Nigeria’s open treasury portal defective, needs review – BudgIT

Nigeria's finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed [PHOTO: Pulse.ng]
Nigeria's finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed [PHOTO: Pulse.ng]

A civic advocacy group, BudgIT, on Thursday identified discrepancies in the Nigerian government’s open treasury portal.

At a zoom-enabled press briefing Thursday morning, Seun Onigbinde, co-founder of the group, identified loopholes and the need for improvement of the system.

A subsequent press statement signed by Damilola Ogundipe, Communications Lead at BudgIT, noted that although the platform is innovative and commendable, much work is still needed for the platform to fully achieve its goal of enabling public transparency and accountability.

The Nigerian government launched the portal in December 2019, as parts of move towards increasing transparency in government spending.

The portal aims to provide a comprehensive space for the collation of data by all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) on budget implementation, financial records, as well as transactions above certain thresholds.

Report

But BudgIT in its report titled “OpenTreasury.gov.ng: Nigeria’s Spending Platform: Review, Gaps & Recommendations” analysed data uploaded on the portal from September 2018 to May 2020.

To conduct the analysis, the group said it collated and analysed over 100,000 payment entries from over 600 distinct spreadsheets.

This, combined with the budget implementation spreadsheets, and tests of the sites usability and contact information features, provided the insights on the portal structure, functionality, shortcomings and improvement opportunities, it said.

Disturbing revelations

Between January and July 2019, BudgiT said it discovered that large sums were paid into personal accounts; including several records with vague descriptions.

“Over 2,900 payments to individuals were recorded at an aggregate value of ₦51 billion,” the group said. “A few examples include, ₦2.04 billion , ₦2.04 billion and ₦1 billion paid into personal accounts on the 21st of June 2019 without any payment description along with another ₦68 million payment for “Ogunsuyi” and ₦15.8 million for “international” on other dates.

“In the same 2019, we also discovered payment records without descriptions or beneficiary information. At least 5,000 payment records valued at ₦278 billion were without descriptions and 275 payment records with a value of ₦43 billion were without beneficiary name.

“These inconspicuous payments cannot be assessed or traced by citizens and interested parties, thereby defeating the purpose of the platform to foster transparency.”

Recommendations

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The report also highlights several recommendations for improving user experience on the platform, increasing transparency of the data available and engaging citizens beyond the platform.

“For the Open Treasury portal to fully achieve its ambitious and worthy purpose of increasing public financing transparency and consequently improve accountability, it needs to be as easy to use and comprehend by citizens and interested parties, and each of the above questions need to be addressed.” Ojiugo Uche, Research Lead at BudgIT, said.

BudgIT also called on the government to promptly rectify the highlighted fault lines of the portal.

“We also call for standardisation of the portal such that it will be impossible to input incomplete or vague information,” the group said.

“It is also important to investigate payments into personal accounts on the portal as this largely undermines the objective of creating the portal.”



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