By Akanimo Kufre
The Federal Government has emphasized the need for effective collaboration with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in ensuring effective implementation of public policies, plans and budgets in Nigeria through involvement in advocacy, monitoring and evaluation.
Acknowledging the potency of the CSOs in such roles at a Situation Room Dialogue on the 2017 Budget in Abuja, the Minister for Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, said CSOs can help in advocating reforms to strengthen budgetary control, undertake independent project monitoring as well as collaborate with the Budget Office in Monitoring and Evaluation field work to ascertain whether funds allocated are being used effectively.
The Minister said nation building is a process that requires the involvement of everybody, pointing out that the role of the CSOs is key, as contractors perform better when they are effectively supervised and monitored. According to him, effective monitoring would ensure completion of funded projects and achievement of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) objectives as well as Sustainable Development Goals.
Explaining the focus of the 2017 Budget, the Minister said it is based on the ERGP, a medium term recovery and growth plan which reflects government’s strategy to restructure, reset, reposition and diversify the economy for sustained economic growth. He said the Budget has been designed to deliver economic and social benefits outlined in the ERGP, therefore effective collaboration is key in achieving the developmental objectives of government, which is where the civil society is critical.
Udoma assured that government will deepen engagement with the civil society as it is committed to open government principles and accountable governance.
Addressing specific issues raised at the dialogue, the Minister said government’s interest in improving the Health Sector should not be seen only from the N55.61billion allocation in the capital budget but also from the recurrent spend as expenditure in the sector is largely recurrent. It should also be seen in provisions in other basic infrastructure that support health facilities like technology, roads and power as well as areas that will reduce health risks like water and sanitation.
The 2017 capital Budget of N55 billion is almost double the 2016 figure of N28 billion. This shows the seriousness of government in revamping the Health Sector, he said, adding that government is desirous of stemming the tide of medical tourism by Nigerians in the shortest possible time. He said government is determined to tackle corruption as that is one of the critical factors that affect project and plan implementation; but he said focus is not just on fighting corruption but plugging loopholes through initiatives that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the menace to thrive.
The Minister said one major thrust of the 2017 Budget is to partner with private and development capital to leverage and catalyze resources for growth, stressing that much of the capital provision is directed at projects that are aligned with the core execution priorities of the ERGP.
Senator Udoma emphasized the desire of government to move the country away from a consuming nation to a producing one, urging Nigerians to grow what they eat and produce what they consume. The Minister of State in the Ministry, Mrs Zainab Ahmed explained that the problem was not so much with consuming too much, but that we were relying on imports for our consumption.
She asked the CSOs to extend their collaboration to also scanning the States to have a better picture of the total spend on health and education to enable government plan better.
The Executive Director, PLAC and convener Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Mr Clement Nwankwo, observed that Nigeria is a very rich country with vast resources and enormous capital, but the problem has always been how the resources are gathered and how they are utilized.
These factors, according to him, are part of the reasons why the country’s economy went into recession. Whilst acknowledging that things were improving, he was concerned that government officials are not definite about when the economy will get out of the situation. Nwankwo said the CSOs, while appreciating the efforts of the present administration, need to know in which direction the economy was headed and the initiatives to ensure the proper implementation of the 2017 Budget, given that it was passed late.
He said the CSOs were interested in ensuring that citizens get the best of the government and also that government operates efficiently because if the country improves, everybody benefits.