When we started BudgIT nine years ago in Nigeria, before widespread protests like #OccupyNigeria and #EndSARS, the atmosphere was different from what we have now. Budgets were dizzying zeroes lost in Excel sheets that many Nigerians did not understand. There was limited civic awareness, and not many people understood how the budget affected them. BudgIT has leveraged technology to demystify the budget and present data in easy-to-understand formats. We continue to engage the grassroots through community engagement meetings to ensure government accountability and public service delivery.
So far, more Nigerians are better informed about national and state budgets. As such, they are more empowered to demand transparency and accountability from government officials. Having observed similar opaque budgeting issues, misappropriation of public funds, huge budget sums but little returns to citizens, lack of public infrastructure in other West African countries, we decided to expand our outreach to Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
At the core of our work is the idea that every person deserves the right to access, understand, and benefit from the government budget. We believe the budget should transform into tangible infrastructure that improves citizens’ welfare. Nine years later, these are still our most critical driving principles, our hopes, and expectations for not just Nigeria, but the entire African continent.
Our foundation started operations in Ghana (September 2019), Liberia, and Sierra Leone (September 2020) registered as a non-governmental entity to drive citizen participation in governance and promote development through efficient service delivery. We believe that it is important to examine where we are, even as we move forward, even as we expand beyond Nigeria.
Liberia is Africa’s first and oldest republic, yet it has one of the least developed economies in the world due to the prolonged civil wars. According to the World Bank, at least 53% of Liberians live below the international poverty line and face extreme hardship due to corrupt practices at every government level. Liberia ranks high on the corruption perception index and must embrace transparency to develop its economy and improve its citizens’ quality of life.
In the following section, Abraham Varney, BudgIT Country Lead, Liberia, the BudgIT country lead in Liberia recounts his experience leading the organisation stating the registration, budget access, and social media engagement challenges
“Registering BudgIT Liberia was an arduous task. We had to secure a physical space and meet up with other demanding requirements by the Liberia Business Registry. The business registration certificate cost increased from $20 to $450 (USD) to include two foreigners as incorporators to the Article of Incorporation, which tremendously increased the registration budget.”
“Our top priority is to simplify the Liberian National Budget and make it accessible to the people. However, the proposed fiscal budget for the year 2020/2021, a total sum of $535.45 million (USD), is still undergoing review at the house. We plan to analyze the budget and develop interesting visualizations to engage the citizens. In the meantime, we explore the possibility of transparency around the disbursement of COVID-19 intervention funds donated to the country.”
Social Media Engagement
“We set up a Facebook Account for BudgIT Liberia, the social media platform with the country’s biggest audience, to engage youths who make up about 65 percent of the population of over 4.5 million people. We believe young people are the future leaders, and it is crucial to keep them abreast of the budget provisions. The government also engages citizens using the platform. The Ministry of Finance shared details on the proposed budget on Facebook. Within the first three months, we reached over 7,727 people with 627 post engagements and 35 link clicks. This shows that building a strong online presence through our Facebook page helps us to reach a diverse audience. We intend to develop more infographics to build a robust online presence and have a group of informed citizens.”
Radio Talk Shows
We started the “BudgIT Hour,” a one-hour talk show that holds twice a week (Wednesday & Saturday) to engage citizens on the details of the proposed 2020/2021 national budget. Here, we share knowledge of the budget process and encourage citizens to participate in governance activities. The radio program has created a platform for government actors to share updates on budget implementation; answer citizens’ questions and provide feedback to them. Consequently, the radio show has become a bridge between the government and its citizens. The 99.5FM covers 10 of the 15 counties in Liberia, and we have received about 56 phone calls from six of the ten counties. Montserrado County, with a population of about 2 million people, has the highest number of listeners and call-ins.