A Boost for Transparency
Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the recently inaugurated open government transparency policy and portal is an important milestone for the media, civil society and non governmental organisations to track government spending and expenditure
Riding on the back of ‘change’ the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari came into power in 2015. The movement was hinged on the premise of a total departure of what was obtainable in previous governments. Thus, it was sold to Nigerians as the only viable alternative. But years down the line, they seemed to be losing faith in the change agenda, especially when it came to tackling corruption, which was one of the key drivers of this government.
To restore hope and faith on its promise of tackling corruption, the Financial Transparency Policy and Portal also known as Open Government, which allows for the creation of a dedicated portal that warehouses all government financial transactions and puts the information out for the public to consume, was born.
Inaugurated on December 9, the president said the portal is where Nigerians can see how the country’s financial resources are being spent by government agencies.
Despite fears in some quarters that the portal will be compromised, the initiative has been commended in many quarters as a seismic shift from what used to be and gives meaning to the promise of transparency.
For many, it is an important milestone, especially for the media, civil society organisations and non governmental organisations to track government spending and expenditure. Many also noted that it will give leverage to the Freedom of Information Act. This is because once any material is posted on the portal, it is evidence which makes it actionable.
Thus, on December 9, which is the day set aside as the International AntiCorruption Day by the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, Buhari had launched the portal to show his administration’s commitment to tackle corruption.
The portal will be managed by the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, Galaxy Backbone Plc with support from the International Monetary Fund and The World Bank.
Giving reasons for actualising this, Buhari said: “The way we do business, we promised that we will improve revenue collection as well as spending through better systems. As of today, we have recorded significant milestones, including the rollout of the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) to over 800 Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAS), which has enabled us to build a very rich repository of financial information about the affairs of the federal government.
“Within the government, we know who is collecting what revenue and who is getting paid which money and for what purpose. This information is available online real-time, but only to a limited number of privileged government officials.”
The Transparency Policy was approved by the Federal Executive Council in 2018 and it compels the Accountant General of the Federation ( AGF) to publish a Daily Treasury Statement, which will provide information about what comes into the national purse and what goes out every day. According to the president, the Treasury is required to publish this information unfailingly.
He also ordered that the “AGF and all Accounting Officers must publish Daily Payments Reports. With these reports, the Treasury will publish payments of at least N10 million while all MDAS must publish payments above N5 million made out of all public funds under their purview. The information to be published must include the MDA responsible, the beneficiary, the purpose and amount of each payment. Accounting Officers are responsible for providing answers to any questions from the public relating to transactions completed by entities under their charge”
In addition, he ordered that “all MDAS must publish Monthly Budget Performance Reports. These reports must include the performance of the budget by various dimensions including MDAs, functions and economic activities performed by all Federal Government Agencies. These reports must be ready within seven days after the end of the month.”
The AGF has also been mandated to “publish monthly Fiscal Accounts detailing the fiscal performance of the Federation including receipts from all the collection agencies and payments out of the Federation Account. This must be done within 14 days after the end of the month. The AGF and all Accounting Officers of MDAs must publish Quarterly Financial Statements for the government as a whole and for individual MDAS respectively.”
These Buhari said, “must be published within a month after the end of the quarter. The AGF must publish Annual General Purpose Financial Statements while all public sector entities are required to publish statements for their individual entities. These statements must be prepared following International Public Sector Accounting standards and must be ready within a month after the end of the first quarter of the following year.”
To check officials in the office of the AGF, Buhari noted that he is aware that the requirements may appear too rigorous but “the systems that have been built to support the policy are robust enough”.
The reason for implementing this policy, Buhari said, is to cement government’s “commitment to improving governance and supplementing the recently launched Whistle-blower Policy and equipping the general population with the tools they need to report financial wrongdoing.
“It is crucial that more transparency is not only encouraged but also enforced at all levels. This policy is also aimed at enabling timely availability of financial information to the civil society organizations and the public at large by all MDAs of the federal government. Through this initiative, the foundation for a strong partnership against corruption will be laid”.
By coming up with this policy and portal, the federal government is setting the minimum requirements for financial transparency by all MDAs. According to Buhari, “while full and complete disclosure should be encouraged, a minimum needs to be set to ensure that non-compliance can be established and addressed. I encourage MDAs to publish even more”.
Buhari has urged all the states and local governments “to embrace transparency as a vehicle through which fiscal discipline can be entrenched for the benefit of generations to come.”
Also, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning Mrs Zainab Ahmed, at the launch of the policy and portal, said: “The launch of this Financial Transparency Policy marks another milestone in the quest for this administration to promote the principles of accountability and transparency in the public financial management system which is in furtherance with what was done in 2012.”
She said the Policy and Portal launched are in furtherance of one of the objectives, which is the fight against corruption in conformity with global best practices and to build the confidence of different economic actors in the governance of public affairs by both elected and appointed public officials.”
So far, the Consolidated Budget Performance by Administrative segment, Consolidated Budget Performance by Economic Classification and Consolidated Budget Performance by Functions of Government (from January to November 2019) have been uploaded.
It is crucial that more transparency is not only encouraged but also enforced at all levels. This policy is also aimed at enabling timely availability of financial information to the civil society organisations and the public at large by all MDAs of the federal government. Through this initiative, the foundation for a strong partnership against corruption will be laid