By Ken Meju
Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center on Monday September 9, organized an advocacy/media engagement parley on participatory budgeting and fair taxation in Rivers State.
It was a meeting point for community members, media personnel and government officials to discuss issues on projects budgeting and execution.
Welcoming participants, Chief Emem Okon, executive director of Kebetkache thanked the state government and Niger Delta Development Commission officials present for finding time to attend the participatory meeting which she described as crucial as it would afford opportunities for direct interactions between the governed and representatives of government.
She said the meeting is a follow up on other meetings conducted after training 800 persons focused on gender responsive budgeting, increasing citizen voices and advocacy meetings targeted at good governance.
Henry Ushie, Oxfam representative remarking, also commended the officials and participants noting that the objective of the meeting is how to make budgets participatory, a reason for budget monitors.
He explained that budgets are implemented under three theories of change which are, financing for development, taxation and advised those trained by Kebetkache on budget monitoring should link up with other networks to achieve a common purpose.
Ushie charged that the media be engaged in the process for wider reach and effect. “Tell of the work you have done and subject your work to critic; bring media into your work to make it participatory”.
In their submissions on monitored government projects in the state, monitors complained of an array of uncompleted projects in the communities, some sub-standard even when payment have been effected. In particular, participants noted that the state budget is a scarce commodity, making monitoring difficult while some figures in the budget are not traceable to any location or project . Especially affected are health and education projects.
Some also notified on abandoned facilities like the hospital in Erema, Ozuaha and Okehi, awarded school projects in Ogu-Bolo yet to be executed and schools with few teachers.
Participants also used the parley to draw government attention to needs in their communities including the immediate re-opening of Erema General Hospital, work on Okwuzi hospital which Governor Wike had promised to revitalize and provide with a medical doctor as well as provision of scholarships and skill acquisition schemes to counter cultism and the attendant crisis.
In response, the state officials advised monitors to understand how government contracts are handled by checking with respective ministerial departments and finding out the contractors.
It was explained that the state government conducts a meeting for women on needs assessment to arrive at projects for women.
They called for transparency and openness from government and it’s agents to encourage community participation.
Representatives from government included Mr Olise Eme, Ministry of Information, Henry Okuboso, Ministry of Health, Isreal Ogbeoru, ministry of Budget and Planning, Dr Dimkpa of the NDDC.
Mr Dimkpa advised communities to reach out to the NDDC to invite the commission to “come and see” their needs as that would form a basis for its budget.