As the groundswell of negative public opinion builds up over alleged secrecy of the Rivers State budgets in the past three budget years, the state government has reacted, saying its budgets were no secret document.
Groups had for many months lamented over the inability of the citizens getting copies of neither the budget nor the document being placed online for public use. Now, the opposition seems to latch on the matter as groups including Livingstone Wechie, the leader of a NGO that fought transparency wars for Wike, now leading the demand for open budgeting.
As statewide demand builds up, Isaac Kamalu, commissioner for budget and economic planning, told a radio station that the budget was in the public domain already. He told the station that several civil society organisations and interested members of the public had been accessing the budget through his ministry.
The commissioner also presented copies of the 2017 budget to the presenter of the programme who randomly read through the pages of the document for the benefit of his listeners.
Kamalu, a former member of the Rivers State House of Assembly, stated that Wechie was out for mischief and not to access the budget, noting that Wechie submitted a letter to the Ministry by 4pm requesting the budget, only to appear on television by 7pm, claiming he was denied access to the budget.
The Rivers State commissioner for budget and economic planning noted that the processes for the passage and assent of the state’s budget were such that the budget would never be a secret document.
He said: “Right from the executive, the public was involved in the budget process. We had pre-budget workshops, which involved civil society organisations, market women and professional groups.
“After the presentation of the budget to the State House of Assembly by the governor, the Assembly held public hearings with different committees involved. Following the governor’s assent, the Ministry printed the budget and we have always made it available for the public.
“We have a library at the Ministry where those who want to research on the budget can access it. However, if you need a copy, you write formally and it will be given to you after due process is followed. Several groups and individuals have visited the Ministry to access the budget.”
The commissioner stated that the 2015 supplementary budget, the 2016 budget and the 2017 budget were available for the members of the public to access and use.
To add more punch, the Rivers House of Assembly commended the Wike on aspects of implementation, saying the 2017 budget was diligently implemented.
The chairman of the Assembly committee on finance, Ehie Edison, commended the governor, saying the successful implementation of the 2017 Budget has led to massive transformation of different parts of the state.
In a statement on Saturday, Edison praised the governor’s sustained releases of funds in line with the budget and the execution of approved projects in line with specifications in the budget.