US body, Daily Trust Foundation train journalists on budget tracking

About 40 journalists in the North Central geopolitical zone of Nigeria have been selected to undergo a three-day training programme on budget tracking and investigating public expenditure.

The training, organized by the Daily Trust Foundation with the support of a United States organization, MacArthur Foundation, held in Ilorin, Kwara state from Tuesday had journalists from Kogi, Niger, Nasarawa, Benue, Plateau, Kwara states and even the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Speaking at the opening session of the training programme, the chairman, the board of trustees of the Daily Trust Foundation, Akogun Isiaq Ajibola, said that the cardinal objective of the programme was to help entrench transparency and accountability in governance in Nigeria.

“When you talk about transparency and accountability, it has to begin with the budget. Government cannot operate without a budget, which outlines sources of income and how the funds are spent for the development of the state. It is, therefore, important to know how budgets are prepared and how funds are spent.

“The budget, whether federal or state, determines the fate of the people; the direction of government and its policies; it speaks about the quality of choices being made by those in power; it shows their values; it tells on the quality of life of the people – healthcare, education, water, energy, transportation and infrastructure in general.

“Over the years, Nigerian journalists have emphasized only the national budget. At the beginning of every year, we read reports about capital expenditure and recurrent expenditure, and, of course, the ministries that are allocated the jumbo share of the budget. Usually, after the president’s budget speech, we read a few reactions from supposed experts and then return to our normal daily activities.

“However, from the perspective of an economist, I would like you to know that budget is much more than the headlines we read in newspapers.

Akogun Ajibola, who tasked Nigerian journalists to scrutinize government budgets, said that budget tracking investigation of public expenditure should not be left to the president, governors, ministers and National Assembly members alone.

“Journalists must ask questions about the budget – the sources of revenue and how the revenue is being spent. This is what it means to hold the government accountable to the people, as enunciated in Section 22 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“We must ask the government to explain how the funds generated by its agencies on behalf of the people are spent. Journalists have the rare privilege of being given that responsibility to ask questions on behalf of the Nigerian people”.

He, thus, challenged journalists to ask questions on budget tracking and investigating public expenditure about state governments just like the federal government.

“The people are not clear about how funds received from the federal, state governments and those generated internally are utilized. Even salaries and other remunerations for civil servants are not paid. There are no visible projects to point at; a state where contractors and tractors are mobilized to the site for a project and then they are moved away never to return! Nobody knows how the state is run and no one asks questions; not even journalists!

“Investigating State Budgets: This training on budget tracking and investigating public expenditure is meant to equip those of you here with the capacity to ask important questions of state governments. At the minimum, you will understand how the budget process works; you will be exposed to the country’s procurement laws. Governments are bound by laws, including those guiding the procurement process. You will learn when a procurement process is followed in the award of a contract or when it is abused.

“You will also be exposed to the processes involved in obtaining and analyzing data about the state budget. You will learn the skills and strategies you can deploy to track government projects. We are exposed to little economics that is very important for our job as investigative journalists. Let me add that journalists cannot make any impact except they do investigative reporting. If your journalism is what is called ‘stenographic reporting’ then you can hardly stand out.

A stenographer goes to his manager with his shorthand notebook, takes down dictated letters, types it on his manual typewriter as accurately as possible, and returns it to his boss to sign. A stenographer does not have a say, he or she takes pride in being able to reproduce in written form what his boss dictated verbally. Many journalists are like your stenographer.

They just regurgitate press statements and reproduce interviews with governors and government personalities verbatim on their platforms. The bitter truth is this: that is not how to earn a living”, he said.

Facilitators for the event include a former permanent secretary in the Kwara State Ministry of Finance, a staff of the UK-based International Budget Partnership, and the Programme Director of the Trust Foundation, Theophilus Abbah, among others.


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