Assemblies Fail To Involve Citizens In Composite Budget Processes

News Desk Report
SAMNet members interacting with a butcher in Bawku marketThe Social Accountability Media Network, Upper East Regional Chapter, under the auspices of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, is not happy that Municipal and District Assemblies did not involve citizens in the processes leading up to the compilation and presentation of their composite budgets.
The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) has been implementing the Local Government Capacity Support Project (LGCSP) since 2012. The project supported 46 Metropolitan and Municipal Assemblies (MMAs) to strengthen local public financial management for accountability, and improve citizens’ engagement for improved infrastructure and service delivery.

Component 3 of the Project focused on increasing citizens’ demand for accountability from the MMAs. This was done through the Social Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability Process, and complemented by an active media network on social accountability.

In line with this, over 300 members of the media network have received training to improve their skills in undertaking mass public education, in the form of media campaigns. The network members also developed plans to undertake a campaign on MMAs’ budgeting process in the months of August and September 2015.

With the support of Social Accountability Unity of the MLGRD, the Upper East Regional Media Network undertook a campaign that sought to create awareness of citizens on composite budgeting processes in the Bolgatanga and Bawku Municipal Assemblies. The choice of the two assemblies was based on the fact that they were the only old (traditional) Municipal Assemblies in the region.

With a membership of sixteen, and led by a six-member executive, the network used different strategies to educate citizens of the two beneficiary assemblies on the importance for them to actively get involved in composite budget processes.

Among the strategies were radio programmes in English Language and local languages (Gurene in Bolgatanga and Kussal in Bawku), community engagements, posters and flyers, and the use of Information Service Department vans. Resource persons included members of the network, budget officers, and officials from the National Commission on Civic Education.

After rounding up the campaign in Bawku last Thursday, Mr. William Nlanjerbor Jalulah, SAMNet Coordinator for the Upper East Region, told this paper the campaign had exposed the failure of the two assemblies to educate and involve their citizens in the processes that led to the compilation and presentation of their composite budgets.

He explained that SAMNet was formed in 2013 in Tamale after a training programme on Local Government Capacity Support Project (LGCSP), organised by the MLGRD. That training, he said, brought together about 40 journalists from the Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions. The campaign then started in 2014 after the formation of the network with funding from the World Bank and German Cooperation, through the MLGRD.

According him, members of the network had observed that apart from their campaign, the assemblies did virtually nothing to educate and involve citizens in the processes leading up to the compilation and presentation of their composite budgets.

Buttressing his point, the Coordinator said; “Throughout our campaign in the two Municipal Assemblies, it was obvious that these assemblies did not embark on continuous awareness drive to enlighten their citizens on composite budget. They only ran announcements through ISD vans a day before, or on the day of budget presentation to inform citizens that they were to present their budgets.

No opportunity was given the people to get involved. Even these announcements were done only in a few sections of these assemblies. So it clear that most of the people did not even hear such announcements.”

Mr. Jalulah said Component 3 of the Local Government Capacity Support Project (LGCSP) was focused on increasing citizens’ demand for accountability from MMAs, but unfortunately, the two assemblies, though, were officially written to by the MLGRD to introduce SAMNet to them as a partnering network in their bid to create citizens’ awareness and to strengthen local public financial management for accountability and improve citizens’ engagement for improved infrastructure and service delivery, the administrators of these assemblies never involved his network at any stage of their composite budget processes.

He noted that the problem was not only with the two municipal assemblies in the region, but all the district assemblies, and, therefore, suggested to the MLGRD to ensure the enforcement of effective awareness creation by the assemblies, monitor such activities, and use them to issue punitive measures against assemblies that clandestinely prepared and presented their composite budgets without sensitising the people and taking inputs from them.

He explained that the result of not creating citizen’s awareness and involving them could lead to possible misappropriation of assemblies’ funds, putting up projects at wrong places in communities, and not considering the priority needs of the people, brawls over members of parliament (MPs’) projects and assemblies’ projects, and numerous uncompleted projects.

When asked of success or otherwise of his network’s campaign, Mr. Jalulah said “It was successful even though we did not get the desire cooperation from the assemblies. We did what was required of us and that was why we got to know that the assemblies must sit up and do more in creating awareness of their citizens on composite budget processes,” he emphasised.

In their outdoor campaign activities in Bolgatanga and Bawku, the members interacted with citizens one-on-one in their shops, offices and market places. At the Bawku abattoir and timber market, the operators said it was only during fee fixing (rate fixing) of the assembly that they were invited, but nothing on the budget was communicated to them, neither was their inputs sought.

T2he story was not different when SAMNet members went to Sumbrungu community in the Bolgatanga Municipality.  The Bolgatanga Municipal Assembly presently has no MCE, because there has been no replacement since the tenure of office of Mr. Edward Ayiriba Ayagle expired a couple of months ago. Mr. James Tiigah, the Regional Minister, is acting MCE for now.

When contacted, the Municipal Chief Executive for Bawku, Mr. Issahaku Bukari, discounted claims by the people. He explained that the necessary processes leading up to the budget presentation was done, and that the people were engaged. He mentioned town hall meetings and rate fixing as key activities that were also part of composite budget processes which the people took part in.

Though he admitted everybody could not have attended, he was also of the believe that SAMNet members should not only focus on budget issues, but all the activities and programmes that were related to budget issues of which the people were duly informed.

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