Politics

House makes public participation in budget process compulsory – Speaker

Rep Abbas Tajudeen, Speaker

…as Reps hold town hall meeting on 2024 budget

By Tom Okpe

Speaker of the House of Representatives Rep Tajudeen Abbas has disclosed plans by the 10th House, to amend the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007, and make citizens participation a routine and compulsory in the budgetary process.

Speaker Abbas also, stated that the 10th House, as the ‘People’s House,’ would work towards making the Federal Government’s budget, a ‘People’s Budget.’

The Speaker made this known in Abuja on Monday while declaring open, ‘Citizens’ Townhall on the 2024 Budget and Appropriation Process,’ organised by the House Committee on Appropriations and the Programme Coordinating Unit, (PCU) of the Speaker’s Office.

Several Civil Society Organisations, (CSO) Non-Governmental Organisations, (NGO) Professional bodies, Chief Executives in the public and private sectors, as well as Student Unions who were represented at the event, expressed their views.

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu had on Wednesday, November 29, 2023, laid the budget estimates before a joint session of the National Assembly, and the House, debated the general principles of the budget.

The bill was passed for second reading and referred to the House Committee on Appropriations, led by Rep Abubakar Kabir Bichi.

Speaker Abbas stated that the House had taken the lead in facilitating greater citizens’ participation in the budget process, while challenging all Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government to do same.

He said, “On our part, the House will review the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007 to strengthen existing provisions to improve access to information and public consultation during all phases of the budget cycle. Specifically, we will amend the FRA to require and define public participation, explicitly.

“Your participation in this townhall meeting underscores the essence of democracy, power of the people to engage actively in governance and decision-making processes.

“You are invited to closely, examine the 2024 budget proposal as presented to the National Assembly by Mr President.

“As representatives of the people, it is our duty to ensure that the annual appropriation reflects the needs and aspirations of every Nigerian citizen.

“I wish to reassure all Nigerians that the President, Tinubu, and the National Assembly are committed to addressing these hardships,” he said.

Speaker Abbas noted that the top priorities of the 2024 Appropriation Bill, as stated by the President, were national security, local job creation and poverty reduction, while the proposal was labelled ‘Budget of Renewed Hope.’

He said: “Your contributions must go beyond mere criticisms to constructive and evidence-based suggestions on how we can improve the budget process and make the budget more responsive to the needs of all Nigerians.”

The Speaker recalled that during the budget proposal presentation by the President, he promised that the House would convene a town hall, in line with its Legislative Agenda, to harness public input and opinion.

“This event represents the fulfilment of that pledge,” he stated.

He said the town hall meeting is crucial to enhancing the transparency of government spending, stressing that, “it would also allow the public to be more informed about how public funds are to be used and, by so doing, build greater trust in government institutions.”

He stressed further: “More importantly, however, this town-hall will allow the National Assembly to understand citizens’ needs better and explore ways to address them through the budget.

“The relevance of this interface is best understood within the larger context of diminished public trust in government institutions in Nigeria and Africa.

“This town hall represents a major step in changing the narrative. As indicated in our Legislative Agenda, we are the People’s House.

“As such, we firmly commit to strengthening public engagement and seeking inputs into the budget process, starting with the pre-budget statement, executive budget proposal, budget debate through public hearings in the legislature, and implementation, monitoring, and reporting of the budget.”

Going forward, Speaker Abbas said, the House would sustain the initiative, while noting that the lawmakers believed the process should start before the budget is presented to the National Assembly.

“This is critical to ensuring that the budget becomes the people’s budget. We expect that the 2024 budget will be discussed at the constituency level to ensure greater inclusion and engagement with diverse stakeholders at the grassroots level,” he added.

The Speaker commended the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC); the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, (FCDO); and the Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn, (PERL) for their partnership and support to the House on the town hall.

In his remarks, Deputy Speaker of the House, Rep Benjamin Okezie Kalu, in his goodwill message, said the event was a testament to the House’s commitment to transparency, accountability, and, most importantly, active participation of citizens in the legislative process.

“The budget plays a crucial role in guiding our nation’s journey by determining priorities and allocating resources.

“Therefore, it is essential that the budgeting process is transparent, inclusive, reflecting the needs and aspirations of our citizens, he said.

Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Rep Bichi, in his opening remarks, said the committee would always maintain an open-door policy to accommodate interest of stakeholders in making the process more credible, people oriented and veritable instrument, towards good governance.

He said: “Our Committee decided to involve Nigerians at the townhall, because the budget belongs to the people, as such, we have to carry them along.”

He assured that the House Appropriation Committee would not disappoint Nigerians in the onerous task of budget process.

Also, delivering his goodwill message, Clerk to the National Assembly, (CNA); Sani Magaji Tambuwal said when critical stakeholders are not consulted before the national budget and appropriations process is concluded, it is inevitable that government policies, programs, and projects will be replicated.

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“This is especially true, given that the budget is a document of public policy intended for the general public.

“That is to say, the budget is owned by the people, hence, the decision of the 10th House of Representatives to organise this town-hall meeting is not only consistent with democratic principles but with the 6th agenda of the present House to ensure an open and inclusive legislature,” Tambuwal stated.

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