Akwa Ibom lawmakers must eschew sacrificing the collective interests of citizens over selfish partisan considerations in the approval of the proposed 2021 supplementary appropriation recently submitted to the State House of Assembly by the executive.
Policy Alert, a non-governmental organization working to promote economic and ecological justice in the Niger Delta, made the call on Wednesday in Uyo.
The group urged the lawmakers to “utilize a pro-poor lens to critically interrogate the proposed 2021 supplementary appropriation recently submitted to it by the executive.”
The call followed a confirmation that the Executive arm of government had earlier on sent a supplementary budget of N136.5 billion to the Assembly for consideration and approval to augment the initial N456.3 billion initial budget approved for the year.
The Programme Officer, Fiscal Reforms and Anti-Corruption, Faith Paulinus, stated: “We are seriously concerned that the state government has proceeded with plans for a 2021 supplementary appropriation in the third quarter of the year despite headwinds from volatile crude oil prices and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which should suggest otherwise.
“While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with supplementary budgeting, we are of the opinion that any further spending approvals for government should be informed by revenue and capital expenditure performance in previous quarters and should be carefully designed to address priority projects that meet the needs of the poorest citizens.
“It is for this reason that we urge the legislature to resist the temptation of being rushed to accept the supplementary proposals hook, line and sinker.”
Paulinus further noted that in the last six quarters, priority sectors of the economy for citizens such as education, health, agriculture, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) have not received priority attention, compared to some non-priority areas that received huge capital budget releases.
In 2020, she said only agriculture, out of these sectors, saw the substantial capital budget performance, with 46.5 percent implementation, compared to 28 percent in 2019.
On the other hand, budget performance for education in the state stood at 26.2 percent, while health had 27.8 percent performance, and the WASH sector had zero release, despite having a paltry budget of N228 million.
“This is in stark contrast with the huge releases made to the office of the Accountant General, which was the second-highest capital spender in 2020, and the first half of 2021.
The group said the performance also contrasts with huge releases in 2020 and the first half of 2021 to the Ministry of Special Duties, which implements a number of controversial big-ticket projects with little impact on everyday citizens’ welfare.
Policy Alert urged the 7th Assembly to ensure that the supplementary budget was subjected to close public scrutiny as has been the norm of the legislature over the years, to give citizens an opportunity to weigh the proposals against the actual priorities of citizens.
“Lawmakers should prioritize the overriding public interest over partisan loyalties. They should carefully examine the provisions line by line against extant fiscal data, to ensure they meet the needs and priorities of the citizenry.
“We also call on both the Akwa Ibom State Budget office and the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly to immediately publish details of the supplementary budget proposals online to enhance citizens’ engagement and to instill further confidence in fiscal decision making of the state government.”