Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, presenting the 2023 budget estimate to the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Mr. Aniekan Bassey.

Abasifreke Effiong

More than 90 civil society organisations in Akwa Ibom State have boycotted public hearing on the 2023 budget held on Wednesday 16th November by the House of Assembly.

Governor Udom Emmanuel presented a budget estimate of N697.005 billion for the 2023 fiscal year to the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly on Monday 7th November for consideration.

The Akwa Ibom State Civil Society Forum in a letter sent to The Dune said the government has been using them to “tick the box” to meet development partners’ requirements on citizens participation in the budget process but has not been taking into account recommendations made by CSOs and the citizens.

“We have taken note of the fact that in the last seven years, despite an apparent increase in opportunities for CSO participation in the budget process, the quality and outcomes of such participation has amounted to merely ticking off development partner expectations and achieving publicity mileage by the executive and the legislature.”

The letter signed by the chairman of the Forum, Mr. Harry Udoh, said the Forum has decided not to participate in deliberations of the 2023 budget until a commitment is made to ensure that their inputs get the budgetary attention they deserve.

“Every successive year, our inputs and contributions on what should and should not be in the budget are only received and then studiously ignored, no matter how germane the points we make. It would seem that civil society participation has become just to ‘fulfill all righteousness’. Our proposals are hardly ever given any consideration.”

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“This ploy by the Government of the day to religiously “tick the box” of citizen participation has become a recurring decimal as citizen-recommended projects and needs captured in budgets get zero allocations and when they do eventually get allocations in subsequent years, they are characterised by the sheer lack of releases to implement such citizens input.”

CSOs in Akwa Ibom boycott public hearing on 2023 budget Mr. Harry Udoh, Chairman, Akwa Ibom State Civil Society Forum.

The Forum said its year-by-year analysis of the Auditor General’s report and Citizens Accountability Report has shown a disproportionate relationship between citizens-recommended projects and needs, projects included in the budget and needs and projects implemented.

It frowned at poor capital releases in the 2022 to key service delivery sectors particular education, health and WASH, observing that “the mid-year review of implementation of 2022 budget shows very low releases to Education (2%), Health (1%) and WASH (0%)”.

The Forum demanded for a public hearing that will accommodate the inputs of the civil society leading to the production of an appropriation bill and budget performance that is responsive to the needs and priorities of citizens.

Other demands made by the Forum included, “immediate commitment to commence the process of ensuring inclusion, allocation, and prompt release of the funds for implementation of citizens nominated projects in the appropriation bill with plans for budget releases when the bill is approved or reasons provided for releases not made.”

“Implementation of Citizens-generated projects included in the budgets and the publishing of same in the Citizen budget as directly linked to citizens’ needs as well as other effective measures to include the view of citizens and their organizations in the budget review process.”

“Sincere inclusion of CSOs in budget preparation and implementation demonstrated by verifiable criteria and data that explains how citizens-nominated projects that gets budget allocation and releases are selected and included as a feedback mechanism in the Citizens Accountability Report (CAR).”

“Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) mechanism for the selection of projects should be clearly spelt out, investigated, and leveraged for increasing the selection of citizens’ projects.”

Meanwhile, the Forum has emphasised that it will no longer register its attendance in any process that will discountenance citizen’s recommendations.