From Blessing Ibunge, Port Harcourt
A Civil Society Organisation, Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre in partnership with OXFAM International has called on Community participation in the Rivers State yearly budget allocation process.
The group made the call at a one day advocacy meeting and media engagement on participatory budgeting and fair taxation, held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Participants at the meeting selected from different civil society organisations across the 23 Local Government Areas of the state discussed that their investigations revealed that the people at the grassroot level do not follow or even understand the process of budgetary allocation leading to developmental projects.
They noted that although the common man is mandated to pay different taxes by the government but hardly benefit or participate in the development of his community.
Speaking, Emem Okon, founder and Executive Director Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre, said haven noticed the gap between the government, agencies, civil society organizations and the community people in budgetary participation, the group after training some persons at the grassroot level organised the meeting to discuss how the gap could be bridged for more developmental impact in communities in the state.
Emem advised that there should be an inclusive budgetary system in the state where everybody including women and youths will be allowed to participate in the developmental projects as contained in the annual budgets of the state and Local Government.
She noted the need for government to always carry the vulnerable people in the society along when deciding budgets, adding that sometimes community governance structure do not represent the interest of the people.
She said: “I have worked with community people since 1997 and I know most of the complaints is that community members are not consulted and in most cases it is true but the assumption is that because government and other stakeholders consult community chiefs and maybe member of the community development on the interest of community members.
“But also listening to community members you realise that it is not true, which means that there is a disconnect somewhere between the community members who are supposed to be impacted by government programmes or programmes by development agencies. And the government itself that is designing this programme and implementing, therefore there is need for the connection between the community leaders and their subjects and through them to the government.
“It is also expected that government and development agencies should go beyond the community leaders to have a brother engagement with the community members so that people who are marginalised would have an opportunity to say something, because the decision by the community governance structure in some cases does not represent or address the interest of the community members.
“This is the gap that civil society organisation and development organisations is trying to fill because we go to the communities, train groups, we work with women and from our experience most times, women are excluded from those decision making processes. Even when we have women leaders, they are not parts in practice of the community governance system”.
Henry Ushie, OXFAM International staff, who spoke with The AUTHORITY at the meeting lauded Kebetkache for her community relation that encourages on peoples oriented development and dividends of good governance to the rural people.
“Some of the reasons OXFAM is involved with Kebetkache is because there are a whole lot of complains from the community that things are not done properly, especially from the women that they are never carried along in the processes of budgeting.
“We believe that the people should drive development eventually and so we partner with Kebetkache to see how we drive development within our states. And then for us fiscal governance is one key area where we can actually be able to push for developmental issues, particularly at community level and that is why we decided to pitch our tent within budget monitoring and budget implementation. And so within that fiscal space what we are trying to achieve there is to see how we promote participatory budget system where communities can actually make input by budget processes and be more active within that space.
“Kebetkache tries to be OXFAM eyes at that level where they engage the community people to help them understand how the budget calendar works and at what point they can come in and make input in that process”.
On his part, Isreal Egbunefu, Deputy Director, Budget, Monitoring and Evaluation of the Rivers State Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning, stressed “For us as a ministry, we carryout pre – budget workshop where we need some of these Civil Society Organisations to come around and make their inputs, we carry them along, they tell us what they need and we tell them how they can be engaged.
“This government is trying because it is not possible to satisfy all the needs at the same time, resources are very meagre but they had to be very frugal in managing the resources. Budget will impact on the people they will also need to understand how they engage”.
James Chuku, a participant and member of Advance People Rights Initiative, said “Our concern is that the government is for the people, the government is supposed to be serving the people. So whenever the government makes budgets, the budget they make must be according to the need of the people, because you cannot be serving the people when you do not serve their need.
“So, we are saying that budget should not be prepared based on government priorities but based on the communities’ priorities. That is the reason why OXFAM had to train us on how to monitor budget through Kebetkatche Women and Resource Development Centre and we have been posted to development Local Government to see for ourselves what government said they are doing and how they doing them.
“From what we saw in the various Local Government Areas, we are not very happy with the situation on ground, so we are asking that the government should cause their monitoring agencies and their Boards to follow up with what is happening with various projects in LGAs because we know that government establish boards and other monitoring agencies to oversee what the Ministries are doing, so that the actual money paid by the common man as tax is justified in development”.