Ecological Funds: HEDA, Policy Alert task NASS on decentralisation, transparency

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Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre) and Policy Alert, two front-line civil society organisations (CSOs) working on economic and environmental justice in Nigeria, have asked the legislature to evolve more devolved and corruption-proof criteria for accessing ecological funds in the country.

The ecological fund, a pool of funds from the Federation Account distributed amongst the Federal, State and Local Government to ameliorate serious ecological problems across Nigeria, has recently come under scrutiny as a result of the recent flooding disaster across Nigeria.

In a joint memorandum on utilization of ecological funds sent to the Chairman Committee on Ecological Fund, House of Representatives, Hon. Ibrahim Isiaka, during the investigative hearing held on Monday November 7, 2022, the two CSOs highlighted governance risks in the current management of the ecological funds and recommended strategies for effective utilization of the Fund.

Jointly signed by the Chairman of HEDA, Olanrewaju Suraju, and Executive Director of Policy Alert, Tijah Bolton-Akpan, the organizations, the memorandum noted the over-centralisation of decision making on distribution of the Ecological Fund and urged that technical and financial decision-making should be devolved to more actively involve State governments, local governments, and communities.

The memorandum stated: “We urge this Committee to recommend the design of a framework that will get state and local governments and local communities to be more actively involved in needs assessments and project selection. Similarly, state-government counterpart funding for projects should become a benchmark for release of funding, as is done with some international donor-funded programmes. This would incentivize performance, drive accountability, and strengthen ownership and sustainability of the process.”

The Memorandum explained that the communities know their ecological problems better, and while many of them are custodians of indigenous knowledge on ways to mitigate and adapt to natural phenomena, they are often constrained by resources from executing such responses.

The civil advocacy groups also decried the lack of transparency and accountability in the management of the Fund, and noted the absence of disbursement and performance data on the Ecological Funds at all levels of governance.

The Memorandum added, “One way to address this is to create an incentive scheme modeled after the States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS) program-for-results, which will allow Federal MDAs, States and Local Governments to draw down on Ecological Funds based on a criterion that balances actual need with transparent fiscal practices, accountability for previous utilization, and other good governance indicators.”

The memorandum stressed that to guarantee sustainability of the Fund, its financing should be de-linked from the controversial Excess Crude Account (ECA) where it currently draws about one-fifth of its funding from. It tasked the Committee to work towards the recovery of billions of naira disbursed over the years as random loans and indiscriminate payments to various MDAs and State Governments for purposes unrelated to ecological problems or interventions, as such funds will be crucial for addressing future ecological needs given the country’s current revenue crunch. It also called for a review of ecological project guidelines to ensure that an equal amount of attention is given to flooding and erosion as is currently given to desertification.

While expressing support for the Committee’s investigation into the utilization of the ecological fund, HEDA and Policy Alert demanded that all public officials indicted should be recommended for prosecution by the appropriate law enforcement agencies.