IT is the season of budgets. The federal government, states and local government councils are going through the ritual, for that is what the annual event has become. It is the time to reel out figures government will spend on itself.
The best budget arguments are heard now, never during implementation. It is a testy year for the Federal Government as the National Assembly is battling to save the last shreds of its image. With pretence at accountability, it wants government agencies to be fiscally more responsible.
As campaigns for the 2011 elections gather more momentum, governments are more sober. They need people they ignored for years to vote again, it is a civic responsibility, they say, for the sustenance of democracy. More importantly, it is a vote for their collective survival.
Most budget talks make frequent references to the people and their importance in democracy. The right words are important now, arrogance returns after the elections.
The following summaries of the observations of a civil society organisations session that assessed the performance of the 2010 Jigawa State budget are instructive.
*There was no citizens' participation in the budget preparation process.
*There was no substantial input from the civil society organisations during budget processes and implementation.
*The State largely depended on statutory allocations from the Federal Government for financing the budget, resulting in poor budget performance and slow pace of development.
*The budget did not adequately address gender and people with special needs.
*Little industrialisation in the state to complement government's skill acquisition programmes, hence youth unemployment and poverty.
*The budget lacked specific goals, benchmarks and indicators with which to evaluate and assess its performance.
*The State House of Assembly members made very little contact with their constituencies and their interests did not in budgetary projections.
*There was inadequate fiscal discipline in the implementation of the budget.
The list contains everything a budget should not be, and the tragedy of this is that the situation is nationwide. Jigawa State only represents how our governments implement flawed budgets.
Where budgets do not reflect aspirations of the people, who do they serve? Whether at the federal or state level, budgets have become the weapon for the authorities to serve their own purposes. Local government council budgets are free money for state governments to use them to their delight.
In 11 years of civil rule, governments have budgeted trillions of Naira. The budgets were wasted on projects that failed to improve the conditions of the people. Governments have become more self-serving and budgets brazenly reflect this.
The time is ripe for governments to tell Nigerians how they spent budgets and why they spent them in the manner they did. Unless the people keep piling pressure on their governments, they will get no explanations.