Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen of the Media, we- the Niger Delta Anti-Corruption Network and the Niger Delta Citizens and Budget Platform- are honoured that you found time to attend this brief but very timely Press Conference.
We are deeply concerned that the Rivers State government is yet to publicly make available copies of the 2015 budget of the state. At various times, our organizations have made requests to the relevant government agencies for electronic or hard copies of the document, all to no avail. On more than one occasion, the response has been that the document is not yet ready. If this is the case, one then wonders what it was that the State House of Assembly passed into Law as the 2015 Appropriation.
We are worried that Rivers state seems to have slid further into fiscal fiat as the non-availability of budgets for public scrutiny and as a guide for public expenditure defeats every pretext to transparency, accountability or prudence. In the 2014 Budget speech, the state governor made the following claims;
“The Government has never been reckless in managing the resources of the state as we continue to make transparency and accountability our guiding principle. To this end, we have been very committed and disciplined in all our endeavors.”
We however hold strongly that no claim to transparency and accountability can be considered valid in a system where the basic document to achieve it, is not available to the public. Rivers state cannot claim that it is working for the people when 5 months into the year, the people have no idea what their money is being spent on.
The failure of the government to make the 2015 budget document available to the public has made it impossible for citizens of Rivers State and other tax payers to monitor the extent of public expenditure delivery and its attendant outcomes. At the moment, citizens are not aware of which 2015 projects are located in their communities or which ones directly benefit them. For a government that promises accountability and transparency, this is a far cry from global best practices; NIDAN and NDCBP condemn it in totality.
Ladies and Gentlemen, permit us to use this opportunity to once again call attention to the need for governance in Rivers State to be participatory. On several occasions, the governor of River state has made claims to operating a participatory system. The most recent has been while presenting the 2014 budget ;
“In the process of formulating this budget, we kept with our tradition of consulting widely with all relevant stakeholders in the state. These consultations have helped us remain focused on our commitment to set goals and targets. Policy Makers and civil servants from all MDA’s with the Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning worked together to produce this proposal. The entire approach was participatory.”
Despite this claim, not once in the life of the current administration have the people of the state been consulted in the process of budget formulation. Even public hearings which should be statutory forums for citizens to contribute to the budget are not held. The danger in this trend is that government’s choice for public expenditure often fails to capture the true wishes and aspirations of the people, while alienating the people from any role in how their resources are spent. We call on the relevant government agencies to evolve formal structures aimed to encouraging citizens’ participation in the processes of fiscal governance.
Finally Ladies and Gentlemen, we reiterate that it is abnormal for Rivers State not to have the 2015 budget in the public realm, 5 months into the fiscal year. We call on the Ministry of Budget and every other responsible agency of the Rivers state government to make the 2015 budget available by uploading it on the Rivers state government website within the next 24 hours and subsequently producing printed copies as soon as possible. It will be a sad comment on the ‘performance’ of the current administration if in a few days it leaves office without having the state budget in the public realm.
Once again, thank you for finding the time to attend this Press Conference.
Rita Kigbara Ken Henshaw
For NIDAN For NDCBP