The belief of citizens of a society wherever there is a democracy, is that the dividends should reach them all and be proportional to their life style and standard of living. The Local Government Authority is the third tier of government and the nearest to the grassroots it is therefore under high expectation of the citizenry to deliver the dividends of democracy to them.
The yearly budget allocation received by the LGA for specific statutory responsibilities to the citizens of their locality is expected to be expended on projects & infrastructures that their communities have identified as priorities and essentials to their lives. But the reality remains that, there hardly exist a bottom up approach in governance at all levels, ie the input of the community on what expenditure their budgets should be formulated upon, and the explanation for this in the past have been, “low level or non existing budget education, awareness and knowledge amongst the community” and this does not exempt even the local government officials themselves.
A sustainable society and community starts from one which the citizenry and its closest tier of government are in one accord in driving the aspiration and growth of their community. This relationship can be built on trust, accountability, and transparency through community participation, public enlightenment and information on various issues, especially on budget.
A budget is the most important policy document expressing public policy. It forms the cornerstone of realizing improvements in the provision of public services. Therefore the people who are directly affected by the decisions made need to be involved in the whole process. This ensures that their input is factored in the budget at every stage to ensure that they are catered for and ensure a common vision and purpose in the achievement of an efficient service delivery system.
The foundation of participatory budgeting is that local government budgeting should not be treated as a piecemeal initiative, whereby residents are involved at a later stage – but from the initial stages of the process. In this regard there is need for the complete demystification of the budget in order to enhance the active participation of the residents in service delivery issues that directly affect their lives. It is important to recognize that participatory budgeting improves democratic processes, promotes responsive public administration and exerts transparency, accountability and integrity.
A community engagement dialogue was held for three local governments in Lagos (Amuwo Odofin, Eti Osa and Ibeju Lekki). Over 90 community members participated at each local council. The dialogue was centered on budget process and has increased the knowledge of citizens present. The dialogue was attendance by various grassroots and artisan groups, market association, farmers association, religious leaders, tradition leaders, officials of the councils including the Chairman, represented from the ministry of local government, auditor general to local government, various CSOs groups including those with disability.
Citizens’ participation provides a strong foundation for establishing good governance, cementing the relationship between the government and the governed. Such a relationship aids the delivery of services at the local level. Civic participation in the budgeting process promotes accountability and helps to legitimize the activities of council and its constituencies.
Community participation in the budgeting process transforms the citizens from passive involvement to intensive active orientation and responsible residents who have an ownership in the governance process. The whole budget should be subjected to public scrutiny by all stakeholders. Citizens should be aware of their roles and responsibilities, deepening their understanding of how their finances are utilized in the improvement of basic services.