An extensive and rigorous study that examined budget transparency and implementation by state and local governments in the Niger Delta has given extremely low marks to Governor Seriake Dickson's administration in Bayelsa State. The study, which was done by the Niger Delta Citizens and Budget Platform (NDCBP) and partly funded by the the Strengthening and Civic Engagement Program of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), concluded that Mr. Dickson's administration performed abysmally in public funds management. In effect, the report discredited the Bayelsa State government’s claim to running a transparent administration.
A key finding of the report was the lack of budget governance practice by Governor Dickson's administration.
The report, a product of a research in the five Niger Delta states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Rivers, reviewed the 2014 budgets of the states covered.
The report, titled "Campaign Votes: Citizens' Report on State and Local Government Budgets in the Niger Delta 2014", was co-funded by more than seven NDCBP implementing member organizations, including the Bayelsa State Non-Governmental Organizations Forum (BANGOF).
In the 2014 fiscal year, according to the report, Mr. Dickson signed a budget of N332.826 billion with a recurrent expenditure of N183.989 billion (55.3%) and N148.836 billion for capital expenditure (44.7%).
The report was presented at a one-day forum on Thursday in Yenagoa for stakeholders in Bayelsa State organized by BANGOF and backed by Social Action and USAID.
Prince Ekpere, Social Action's Project Officer, who spoke on the "State of Open Budget in the Niger Delta", noted that Bayelsa scored only eight out of the 28 indicators used to assess transparency in budget governance.
He said the findings included the absence of executive consultation on the budget, the defense of budgets at the legislature with the public shut off from the process, and no public hearing at the legislature on the budget. According to him, the effort in Bayelsa to make the budget document public started in 2008 and ended the following year, 2009.
Mr. Ekpere stated that despite claims of operating a transparent government, the Dickson administration did not respond to Freedom of Information Act-based requests for copies of the 2016 budget of the state.
"In 2008, Bayelsa State became the first in the entire Niger Delta and perhaps in Nigeria to post its annual budget online. At the time, this was a major departure from a tradition of secrecy which prevailed in relation to state budgets," said Mr. Ekpere. He added: "This practice was brought to an end in 2009. Since then, the state budget has been a recluse.
"In 2016 Freedom of Information request was dispatched to to the Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning, Ministry of Information and Ministry of Education requesting 2016 budget and other basic information.
"None of the agencies responded to the request. The practice of opaque system in Bayelsa State has continued despite the passage of a transparency law ostensibly meant to make fiscal information proactively available in the public space."
Various stakeholders at today's meeting urged the state government to, among other measures, prevail on political appointees not to personalize their public offices.