Wednesday, March 27, 2013

EDSIEC and Campaign Finance Regulation

Edo State through its State Independent Electoral Commission (EDSIEC) is gearing up to conduct elections into the 192 Wards and 18 Local Government Areas of the state.  Six political parties are fielding candidates at the elections. The poll scheduled to hold on April 20, 2013 is being held in accordance with the provision of section 7 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.   The forthcoming poll is guided by the Edo State Local Government Electoral Law 2012 and EDSIEC Guidelines for the Local Government Council Elections 2013. Of great importance to this writer are the political finance provisions in the state law.

Some of the grounds of disqualification of candidates as contained in section 16 (c) and (e) respectively are:” failure to produce evidence of tax payments as and when due for the period of three years immediately preceding the year of the elections” and inability to pay the non-refundable deposit as prescribed by the Commission. It was reliably gathered that EDSIEC demands a nomination fee of N100, 000 from chairmanship candidates and N50, 000 from Councillorship candidates. It is noteworthy that these candidates would have earlier been charged ‘expression of interest’ and nomination fees by their respective political parties. Political finance analysts are of the opinion that much as it is legal and legitimate to charge these nomination fees (more so in order to weed out unserious candidates), such fees add to the financial burdens of poor but good candidates and may therefore be a disincentive for this category of aspirants. It should be noted that a lot more resources are spent on campaigns during party primaries as well as the main elections. The whole essence of political finance regulation is to create a level playing field for all the contestants; however, attempts should not be made to deny access to genuine and patriotic aspirants through imposition of prohibitive nomination fees.

  In an attempt to ensure that no candidate contesting the poll is given undue advantage over the other, the Edo State electoral law criminalizes corrupt practices. It states in section 64 (1) that: “If any corrupt practice is committed by any candidate elected at an election held under the provisions of this law, the election of such candidate shall be invalid if the offence is proved in an electoral tribunal.” Subsection 2 of the aforesaid clause listed corrupt practices as any of the following: Impersonation; Cheating; Undue Influence; Bribery; Thuggery; Aiding, abetting, counseling or procuring the Commission of any of the aforesaid offences and Stealing of ballot boxes. It would seem this clause sends a strong message to those who may want to subvert the electoral system; unfortunately however, subsection 3 of that section makes it difficult for anyone to prove this offence in court or tribunal.

Section 64 (3) states thus: “A corrupt practice shall be deemed to be committed by a candidate if it is committed with his knowledge or consent or with the knowledge or consent of a person who is acting under the specific authority of such candidate with reference to the election.”   Given the smartness of most politicians, they are wont to deny any knowledge or consent to such misdeed should any of their foot-soldiers be caught.  Other relevant sections to this discourse are S. 66 to 69. Section 66 criminalizes provision of food, drinks or entertainment for the purpose of corruptly influencing voters at election. It categorizes that as treating.  Section 67 explicitly lay bare what constitutes ‘undue influence’ while S. 68 comprehensively deals with the issue of bribery. Section 69 says: “Every person who is guilty of bribery , or undue influence, or aiding, abetting, counseling or procuring the Commission of any of those offences, shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment  for a term not exceeding twelve (12) months or to a fine not less than N100,000. The big question is: Is EDSIEC willing and ready to enforce these regulations?

Do you care about your environment?

On Saturday, March 23, I switched off my light for one hour, from 8:30 to 9:30pm, in accordance with the injunction from Earth Hour Nigeria in order to demonstrate my support for environmentally sustainable action. I am really worried and concerned at the way we treat our environment. So much devastation and plundering are taking place on the milieu. Pollution ranks among the worst enemies of the atmosphere. Air, water, noise pollution is commonplace. The carbon-dioxide being released into the air from gas flaring, generators, cars, and various industrial machines is partly responsible for global warming and ultimately, climate change.   The liquid waste from our homes and industries is also not environmentally friendly. These wastes are toxic and pose great danger to the environment when not properly disposed. Worse off are oil spillages in the Niger Delta either as a result of pipeline vandalising or industrial accidents. They pollute and degrade the environs.  Some people and organisations are in the habit of causing noise pollution.  There are persons who like playing their musical tapes or tuning their radio and television loud. This is environmental pollution. Religious houses and musicians who also blare their music through loudspeakers to the discomfort of their community are also causing pollution. Reckless drivers who turn un-asphalted roads to race tracks during dry season thereby raising dust on humans and environment also cause pollution.
Solid waste disposal has been a serious challenge in many homes in Nigeria. Yes, many people are in the habit of littering their environment but for the few who want to tidy up and dispose their refuse properly they face a daunting challenge.  There are no approved dumps around their vicinity, hence any available open space or uncompleted buildings are converted to dumps. Those who do not have house helps or children to help empty the dustbin either resort to burning such near their homes or patronise the unlicensed itinerant refuse collector known in Abuja as ‘bola’. These young boys collect refuse for a token. No one knows or cares where they empty such when their cart is full. My guess is that those wastes end up in the community streams and rivers. Now, this unhygienic act blocks the water channels and is partly responsible for flooding during the rainy season.
Another unfriendly act against the environment is the wanton felling of trees without planting replacement. This is one of the causes of desertification in Northern Nigeria. This also contributes to global warming. As trees are cut down either to be sold as planks or burnt into charcoals or firewood; all these are inimical to our environment, particularly if new ones are not planted in their stead. Many people tend to dismiss this serious challenge to the environment yet, it portends a lot of danger. Indiscriminate cutting of trees has turned our forests to arid land with potential loss of habitat for animals. The import of this is that it poses a grave danger to food security as desert or arid land is unprofitable to cultivate for farmers due to low yield. Though there are alternatives to using firewood or charcoal for cooking, these alternatives such as kerosene and cooking gas are very costly to poor rural dwellers. Same for the use of metal as a substitute for wood in terms of building. Steel and metals are costlier than planks and wood as building materials; hence, potential builders prefer the latter to the former.
Bush burning, apart from causing pollution, also affects the ecosystem. Soil nutrients are destroyed when bushes are burnt; this makes the land infertile for agricultural purposes and poses a danger to food security. Building houses on flood plains or river banks, digging across roads without proper repairs, stealing power transmission cables, vandalising street lights and several other similar ignoble acts constitute a nuisance on the environment.
As humans care less about the environment, danger looms. We are all at the risk of disasters such as tsunami, flashflood, earthquake, tremor and the likes. We are also exposing ourselves to diseases such as malaria, cancer, meningitis, cholera, dysentery, cataract, and other similar preventable illnesses.
The good thing is that it is not yet too late in the day for all to adjust and do the right thing. Individuals, corporate bodies, non-governmental organisations and government at all levels must rise up to the occasion. At a personal level, we must exhibit the right attitude towards the environment. We need to tender and nurture it. Destroying the ecosystem, causing pollution and blocking the waterways with buildings and solid waste will cause collateral damage beyond the perpetrators.  Let’s save the tree by using less of paper and more of electronic storage devices; use kerosene and cooking gas rather than firewood and charcoal. Let’s conserve water rather than waste it. We don’t have to be compelled to clean up our environment and should stop throwing our solid waste in the drains. We should actively participate in environmental sanitation. In this 21st Century, it is most unfortunate that many households still embark on open defecation especially in sub-urban areas. Every household needs to have toilet facilities even if it’s a pit toilet.  This might look insignificant but it goes a long way to ensure clean and healthy environment.
At the level of government, there is a lot to do to sensitise Nigerians to what constitutes environmental hazards. It is good that there are federal and state ministries of environment. I am happy also that an agency like the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency was established by the Federal Government to enforce all environmental laws, guidelines, policies, standards and regulations in Nigeria, with additional responsibility of ensuring compliance with provisions of international agreements, protocols, conventions and treaties on the environment. To strengthen what NASREA is doing, we need a legislation on climate change. It is most unfortunate that President Goodluck Jonathan refused to assent the bill when passed by the National Assembly in 2010 or thereabout. The bill has been reintroduced at the National Assembly and it is hoped that when passed this time around, the President will deem it fit to append his signature.
Last year, Nigeria experienced an unprecedented flooding that affected about 20 states. No fewer than 363 deaths were recorded with thousands of homes and farmland destroyed while hundreds of thousands were displaced. The Nigerian Meteorological Agency has again predicted heavy rainfall for 2013, how prepared are our various governments?  Have we cleared the drains and other water channels of any impediments? What rapid response measures have we put in place in the event of a natural disaster? Is the National Emergency Management Agency and its state counterparts well-equipped and financially empowered to prevent, contain and provide immediate assistance to those who might be in need. Once bitten, twice shy, is an apt cliché here. It is high time local governments were alive to their responsibilities. Solid waste disposal and maintenance of environmental hygiene are some of the functions of the third tier of government for which they must be made accountable. Let us save the environment to save ourselves.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

An eyewitness account of 2013 FCT council poll

As a psephologist (someone involved in the study of elections), I like observing and commenting on the conduct of elections across the world. I have been privileged to observe Nigeria’s General Elections since 1999 and have had opportunity of being a short-term observer in Ghana in 2008 and the United States of America in 2010 during the mid-term elections. On March 16, duty called again as I was one of the accredited observers that went about the Federal Capital Territory Area Councils monitoring the election. At the end of the exercise, my peregrination had taken me to a total of 17 polling units across four out of the six area councils, namely Bwari, AMAC, Gwagwalada and Kuje Area Councils.
The importance of council elections either in Nigeria or any other country of the world cannot be overemphasised. As many are wont to say, local government is the closest to the people in the communities either rural or urban. The law has made it non-negotiable for governance at this grass-roots level to be by democratically elected persons. Unfortunately, most local governments in Nigeria are governed by sole administrators and caretaker committees.  This is clearly in breach of Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. As of the last count, only about 20 of the 36 states have conducted council elections. Election into the FCT Area Councils is unique in the sense that unlike the polls into the other 768 Local Governments which are conducted by the State Independent Electoral Commissions; the Independent National Electoral Commission is empowered by Section 103 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended to organise elections into the six Area Councils of the FCT.
As a trained BRIDGE (Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections) facilitator, positive feedback is given first before the shortcomings of any issue under consideration. Thus, I wish to recount a dozen things I observed that INEC did well in conducting the elections. In many of the polling units visited, election officials arrived early and accreditation commenced within an hour of poll opening. This is a commendable feat compared to previous elections where polls did not start until two to three hours behind schedule. The sufficiency of polling materials is also praiseworthy. Everything needed for the conduct of the election from pens to ballot papers and boxes down to result sheets and voting cubicles were provided. In the areas I visited, none of the poll officials complained of a shortage of voting materials. The break-up of polling units to voting points for administrative convenience and effective crowd management was also commendable. Since many of the Polling Units had over 1000 potential voters on the Voter Register instead of the envisaged maximum of 500, INEC decided to create Voting Points in any polling units that has more than 300 voters to enable the poll officials to accredit those who turn out to vote between the hours of 8am and 12 noon.
The ad hoc staff engaged by INEC were well-trained. In Kuje Area Council, I was told by poll officials that they were trained for three days: March 6 – 8. This is a welcome development and a clear departure from the past when such training was done in one day. The fact that the election was largely peaceful with no serious incident of violence such as bombings, rigging, kidnapping, reported added value to the poll. Another plus for the election was the enforcement of the restriction of movement order. I must however say that this is a double edged sword. While this contributed to the success of the election, it has its drawback which I will come to later. The polls were adequately policed with both the military and paramilitary agencies deployed to maintain law and order during the elections. The voting process was also very transparent with the party agents, accredited journalists and observers given free access to observe the entire process from distribution of poll materials to accreditation, voting, counting, collation, announcement of results and declaration of winners.
I am also happy that polling units were well-demarcated with appropriate signs displayed to enable voters identify the voting centres. Among the signs on display were Polling Zone, Voting in Progress, etc. All the polling units visited also had voting cubicles where voters thumbprint for their choice candidates before coming to drop their ballot in the Ballot Box in clear view of the public. Many may wonder why this is newsworthy. Secrecy of ballot is one of the salient requirements of international covenants and protocols on credible elections. INEC deserve applause for using customised ballot papers. By this, I mean, only parties fielding candidates have their names and logo on the ballot. Thus, even though there were a total of 13 political parties contesting the poll, in some area councils where only six or five fielded candidates, only that number are reflected on the ballot papers for that council. For instance, in Gwagwa area of AMAC, there were 12 chairmanship and 9 councillorship candidates’ whereas in Kukwuaba in Kubwa community of Bwari Area Council, there were eight chairmanship and four councillorship candidates reflected on the ballot papers.
As per areas in need of improvements; these are quite few. Crowd management is an issue in some few places while the militarisation of a civil exercise is unwholesome. Likewise is the restriction of movement which forced travellers to halt their journey and voters to abandon their civic obligation. The most noticeable one is the poor voter turnout which many blamed erroneously on INEC. It is important to note that while it is true that there was widespread voter apathy, the issue is not to be blamed on the electoral body. I know that the commission runs Electoral Half Hour on some national television stations and similarly has a programme dedicated to voter education on Radio Nigeria. What’s more, INEC also organised several sensitisation programmes with political parties as well as voter education forums in each of the six area councils. If other stakeholders such as the political parties and candidates, non-governmental organisations and even the media had mobilised voters as well, perhaps, the story might have been different.
It is equally important to note that several factors account for low voter turnout at elections. Aside from insufficient voter awareness creation, other things responsible for the phenomenon include: Loss of voter card and ignorance of replacement procedures; unimpressive governance scorecard by previous elected officeholders; long distance of voters to their polling units and the restriction of movement order by government; fear of violence; relocation of potential voters and lack of knowledge of procedures to transfer their details to the new area; lastly, some voters are not simply interested in local elections. Of all the itemised factors, I think the major cause of the insignificant turnout of voters last Saturday is lack of dividends of democracy. There is clear absence of governance in many of the area councils visited. The roads are impassable, no drinkable water, be it pipe-borne or borehole; health centres are without personnel and equipment, among others. Thus, Abuja residents largely see the exercise as time-wasting. I do hope the candidates who triumphed at the poll will fulfil their campaign promises. If INEC will also promptly commence the distribution of permanent voter card, this will help increase voter turnout in future elections as those who have lost their temporary voter card will now have a more durable voter card. Furthermore, INEC will do well to embark on continous voters register so that those who have turned 18 years since the last registration exercise can be enlisted on the voters roll.
All said, the 2013 FCT Area Council elections held on March 16 was, to my own mind, conducted largely in substantial compliance with the electoral laws. The challenge thrown by INEC by virtue of the successful poll is for those states that have yet to conduct local government elections to organise theirs forthwith.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Want to go to prison? Choose Norway

"In the law, being sent to prison is nothing to do with putting you in a terrible prison to make you suffer. The punishment is that you lose your freedom. If we treat people like animals when they are in prison, they are likely to behave like animals. Here, we pay attention to you as human beings.” — Arne Nilsen, Governor of Bastoy Prison, Norway
After reading Erwin James’ beautiful and didactic piece on Bastoy Prison in The Guardian newspaper of the UK on February 25, 2013, I was sunk in reverie. I thought of a scenario where it is possible for a convict to choose where to serve his or her jail term. Imagine a suspect saying: “My Lord, I plead guilty to all the crimes for which I have been charged by the prosecutor. My allocution is however that in sentencing me, temper justice with mercy by sending me to Bastoy Prison in Norway.”
Norway has a population of slightly less than five million compared to Nigeria’s approximately 170 million. It has fewer than 4,000 prisoners while Nigerian prisons housed 54,156 inmates as of October 31, 2012. Of this number, only 15, 804 were convicted persons while 38, 352 were awaiting trial persons. In terms of prison and prisoners’ management, the Nigerian Prison Service has a lot to learn from their Norwegian counterpart.
According to the reporter, in Norway, the loss of liberty is all the punishment prisoners suffer. Cells have televisions, computers, integral showers and sanitation. Some prisoners are segregated for various reasons, but as the majority served their term – anything up to the 21-year maximum sentence (Norway has no death penalty or life sentence) – they were offered education, training and skill-building programmes. One of the prisoners interviewed by the reporter was quoted as saying, “It’s like living in a village, a community. Everybody has to work. But we have free time so we can do some fishing, or in summer we can swim off the beach. We know we are prisoners but here we feel like people.”
In Bastoy, there are 70 members of staff on the 2.6 sq km island during the day, 35 of whom are uniformed guards. Their main job is to count the prisoners – first thing in the morning, twice during the day at their workplace, once en masse at a specific assembly point at 5pm, and finally at 11pm, when they are confined to their respective houses. Only four guards remain on the island after 4pm. Bastoy prisoners live in houses that accommodate up to six people. Every man has his own room and they share kitchen and other facilities. Only one meal a day is provided in the dining hall. The men earn the equivalent of £6 a day and are given a food allowance each month of around £70 with which to buy provisions for their self-prepared breakfasts and evening meals from the island’s well-stocked mini-supermarket.
Prisoners in Norway can apply for a transfer to Bastoy when they have up to five years left of their sentence to serve. Every type of offender, including men convicted of murder or rape, may be accepted, so long as they fit the criteria, the main one being a determination to live a crime-free life on release.Bastoy prisoners work on farmland where they tend sheep, cows and chickens, or grow fruit and vegetables. Other jobs are available in the laundry; in the stables looking after the horses that pull the island’s cart transport; in the bicycle repair shop, (many of the prisoners have their own bikes, bought with their own money); on ground maintenance or in the timber workshop. The working day begins at 8.30am. There are phone boxes from where prisoners can call family and friends. Weekly visits are permitted in private family rooms where conjugal relations are allowed. So you can have sex and make babies while in prison! There are three golden rules on Bastoy: no violence, no alcohol and no drugs. It takes three years to train to be a prison guard in Norway. For these humane treatments of its prisoners the reoffending rate for those released from Bastoy is just 16 per cent which is the lowest in Europe.
Now let’s do a quick comparison with what obtains in any Nigerian prison. Our prisons have a total carrying capacity of 47,284 but as of October 31, 2012 was accommodating 54, 156. That is 6,872 more than the carrying capacity. However, as earlier pointed out, majority of inmates in Nigerian prisons are Awaiting Trial Persons. This is an indictment on our criminal justice system. Many a time, these ATPs spend more time than they should have served if found guilty of the offences for which they are charged while others are found to be innocent after several years of incarceration. Indeed, justice delayed is justice denied. The police, prison authorities and the judiciary are reprehensible for this untoward situation. Judges adjourned cases too frequently, police do not finalise their investigations on time while the prison authority complained of being poorly trained and lacking in modern equipment including not having vehicles to convey ATPs to court for their trials.
The Federal Government through the Ministry of Interior needs to fund our prisons better. As the example from Bastoy Prison shows, prisoners have rights and privileges which they ought to enjoy in order to be properly reformed. This includes the right to vote at elections provided you are not on death row. The animalistic ways prisoners are treated in Nigeria make the whole concept of prison system warped and disorientated. The poor feeding, sanitary and living conditions in Nigerian prisons are what make the country to experience recurring cases of jailbreaks. Pray, who will want to escape from Bastoy prison with the ‘royal’ treatment being meted out to inmates there? As the National Assembly works to amend the obviously anachronistic Prison Act 1963 and Immigration Act 1963, it is imperative to take a holistic look at how to reform the country’s prison system. It is a matter of urgent national importance to decongest Nigerian prisons by looking at other forms of punishments like suspended sentence, weekend sentence, community service, options of fine, prerogative of mercy, etc.
I could not agree more with the submissions of Erwin James and Arne Nilsen in the report on Bastoy prison. Erwin summarises his experience thus: “Bastoy is no holiday camp. In some ways, I feel as if I’ve seen a vision of the future – a penal institution designed to heal rather than harm and to generate hope instead of despair. I believe all societies will always need high-security prisons. But there needs to be a robust filtering procedure along the lines of the Norwegian model, in order that the process is not more damaging than necessary.” For Arne, “Justice for society demands that people we release from prison should be less likely to cause further harm or distress to others, and better equipped to live as law-abiding citizens.” I do hope that the Nigerian government and relevant agencies will draw the needful lessons from Norway.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Does Nigeria now have implementable 2013 budget?

After about three months of accusations and counter-accusations between the federal executive and legislature on the 2013 budget, President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday, February 26, 2013 signed the appropriation bill into law. A logjam was created when after the President presented the N4.92trn budget to the National Assembly on October 10, 2012, the federal lawmakers decided to increase the oil benchmark from the proposed $75 per barrel to $79; refused to vote any money for the Securities and Exchange Commission; reduced the recurrent expenditure and increased the capital vote; inserted some constituency projects that were not included in the financial estimates by the executive and generally increased the overall budget by about N63bn. The Presidency took umbrage at this unhealthy development and decided to withhold assent to the appropriation bill. When the budget was passed on December 20, 2012, I was very excited and hopeful that for the very first time in many decades, there was a chance of our budget being implemented from the first day of the New Year. How wrong I was! The National Assembly did not even send the budget and its details to the President until January 14, 2013. And then the waiting game started in earnest.
The argument was canvassed that using any oil benchmark above the executive proposed $75 will make the budget difficult to implement. The Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was of the opinion that increasing the oil benchmark would affect Nigeria’s credit rating; make borrowing more expensive; lower the Foreign Direct Investment; and impact negatively on macroeconomic stability. Furthermore, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Lamido Sanusi, opined that raising the benchmark would reduce the amount available for savings which is needful given the volatility of oil price in the international market. Non approval of the budget of the SEC is seen as an attempt to cripple the functions of the regulator of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
It was a stratagem to arm-twist the President to respect the resolution of the House of Representatives which urged him to relieve the Director General of SEC, Ms. Arunma Oteh, of her position for alleged incompetence. In truth, if there is no vote for SEC, Nigeria’s capital market will be negatively impacted as the regulator will not be able to perform its oversight functions. Some people have accused the National Assembly of acting ultra vires saying that it has no right to starve a statutory body of funds. I think such a vindictive act amounts to an overkill as the legislature should not make a whole organisation to suffer for the alleged “sins” of one person. On the issue of constituency projects, the National Assembly has come out strongly to say that it is part of the democracy dividends for their constituents and is not an illegality. However, some analysts have said that some of these constituency projects are things within the purview of state and local governments.
As per the signing of the budget, that has in itself generated another round of controversies. Not only was the budget purportedly signed without press coverage (many commentators have argued that what was signed was not the budget but a memorandum of understanding on the budget), none of the key stakeholders and personages who witnessed the signing ceremony was willing to speak on the budget. They all declined comments on the epochal event which in previous times was done with fanfare with photos and video recording for public consumption. It is about a week now since the budget was purportedly signed and the Minister of Finance has yet to give a breakdown of the budget. Neither has the Presidency made known publicly the grey areas and objectionable portions of the budget.
The only official comment came from Dr. Reuben Abati, the Special Adviser to the President on Media. In a press release on February 26, he said inter alia that: “As part of the understanding reached with its leadership, the observations of the Executive arm of government about the Appropriation Bill as passed by the National Assembly will be further considered by the National Assembly through a legislative action, to ensure effective and smooth implementation of the 2013 Appropriation Act in all aspects.” Reading between the lines, one needs no soothsayer to know that it is not yet Uhuru on the budget impasse. In fact, unofficial sources said the President signed the budget for two reasons. The first is that he did not want to leave the budget unsigned till March. The second and the more important, he wanted to preempt the National Assembly from overriding his presidential veto. The National Assembly had been spoiling to mobilise two-thirds of its members to over-ride the presidential veto after 30 days.
This budget face-off leaves a sour taste in the mouth and it shows that the federal executive and legislative arms are working at cross purposes. Strangely, the two arms are controlled by the same political party. Just imagine if the two were to be controlled by different parties. The sing-song would have been that one of them wants to derail government and truncate democracy. The jaw-jaw that was being done post-passage of the budget ought to have been done before the financial plan’s presentation in October 2012. The two arms should have agreed on a workable crude oil benchmark, constituency projects, among other issues. As things stand, most of the gains that should have accrued to the country if the budget had taken effect from January 1 had been lost. Many importers have been left in a state of “animated suspension” due to this logjam. Remember, the original budget proposal submitted to the National Assembly contained stimulus packages for investors in the solid minerals, aviation, transport and agriculture sectors. None of the investors who had envisaged prompt implementation of these stimulus packages would be able to access them until now which is clear three months into the new year. Moreover, many contractors who had expected quick payments for work done or payment of mobilisation fee to site have been disillusioned. Generally speaking, the polemics that have trailed the 2013 budget is bad for our ailing economy; it is a good alibi for partial-implementation of the budget and should be avoided in future.
The recently initiated plan by the Senate to review the national planning and budgeting linkage with a view to recommending immediate improvement is a welcome development, if done in good faith. It will be recalled that on February 28, 2013, Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi and 46 others sponsored a motion titled, “A call for review of the national planning and budgeting process.” Adetumbi observed that the traditional five-year development plans the country used to operate had been replaced by a medium-term expenditure framework. He sees this as an aberration and calls for the linking of multi-year development plans to the national budget in order to enhance economic growth.

Monday, March 4, 2013

INEC’s 2011 Audit Report on Political Parties

On Friday, February 15, 2013, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission officially published the 2011 audit report on political parties in three national newspapers in accordance with section 89(4) of Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). The audit was done in strict conformity with section 226 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). The section says “The Independent National Electoral Commission, shall in every year prepare and submit to the National Assembly  a report on the accounts and balance sheet of every political party. Kudos to INEC

The 2011 audit report which covers 56 registered political parties indicted 54 of the parties for being in breach of the provisions of the Electoral Act, which stipulate modalities for the running of parties, including details of their earnings and expenditures. Auditors’ comments and observations on most of the political parties were that they did not have an audited internal financial statement for the year 2011; they lacked conventional books of accounts and did not maintain fixed assets and membership registers. They were also accused of not having internal control procedures while budgets for the year were not duly implemented. The control implications, in the opinion of the auditors, were that poor account record of financial transactions can lead to delay in obtaining financial information which can affect proper understanding and appreciation for the accounting position and performance of the party thereby making the tracing of fixed assets too difficult and the movement difficult to determine. The auditors surmised, among other things, that “non-existent of the internal control system leads to mismanagement and misappropriation of funds and lack of budgeting may equally lead to difficulty in management operation and efficiency.”

The general recommendations for most of the defaulting political parties was for them to endeavor to write up all their relevant books of account from where their statements can be extracted as well as to have an effective internal control system and a comprehensive membership and assets registers.

 The most disheartening news about the audit report is that even the so called big political parties with elected members in the executive and legislative positions were in breach of standard accounting and audit processes. INEC auditors however have commendations for the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Citizens Popular Party (CPP). The auditors said of ACN that “The Party has an internal Audited Report and Account for the year under review. Conventional books of Account were maintained. Budget and Budgetary Control were in place and the party have a well-defined fixed assets register and membership register were equally in place….” A similar positive observation was made of the Citizens Popular Party. It is noteworthy that CPP was one of the two political parties that received INEC auditor’s praise on the 2010 audit report released to the public on April 1, 2012.

It is very heart-rending that majority of political parties performed woefully in terms of keeping proper books of accounts and financial controls. More so, the audited report was on an election year when a lot of resources were spent during the electioneering period. It would seem that the political parties do not either have the technical competence or financial resources to maintain or hire competent hands to handle their party accounts. They may as well be doing this out of mischief.