Centre for Social Justice gets court order directing Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance, to make public details of all appropriations and statutory transfers in the 2013 federal budget
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Mar. 24, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
AN Abuja Federal High Court has ordered Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance, to immediately make public details of all appropriations and statutory transfers in the 2013 budget, in the public interest. The order was issued by Justice Abubakar Abdu-Kafarati in his judgment on February 25, 2014, in the legal application No. FHC/ABJ/CS/301/3013 filed by the Centre for Social Justice, CSJ, against the minister.
According to Abdu-Kafarati, the CSJ had, in a letter dated April 5 2013 and received in the office of the minister of finance on the same date, sought the details of the statutory transfers. However, this request was denied by the minister. The CSJ had argued in the letter that there “is no law authorising lump sum statement of allocations. Stating statutory transfers as lump sums is not acceptable in a constitutional democracy founded on the rule of law and the sovereignty of the people. Indeed, no agency of government, under any guise, is allowed to spend public resources in a way and manner and for purposes not known to citizens.”
The judge asked the minister to release to the group and the general public, details of releases in the budget to some key government agencies, specifically, the National Assembly, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC; National Judicial Council, NJC; Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC; Universal Basic Education, UBE and National Human Rights Commission, NHRC. Under the amended Nigerian constitution, the listed offices are considered statutory bodies, whose funding are drawn directly from government treasury, to foster their independence. Their budget details have also not been made public since 2011.
The Court specifically granted the following reliefs: “That a declaration is hereby granted that denying the applicant access to the details of the statutory transfer in the 2013 appropriation act by the respondent without explanation constitutes an infringement of the applicant’s right guaranteed and protected by section 1(1) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011. That a declaration is hereby granted that the continued refusal of the respondent to grant to the applicant access to the details of statutory transfer in the 2013 Appropriation Act despite the fact that the Applicant’s demand violates Section 4 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
“That a declaration is hereby granted that the continued refusal of the respondent to grant access to the applicant of the details of the statutory transfer in the 2013 Appropriation Act without explanation constitutes an infringement of the applicant’s right guaranteed and protected by section 48 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007. That an Order of Mandamus is granted compelling the respondent to grant to the applicant access to the details of the statutory transfer in the 2013 appropriation act specifically the details of the transfer to the National Judicial Council, Niger-Delta Development Commission, Universal Basic Education, National Assembly, Independent National Electoral Commission and National Human Rights Commission.”
Eze Onyekwere, executive director, Centre for Social Justice, said the group approached the court to compel the minister to respect the law and release the information pursuant under the Freedom of Information and the Fiscal Responsibility Act. He said that following observed acts of impunity and fiscal lawlessness by government, namely the expenditure of several billions of Naira in the budget without appropriation, fraud and illegal allocation of revenues under various questionable sub-heads, it became necessary that details of such allocations be revealed to the people, who are the owners of the budget under a democracy.
But, Onyekwere said in spite of several requests since 2013, the minister of finance has continuously refused to comply, accusing her of shielding from sanctions officials in charge of ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs where ghost workers have shown up on their payrolls. “Government has always claimed it has served billions of Naira from its efforts to rid ghost workers from the system. But, we have always asked, without any response, for details from each MDA prior to and post-verification, including the numbers and names of the accounting officers, in terms of Permanent Secretary, Head of Personnel and Accounts/Payroll officers,” Onyekwere said.
He noted that the judgement is a reaffirmation of the right of Nigerians to be governed in an open and transparent manner and through the rule of law – encompassing fiscal responsibility and best practices in fiscal governance.