Many problems have bedeviled the local government budgeting in Nigeria. As such, they have not been able to meet their statutory obligations of bringing the gains of democracy closer to the citizens.
Some of these problems include:
Corruption and mismanagement
Corruption is one of the major problems facing the local government. In fact, a mere mention of the local government exudes corruption. The popular myth propagated by the council officials is that the councils are always short of funds. No doubt, the heavy funding that runs into billions of Naira as seen from the tables may not be enough because of the high level of corruption in the councils. It has also been observed that most local government councils do not accord adequate regard to the budget process. The fall out of this situation is the indiscriminate and unplanned execution of projects. The state governments which would have served as a check are not free from this cankerworm. Evidently, there is contract scams in all local government councils in Nigeria. These contracts are inflated and worse still, the projects are not executed and thereby defeating the essence of budgets.
Majority of local governments today are manned by officials who do not possess the requisite leadership and managerial skills to deliver the gains of democracy to the people. Section 7(4) of the 1999 constitution makes provision that the qualification for election into the offices of the Chairman and Councilors shall be the same as that of the election into the Houses of Assembly of a state.
The constitution puts the minimum educational qualification for the election into the House of Assembly of a state as school certificate.
However, this principle has not been followed and as such, made the councils the dumping ground for illiterates or a starting point for political toddlers.
Lack of Civil Society Participation
The level of participation by the people has highly limited especially the local governments located in the rural areas. The reason is attributed to high illiteracy level and the poverty rate. Thus, the psyche of the people is very low. In addition, there is no law that encourages civil society participation in governance and also no access to information and participation. In the absence of this, the civil society, no matter how vibrant and enlightened, cannot achieve anything.
Central/State Government’s Interference
The 1999 Constitution confers powers that relegate the local governments to both the federal and state governments. Evidently, this has created friction leading to the neglect of local bodies. The council is not given the necessary independence as practice in a true federal structure. In addition, elections into the councils in most states have not taken place more than a year after they were dissolved. It shows that democracy in Nigeria today is not practiced at the local government level.
Finance is another area of concern. Most of the local council’s sources of revenue have been taken over by the state government. Some of these councils also are too small in size and thus, have little or no resources from which to generate revenue internally. The internally generated revenue of these councils is too small to pay the wages and salaries of their junior staff not to talk of embarking on any meaningful projects. Moreover, the 10% of the internally generated revenue of the state that is supposed to be given to local council is not forthcoming. Worse still, the federal government statutory allocation does not usually come to the local councils regularly and the state governments at times divert the allocation to satisfy other areas. In fact, it is in line with this situation that the 774 local governments under the aegis of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) demanded succor during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. The union was assured for an existing constitutional backing in its quest for fiscal and administrative autonomy.
Evidently, local government cannot overcome its problems without the supports of both federal and state governments. However, the local government should be allowed to discharge some of its responsibilities without direct intervention by these higher tiers of governments. In the area of budgeting, the whole process should be the responsibility of the local Chairman and assisted by the local Supervisory councilors as well as others like the Secretary and Finance officer. The period for budget preparation should be fixed. It may be between July 15 and October 15 of the current year. The document should be transmitted to the local council not later than October 16. The document also must consist of the estimates of income and details of the total appropriations to cover current operating expenditures and capital outlays. Also, in preparing the budget, certain requirements must be followed.
These requirements which are like a form of expenditure control include:
- General limitations that influence the total expenditures.
- Specific limitations which mandate local governments to fund particular expenditure items.
The legislative discussion of the budget estimate should be able to commence between October 16 and November 17. This would enable the chairman to issue an ordinance on or before the current fiscal year. The budget review should commence immediately after the authorization of the document. The document should be submitted within two weeks, for review by the reviewing office which is the Department of Budget and Management. The essence is to ensure compliance with budgetary requirement and consistency with the local development plan. The review should not last more than 90 days. Once the budget passes review, it goes to the implementation. It involves the release and actual disbursement for funds for the specified functions and projects. The programming of fund disbursement should be the duty of work and financial plan and request of allotment.
At this level, the emphasis is placed on prudent disbursement of funds. Notably, it is always better than no cash overdraft is incurred at the end of the fiscal year and due process should be adopted in disbursing fund (that is, the appropriate certificate of the local budget officer, a local accountant, and treasurer required).
The next level is the budget accountability. It involves recording and reporting of actual income and expenditure as well as the evaluation of the performance.
Accountability should be shared among the department heads who participated in the use of the fund, the local treasurer, local accountant and budget officer.
There is also the need to carry the people along during budget preparation and implementation. It could be in form of people’s organizations and non-governmental organizations within the local councils. The organizations should be accredited by the local council and among them either select or elect who will represent the group in the special committees comprising the chairman, members of the council and heads of concerned local departments. This is mainly to bring home the government priorities to the people.
No matter the system adopted, the basic issue is that the governing body adopts sound accounting, procedures, maintain an adequate and effective system of accounts for safeguarding assets as well as devise a good system of internal control. The public officials should spend fund lawfully or for purposes provided by law otherwise, they face impeachment or dismissal.
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