Friday, 14 May, 2021

Budget transparency

•We still have a long way to go

The Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC) in Nigeria lately unveiled the first-ever bench marking and comparative assessment of fiscal responsibility across ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) for the purpose of promoting fiscal discipline to curb corruption.  For instance, the index showed striking information that out of the 16 MDAs the survey covered from 2011-2013, nine were below the index minimum benchmark. This, of course, shows that their performances, including those of nine MDAs, were below expectations.

The Fiscal Responsibility Index, developed from inputs from different society groups, professional associations and government agencies, is a”flagship assessment of how the MDAs at the federal level have complied with the provisions of those laws, policies and regulations using the locally developed index.”  Thus, at the official public presentation of the commission’s report in Abuja, the acting chairman of the FRC, Victor Muruako, said that in terms of policy-based budgeting subsidy, the Federal Ministry of Works, followed by Trade and Investment, Mines and Steel, Power, Youth Development, Lands and Housing, Transport, Health, Women Affairs, Science and Technology, Aviation, Finance, Water Resources and Education, in that order, “applied policy-based budgeting”.

Apart from this, Muruako pointed out evidence from the “sub-sector index” which looked at the “budget comprehensiveness and transparency” which shows that, apart from environment in the survey period, no other selected MDA crossed the benchmark line. This, in effect, means that these focal MDAs cannot be said to be budget comprehensiveness and transparency compliant.

From all indications, the above findings were said to have corroborated the latest result of the country in the open budget of 2015 where Nigeria scores 24 out of 100 points (24%) in budget transparency. Furthermore, Muruako noted that, in terms of budget credibility, only one MDA (Aviation) scored higher than the benchmark during the study period.  Also, on budget implementation, monitoring and evaluation, the result showed that apart from Agriculture, Lands and Housing, and Youth Development, other MDAs scored below the index benchmark.  However, it is interesting to note that in the sub-index benchmark of accounting, recording, reporting and external auditing, most MDAs scored above the index benchmark. According to Muruako, the index is set to achieve, among other things, the application of “a domestic framework of indicators and assessing the level of fiscal prudence across Federal MDAs…”

The operation of the FRC is very important for any budget to succeed.  There is so much opacity in the budgeting process in the country. A good example is the National Assembly which should carry out its oversight functions making its own budget a closed book to the public.  The lawmakers simply approbate and reprobate at the same time. One way by which budget transparency could be ensured and achieved is for auditors to do their work. Unfortunately, not all MDAs cooperate; they refuse to subject their books to auditors for scrutiny, thus giving a leeway for official corruption in the system.

Even when the auditors do their work, the reports only gather dust at the National Assembly where the lawmakers seem not interested in working on them. Perhaps the way out is for the auditors to make their reports public.

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