event, publicly concurred to the campaign for open budget system.
The lawmakers were led by the Committee Chairman on Budget and Appropriation, Mr. Maxcel Odunze, representing Orlu State Constituency. Others include, Mr. Bruno Ukoha, representing Ezinihitte Mbaise State Constituency and Mr. Emma Orie, representing Ohaji/Egbema State Constituency.
Various crucial areas on the need for open budget system were deliberated upon and stakeholders bared their minds on the gains of having an open budget that truly reflects the needs of the governed. They cited Anambra and Enugu states as examples of practical governance in terms of open budget.
One of the points raised was that the governments of the aforementioned states adopted a community approach process to know what their people needed before planning their budget. They said that it was for this reason, the “open budget system” states were somehow ahead of other states in the same region.
On Imo State, some of the disturbing areas as outlined by the stakeholders are still waiting for answers. Southeast Voice captured the grey areas as expressed by the participants. These include the inability of the Imo State Government to make available to the public, copies of Imo budget both in soft and hard copy.
Another controversial issue, that attracted mixed reactions was the failure of the House of Assembly to conduct public hearing to get the inputs of members of the public before the passage of the budget.
At the end of deliberations, the participants agreed and in their recommendations made available to the Southeast Voice through the CCIDESOR Executive Director, Mgbemena Obidi, listed the following, “The legislature should conduct public hearing on annual state budget before passage.
“This is critical to an Open Budget process as it allows citizens the opportunity to listen and deliberate over areas of concern in the budget bill. The government should make copies of Imo State annual budget (past and present) easily available and accessible to citizens through hard and soft copies that should be uploaded in the state website as online.
“There should be open and participatory over-sighting of budget implementation by the legislature. The government should ensure the development of a new policy that will spell out the process of citizens’ participation in the 2018 budget process and future budget processes in Imo State. There should also be regular preparation and presentation of annual financial reports and audit reports presented to the State Assembly.”
In his remarks, the Imo State Head of Service, Ekenze, commended the initiative and was of the view that the programme, if adopted, would bring positive outcomes in the state.
While extolling the aims of the stakeholders’ forum, Mr. Odunze, the Committee chairman on Budget and Appropriation, Imo State House of Assembly, said that the involvement of the Imo State lawmakers in the process was in the right direction and pledged their support for good governance in the state.