By Lizzy Okoji
Some Lawmakers of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) Parliament have faulted the process for the adoption of the 2023 Community budget.
They said the budget showed less focus on community citizens.
The Lawmakers expressed their reactions in separate interviews with journalists following the adoption of the 2023 Community Budget of 418,072,408 Unit of Account (UA) by the Parliament of Wednesday in Abuja.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that while budgetary allocation for Peace and Security, a critical challenge of the sub-region was pegged at 21,839,788, ECOWAS Institutions were allocated 366,254,680 for administration and salaries.
Nigerian Lawmaker, Awaji-Inombek Abiante said that the Parliament should have been given more time to understand the budget as do its due diligent as advised by President Muhammadu Buhari during the opening of the Session before adopting it.
Abiante said that the ECOWAS Parliament must act beyond just an advisory role, and the right things must be done so that community citizens can feel the impact.
“The budget as presented is acclaimed to be a balance budget and in their own concept of balanced budget is when what you are expecting equates to what you are hoping to spend so it is balanced budget.
“If you ask me, we would have done a little more. But going forward, I think Parliament has established that there is a need to do detailed understanding of the budget especially with the budget performance.
“Arising from the issues, questions that were raise, why were some budget heads reduced, why were others improved beyond what was proposed.
“So going forward, we have to look at budget performance in details and where necessary we must invite heads of the various ECOWAS Institutions to account for what they have been spending.
“It does not have to be business as usual especially when our President, Muhammadu Buhari told us at the opening that we should be diligent, detailed, transparent in what we do, especially with the budget.
“Going forward, we have to ask more question. The argument is this is done, It must not be this is how it is done, but what is the right thing to be done. It is only by so doing we will be able to hold officials accountable for what they are doing and we will be responsible to the citizens.
“If we continue to say Parliament is just advisory then we will not be able to go beyond where we are and make members of the community have impact of what we are doing, Abiante said.
Billay Tunkara, Member of Parliament from the Gambia lamented the limited powers of the Parliament on scrutinizing the budget before adopting it, stressing the need for enhanced power of the ECOWAS Parliament.
“First of all, I think members of parliament has been asking for more inclusiveness, not to be served with a budget.
“We have our reactions in the areas of transparency when it comes in terms of detailing, because we are all lawmakers in our respective countries.
“So Members of ECOWAS Parliament wants some sort of like clarity, to detail, actually what vote went in recorded, when I say recorded we mean the routine expenditure of the parliament.
“Such as ticketing, purchase of vehicles, fuel and lubricants, maintenance of building service, staff salary, the reimbursement of per diems, and co.
“We also want to know the development component of it , what has ECOWAS done in terms of changing the lives of people, community programmes, what have you done, in terms of creating that awareness.
The power to change the budget is not really given right now. That’s why we have to go back to our existing legislation or laws to see how best we can enhance the power of Parliament,”Tunkara said.
Also, Mahama Ayariga, a Member of Parliament from Ghana however noted that it was not the sole responsibility of ECOWAS Institutions to provide development projects and security to Member Sates but only to support.
“Well, honestly, I do not think that there is anything particularly different about this budget.
The reason basically is that significant chunk of it is going into institutional budget and heavy in the institutional budget is the component for salaries and administration.
“Programmes themselves are really not that significant in terms of the percentage of the budget.
“Truth be told, the subregional organization itself is not technically a development delivering institution.
“It is an institution to coordinate and ensure that the various countries play their roles and the right rules and system are put in place to enhance free movement of goods and persons.
“So it is not the ECOWAS Institutions that is supposed to deliver on the infrastructure that will enhance free movements of goods and persons, they are not to construct the roads that will link the countries so that there is free movement of goods and persons.
“They are not construct the border posts, they are not to ensure there is security in individual countries so that other nationals can pass through in a state of security.
“That is why you would not see huge budgetary allowance for specific developments but it is a coordinating agency.
“For instance, ECOWAS Authority of Heads of States will convene meetings when there is a problem in one country and deliberate over it and see how they can help that country as brothers and sisters to be able to resolve their internal problem that is causing the insecurity in that country.
“That is why you will see that the budget is lean on specific development but focusing on the institution and functioning of the institution.
“Those who do not understand it get very critical and say they are just paying their salaries they are not doing actual development,” Ayariga said. (NAN)