Addressing Citizenry Extensive Concerns on the 2017 Budget Proposal

Chambers Umezulike February 24, 2017 0

On 23 February 2017, the Director-General (DG) of the Budget Office of the Federation choreographed a media briefing on several issues surrounding the 2017 Budget Proposal. The DG also used the briefing to make certain clarifications on public outcries over several budget items on the proposal. Most of these outcries were on many frivolous items (especially on electricity and utility bills of MDAs; several humongous expenses on the state house budget on utensils and feeding, electricity bills, travel expenses etc.); repetitions of budget items; budget cycle crisis; the budget preparation expenses; lack of details on some of the items; budget padding etc.

In attendance at the briefing were the media and Civil Society Organizations (CSO). In responding to some of these concerns, the DG took his time to counter some of the claims:

1). He stated that there was no sort of budget padding on the 2017 budget proposal.

2). That there were no frivolous items. That most of the extensive increments such as state house proposed expenditure on utensils and utility bills; electricity bills, security and cleaning services payments in MDAs etc. were either as a result of arrears of such bills/expenses or because funds were not later provided for them on the 2016 budget (meaning they were not implemented.)

3). He stated that there were no repetitions on the proposal, unless the repetitions being referred to were budget items on the 2016 one that re-reflected on the 2017 proposal, which was as a result of the fact that funds were not provided for such items on the former.

4). He reassured the audience of his liaison with the National Assembly to ensure that budget cycle would be from January – December of every year, which was clearly stated on the constitution, as against the culture of having a previous budget being implemented in another fiscal year.

5). He also explained that the details-deficit on some of the budget items were as a result of the perspective to keep the budget simple, for public consumption. That however that his agency would ensure further details on budget items when preparing subsequent budgets.

Representing Connected Development (CODE) at the event, I further engaged the DG and raised concerns over the NGN305/$ calculation on the budget proposal (while $1 is valued at NGN 520 at the contemporaneous market); if there are extensive plans for enhanced transparency and accountability in the 2017 budget implementation; our expectancy to lay hands on the 3rd and 4th quarters’ reports of 2016 budget implementation; his plans to ensure that revenue realization deficit would not frustrate the 2017 budget implementation drawing on the country’s experience with the 2016 one; and getting access to an extensive version of the budget that had further details on some of the line items. For the latter, I mentioned the ‘Talking Sanitation’, as well as ‘Afforestation’ and ‘Tree Planting’ budget items on the proposal, under the Ministry of Environment, which all lacked details such as where and how. Lack of such specific details has frustrated the works of CSOs that are into governmental capital expenditure tracking.

In addressing my concerns, the DG made commitments that were all in line with Nigeria’s commitments on the Open Government Partnership. He stated that the 3rd quarter 2016 budget implementation report would soon be in public domain while the 4th quarter’s would soon be out too. He further stated that there would be increased transparency, accountability and citizen engagement in the 2017 budget implementation. On this, he cited plans to have a digital platform for 24/7 citizen engagement on the budget. He also mentioned that there would be a breakdown on project basis subsequently when funds are released to MDAs. In addition, he promised a quarterly media briefing on the 2017 budget implementation. These were all good news and great outcomes for nonprofits that are into Open Governance advocacy. He mentioned categorically that the revenue realization plan on the proposal is quite realizable and that the FOREX regime crisis would not affect the budget implementation.

This media engagement is a step in the right direction as bringing all stakeholders involved and addressing public concerns on the budget proposal have boosted citizen participation in governance and also provided a platform for clarifications on several portions of the budget, as well as for stakeholders to make suggestions. It is hoped that the Director keeps to all the new commitments he made at the briefing and ensuring extensive open financial governance in the budget implementation. From our part, we are sending an FOI request for an extensive version of the budget, which he promised CODE would be provided with. And before I forget, he commented that he likes our name, ‘Follow The Money.’

 

Chambers Umezulike is a Program Officer at Connected Development and a Development Expert. He spends most of his time writing and choreographing researches on good and economic governance. He tweets via @Prof_Umezulike.

This present National Assembly is not entirely useless

Chambers Umezulike January 27, 2017 0

Thoughts on the Interrogation of the NGN 9.2 billion Women Clean Cook Stove Project Saga by the Federal House of Representatives

 

I have been involved in several dialectics on the practical importance of the National Assembly (NASS) since 1999. Most of such dialectics have ended with the conclusion that the institution has been a gross waste while levying the country so much. The foundation of this conclusion is rooted on several actualities. First, since 1999, the NASS has been used as a compensatory platform to settle former politicians and a mechanism for accentuating a post-1999 outbreak of political patronage in Nigeria. In short, the institution has directly supervised the proliferation and culturalization of contemporary corruption in the country. Secondly, the leadership crisis the Senate experienced from 1990 to 2003 started occasioning some elements of incertitude on the minds of Nigerians on what could be the real essence of such institution. Thirdly, one cannot remember any bills from the National Assembly that has had any impacts on the lives of ordinary Nigerians.

Fourthly, since 2007, despite a peroration of leadership crisis in the Senate, the NASS then became a traditional resort and relaxation point for failed and grossly corrupt governors, who siphoned all their states had, and were seeking ways to get covered with some sort of immunity from prosecution. To some of the lawmakers, it was a tool of still being relevant and in the political game. Fifthly, what irritates most Nigerians also encompass the fact that over 5 per cent of our national budget goes to the National Assembly. Conversely, such expenditure has been immersed in extensive secrecy with even pedestrian knowledge-deficit on what they do with such percentage. Sixthly, the NASS has gross-transparency and accountability deficit. The Nigerian lawmakers are the most paid all over the world, with humongous amounts of constituency allowances for implementing projects in their constituencies which they do not account for.

I am personally an exponent of this narrative that NASS has been a colossal waste up to this point, since 1999. I am part of those advocating that law-makers remuneration should be grossly cut to de-incentivize the transposition of clueless politicians to either of the chambers. While law-making should be a part-time activity. I am also part of those advocating for the eradication of constituency allowances since there are no monitoring and evaluation regime to ensure project implementation. I am also part of those advocating for the concatenation of the two chambers. Ultimately, I am part of those strongly advocating for #OpenNASS.

However, despite the inadequacies of the NASS including the present one, and the fact that it is still business as usual, one would be sincere of the fact that this present NASS ain’t that entirely useless. If you could remember, they were the ones that stopped the government from borrowing $30 billion while there were no plans on what to use it for. They were the ones that suspended the sale of national assets. They were the ones that suspended the increment on phone data tariffs. They have indeed made some critical interventions whether they did this in the interest of Nigerians or for political intricacies.

Consequently, just few days ago, the Federal House of Representatives (HOR) commissioned its committees on Anti-Corruption, Environment and Habitat to carry off an investigation over the last administration’s “Clean Stove For Rural Women Project,” which was under the Ministry of Environment. The project was at NGN 9.287 billion and initiated in 2014 to supply 750,000 units of clean stoves and 18,000 wonderbags to rural women. If you could remember so well, the project was chaperoned by a saga, resultantly from ambiguity in its contracting processes, cause celebre on the number of stoves that were procured and dynamics of the 2015 political transition.

This is a project that Connected Development’s Follow The Money (a grass-root anti-corruption movement) has been tracking its spending since 2014. The organization subsequently found out that only 45,000 clean cookstoves were provided and exhibited at the Velodrome of the National Stadium in Abuja. In addition, it also revealed that out of the 9.2 billion Naira, Federal Ministry of Finance only released N5 billion to the Federal Ministry of Environment for the execution of the project, and the Ministry of Environment only released 1.3 billion Naira to the contractor of the project – Integra Renewable Energy Services Limited. Till today, no one has seen any single beneficiary of the cookstoves.

It’s beautiful that the present NASS has also intervened in another great area through this investigation. I hope the investigation would not be compromised but would rather springboard appurtenant sanctions for those that compromised the rule of law in the process of the project.  I also wish to call on the Committees involved to implement this investigation in an open manner so that all relevant stakeholders (civil society and the media) can witness it to share findings, narratives and ensure transparency in such effort.

 

Chambers Umezulike is a Program Officer at Connected Development and a Development Expert. He spends most of his time writing and choreographing researches on good and economic governance. He tweets via @Prof_Umezulike.

Following The Money: How not to invest USD 49.8 million in Clean Technologies

codepress June 2, 2015 0

Caveat: This is not a research work, but an “activation” (for a duration of 6 months) for the Follow The Money team of CODE to help track and build knowledge around how USD 49.8 million will be used to procure and distribute 750,000 cookstoves and 18,000 Wonderbags to help reduce the 98,000 deaths that happen yearly from indoor cooking – largely affecting women and children in Nigeria.

It has been 185 days since the Federal Executive Council approved the the 9.2 billion Naira (USD 49.8 million) for the procurement and distribution of 750,000 clean cookstoves and 18,000 wonderbags to rural women, less than 50,000 clean cookstoves are available at the warehouse (the velodrome of the National Stadium), and just NGN 5 billion has been released to the Ministry of Environment from the Ecological Fund Office. Furthermore, only  NGN 1,253,778,750 ( USD 6.2 million) has been released from the Ministry of Environment to the contractor, Integra Renewable Energy, but the clean technologies are yet to reach the women they are meant for.

“But in January, we heard in the radio that these wonder stoves will help us stop felling trees indiscriminately, and also reduce heart problems contracted by our mothers while cooking with firewoods, but why have they not started distributing it to our rural women” Halima Andanu asked during one of our media engagements on a radio station two weeks ago. On the memo that was approved by the government, it should have taken the contractor 12 weeks (90 days) to deliver the clean alternatives. “We have to wait for [the] government’s waiver at the port to clear some of these goods through customs, and this can cause a delay. Likewise  the 15% that was given to our organization to start bringing in the stoves was agreed on after about 95 days since approval” said the representative of Integra Renewable Energy, the contractor that was procuring the clean energies at the 3rd stakeholders meeting on #WomenCookstoves.

 

On Tuesday, May 26, the Federal Government of Nigeria held a grand commissioning of the project that has not gotten to the hands of the beneficiaries. While the attention of most attendants at the event was drawn to the fact that the government has purchased the clean cookstoves, the fact still remains that less than 50,000 of the clean cookstoves are available, and no one knows when they will be distributed. Since January 14, 2015, the FTM team had requested for work plans, costed work plans, and the proposed beneficiaries of this intervention, but we are yet to get a response from the office of the Minister for Environment.

On May 29, 2015 this dispensation will end its tenure, and another Minister for Environment will inherit these conversations around this particular intervention – please be prepared. “We still have NGN 3.7 billion with us at the Ministry that we have not given to the contractor” affirmed Laurentian Mallam, the Minister for Environment. Furthermore, what has happened to the remaining NGN 4,287,250, 000 (USD 21.5 million) is still unknown. “I am just resuming into my office, and our office got the invitation to attend this stakeholders meeting two days ago” said the representative of the Ecological Fund Office (the office that was responsible for the disbursement of the NGN 9.2 billion) at the 3rd stakeholders meeting held on May 16, 2015.

As global investment in clean energy heightens at US$310 billion, this outgoing government intervention will add to this new energy finance as it expects to expand rapidly, especially as the country looks to reduce its reliance on greenhouse-gas emitting fossil fuels and adjust to the impact of climate change. “NGN 9.2 Billion will build a clean cookstove factory in the six geopolitical zones of the country, including the Federal Capital Territory, and engage thousands of vulnerable women and young men with meaningful employment” a clean energy expert ascertained.

Furthermore, even if the latter was an alternative,  it is still the amount of the funds we’ll see on papers and on the headlines in the news, the beneficiaries are yet known, and when the other stoves will arrive still puts us in the dark on how the NGN 9.2 billion will affect the lives of our rural women. Perhaps, it would have been better if the government had been transparent on this initiative (meaning letting everyone know their work plan), and added to a repository of knowledge around clean energy funding. We are still optimistic as we hope the project implementers will become responsive. As promised “at the next stakeholders meeting on June 9, 2015, we would have been prepared to give information and updates on work plans, and beneficiaries of this project” insisted representative of the Ministry of Environment at the last stakeholders meeting on May 22, 2015.