INVOLVING CITIZENS IN BUDGET MONITORING
As a result of poor monitoring and implementation of budgets across the three tiers of governance in the country, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has mapped out a strategy for citizens' participation in budget monitoring.
According to the UNDP governance team leader in Nigeria, Dr. Samuel Egwu, who spoke at the inaugural meeting of the Development Watch Initiative (DWI) being raised as the platform for the new citizens' budget monitoring drive, the aim of the initiative is to support government to get their system right and develop data that can influence policy.
Egwu explained that the DWI stems from the original mapping exercise that carved out Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in eight states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in a pilot programme. The overriding concept of the project is to build capacity to enable the CSOs monitor development projects at national, state and council levels.
Under the programme, the UNDP will establish National Information Action Centres (NIACs) to promote access to key public information from the top (government) to the bottom (citizens) and vice versa.
In order to realise the objective of effective management and sustainability of the initiative, the UN agency is partnering with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), in collaboration with the Centre for African Settlement Studies and Development (CASSAD). Some of the CSOs involved in the project are Poverty Alleviation For The Poor Initiative (PAFPI), Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) and the Self Worth Development Initiative (SWDI).
We welcome the initiative aimed at enabling Nigerian citizens monitor development projects at all tiers of government in the country. Hitherto, such important civic responsibility of the citizens had been neglected.
People do not ask why certain projects embarked upon by the government are abandoned midway. Neither do they ask why a project is shoddily done.
In coming out with the laudable project, the UNDP is helping to solve one of the problems that have dogged our budget processes since independence.
Our budgets have not adequately served the people. Most times, governments at the different levels, design budgets without the peoples' input, and in total disregard of peculiar needs of the various segments of the society.
The UNDP initiative will work under well a true democracy. For budget monitoring to succeed, we must ensure strong commitment to its execution. In addition, the process of budget planning must be democratized. The people need to have an input in budget design and prioritization to participate effectively in its monitoring. Nigerians, so far, have been alienated from the budget planning process. Let us now democratize our budgeting system so that it will take cognizance of the wishes of the people, including those at the grassroots.
If this is done, Nigerians will be interested in monitoring the budget to see how it is implemented. It is good to get the people, the civil society organisations and anti-corruption agencies involved in budget monitoring.
Unless the people begin to fight for their rights, at the end of the day, the budget will not reflect the general interest of Nigerians. Right now, our budgeting system is dictatorial. It needs to be democratized, and properly monitored.
The UNDP initiative is worthwhile. We need more people to participate in budgeting and monitoring. That is a good way to curb the endemic corruption in governance which our extant budgeting style has entrenched. If this is done, it will deepen our democracy.
Citizens' involvement in budget monitoring does not, however, detract from the responsibility of the budget monitoring office and the National Assembly to do their jobs. They should be alive to their responsibilities.
Government should cooperate with the UNDP on this project to make budgets work at all tiers of governance for the overall benefit of the citizenry.