RE: N66.5BN COVID-19 GRANT RIVERS STATE EXCLUSION; INSTITUTE LEGACY OF ACCOUNTABILITY, PUBLISH RIVERS STATE BUDGET – AGAIN, SOCIAL ACTION, NIGER DELTA ACCOUNTABILITY NETWORK, ENJOIN GOV. WIKE.
The exclusion of Rivers State (as the only State so excluded), from recipients of the N66.5 billion COVID-19 Responsive 2020 Budget Results Achievement Grant, has once again brought to the fore, the strain democratic principles are under, in Rivers State.
The Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, had in a Statement in Abuja disclosed that the fund was a support facility from the World Bank under the Bank’s “States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability Programme-for-Results”, and that Rivers State was the only State left out owing to its non-qualification for the disbursement, based on the criteria, which required States to have a passed and published online on the State’s website, the State’s COVID-19 Responsive Amended 2020 Budget. The said budget must have a ‘standardized budget documentation to enhance clarity, transparency, and accessibility’. Clearly, Rivers State did not meet these criteria and was consequently excluded.
This exclusion of the State again calls to examination, the adherence to, and indeed the practice of Accountability and Transparency in the governance administration of the State. As Civil Society Organizations working to promote socio-economic development and improved living standards of the people through good and accountable governance, Social Action Nigeria and its partners, the Rivers State Anti-Corruption Network, ACONET, have on occasions in time past bemoaned the narrowed and blighted accountability space in Rivers State, urging the State’s authorities to do more to bring the activities, policies and programmes of the government at the State within the ambit of democratic tenets of Accountability and Transparency.
Social Action and ACONET, had particularly railed the appalling secrecy and unavailability of the State’s budget yearly. The presumption that a document which supposedly emanates from, as well as derives its sovereignty from, the people would be ordinarily available to them, failed completely in the scenario of Rivers State, thus leaving a gaping space between citizens and governance in the State.
According to Ms. Vivian Bellonwu, “citizens are hardly able to relate or reconcile their resources as a State against their needs and application or expenditure of these resources along the line of their needs and priorities”. Adding that “while the announcement by the Finance Minister did not come as a surprise relative to the foregoing, it is however a big blow to the people of the State who had looked to some level of value-addition to their lives and economy from the funds if judiciously applied, but who sadly now (just as it had occurred under a similar circumstance before), would have to face with the reality of dashed hope through very avoidable circumstance”.
While no doubt some damages have in this way been done, and even more to the innocent people of Rivers State, we however make bold to posit that it is yet not too late to make the necessary amends cum adjustments; we strongly urge the Rivers State government to not only use this second leg of its administration, but also these useful nudges by well-meaning entities as the Federal Ministry of Finance, the World Bank, CSOs, Development Partners and Citizens, etc, to re-commit itself not only through mere policy expressions but more importantly in practical steps and actions to an ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENT Administration.
We enjoin the State Governor Barr Nyesom Wike to take particularly personal responsibility to see to it that the Budget of the State is published on the State’s Website and made proactively available and comprehensible to the people of the State and the public. This will mark a major indicator to accountable service delivery of which the State government no doubt rigorously labours to deliver. It will furthermore shield the State from avoidable resources-losses and aptly project it as a truly democratic government and accordingly predispose it to support-systems and grants that will significantly boost its wellbeing and that of its people.
Isaac Botti Social Action
Sebastain Kpalap Rivers State Anti-Corruption Network