Tackling Corruption, High Governance Cost Through Fiscal Transparency, Accountability

The fight against corruption has remained a constant priority for the Government of President Muhammadu Buhari since its inception in 2015. Corruption has been identified as one of the main spoilers of Nigeria’s ambition to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and, in particular, of its aspiration to lift more than 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years.

For over a long period of time, the menace of corruption had weakened public institutions and rendered them incapable of solving critical essential problems that affect national security and development.

Experts have said that corrupt practices have led to a steady decline in the availability and quality of essential public services and infrastructure with negative multiplier effects on national security.

Apart from undermining national development and security, corrupt practices had widened the level of inequality, aggravated the level of poverty, militated against efficient resource planning and allocation, undermined economic growth by discouraging investment, compromised economic efficiency, and inflated government expenditures without corresponding value.

Only recently, leading professional services firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in a report titled “Impact of Corruption on Nigeria’s Economy’ presented to Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, had stated that corruption in Nigeria could cost up to 37 per cent of Gross Domestic Products by 2030 if it’s not dealt with immediately.

This cost is equated to around $1,000 per person in 2014 and nearly $2,000 per person by 2030.

In a bid to tackle the issue of corrupt practices, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) held a National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in the Public Sector

The Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, Mr Bolaji Owasanoye, while speaking at the event described corruption as a hydra-headed monster which festers on every facet of the economy and national life, and if left unattended to has the ability to cripple even the most viable economy.

Owasanoye said Nigeria has had its fair share of the devastating effects of corruption, noting that this explains why from the very inception of this administration in 2015, one of Government’s primary concerns has been the reduction of corruption in the public sector to its barest minimum.

The event which was declared open by President Muhammadu Buhari had as its theme, “Corruption and the cost of governance: New imperatives for fiscal transparency.”

The conference was attended by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed; Secretary to the Government of the Federation Boss Mustapha; Chief Justice of Nigeria Tanko Mohammed; among other top officials in the public sector.

The ICPC Boss described corruption as a pressing issue in Nigeria which affects public finances, investments as well as standard of living.

The menace, according to him, also leads to low governance effectiveness as a result of inefficient government expenditure and leakages.

Giving highlights of the negative impact of corrupt practices in the public sector, Owasanoye told the gathering that some government agencies duplicated 257 projects worth N20.138bn in the 2021 budget.

Nigeria’s 2021 budget signed by the President Muhammadu Buhari was N13.59trn. Amidst revenue drought, the government targeted N7.99trn as revenue which experts had described as unrealistic. The country had a fiscal deficit of N5.6trn. In July, Buhari signed the N983bn 2021 Supplementary Appropriation Bill into law.

Although Nigeria’s economy gradually improved compared to the Covid-19 era, the government had sought for means to reduce budget padding and enhance cost cutting.

But the ICPC Chairman said despite the efforts by the government to eliminate budget padding, MDAs have managed to duplicate 257 projects.

He said, “ICPC review found that 257 projects amounting to N20.138bn were duplicated in the 2021 budget leading us to submit an advisory to the HMF which was promptly actioned by the Minister to prevent abuse.

“A number of MDAs have mini civil wars going on between the Board and management and sometimes within the board. These squabbles revolve around abuse of power prohibited by ICPC Act and unreasonable demands by some Board members for privileges contrary to extant circulars and laws and government’s resolve to minimize cost of governance.

“ICPC’s Ethics Compliance Scorecard of MDAs report for 2021 shows that only 34.6 per cent of the 360 MDAs assessed scored above average in Management Culture and Structure. This poor finding is not unrelated to unstable Boards unable to effectively oversight the institutions.”

He disclosed that there are ongoing investigations on illegal recruitment by the Ministry of Labour and the University College Hospital Ibadan.

Owasanoye said, “ICPC investigation of some cases of illegal recruitment forwarded to us by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation has so far implicated the Ministry of Labour and the University College Hospital Ibadan and a number of corrupt staff of other MDAs at a lower level.

“This abuse of power is consummated with the complicity of compromised elements in IPPIS. These cases are currently under investigation. At another level, a syndicate of corrupt individuals within the service corruptly employ unsuspecting Nigerians, issue them fake letters of employment, fraudulently enroll them on IPPIS and post them to equally unsuspecting MDAs to commence work.

“ICPC is prosecuting one of the leaders of the syndicate from whose custody we retrieved several fake letters of recommendation purportedly signed by the Chief of Staff to the President, Hon Ministers, Federal Civil Service Commission and other high-ranking Nigerians.”

The ICPC Boss commended government’s posture against illicit financial flows that drain resources from the nation, adding that the time to further block leakages is now that government revenues are dwindling and practically threatened.

He said the ICPC is contributing to government’s efforts by its IFF focused project that has resulted in a major advisory to government with recommendations including prohibiting confidentiality clauses that facilitate fraud and money laundering, prevention of tax evasion, prohibition of illegal tax waivers and all practices that undermine government revenue projections.

“The IFF Inter-Agency Committee has organized a number of capacity building programs for civil servant on how to avoid fraud and IFF prone agreements. On this note sir, we advise that government invest more in prevention and behavior change strategies alongside law and other measures to fight corruption.

“This is important if we are to maximize the gains of prevention and the wisdom that ‘prevention is better than cure’. ICPC in collaboration with development partners notably Ford Foundation for IFFs and MacArthur Foundation for behavior change is putting more attention to these areas in the months ahead,” he added.

Declaring open the summit, Buhari warned that his administration would not hesitate to punish Heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that fraudulently present new projects as ongoing projects in the budget.

He added that his administration will sanction those who bring in personnel into the public workforce by illegal recruitment, pad their payroll and retain ghost workers.

“We reduced the cost of governance by maintaining our promise to complete abandoned or ongoing projects commenced by previous administrations and have ensured that MDAs do not put forward new capital projects at the expense of ongoing projects.

“Government has, however, noted from the activities of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) that some MDAs have devised the fraudulent practice of presenting new projects as ongoing projects.

“Necessary action and sanctions will continue against the heads of such errant MDAs. I am confident that ICPC will continue to maintain the vigilance required of her by the ICPC Act in this regard,’’ he said.

The President described the summit with the theme as auspicious, noting that it reminds the government of the negative impacts of unnecessary cost of governance and offers an opportunity for critical stakeholders to offer suggestions on ways to further reduce the cost of governance and promote transparency and accountability in government expenditure.

He said, “I am delighted that the Legislative and Judicial arms of government are also under focus on managing the cost of governance because government is a collective and is not the business of the Executive branch alone.

“On 19th August 2020, the Federal Executive Council adopted the National Ethics and Integrity Policy which I launched on 25th September 2020.

“I am delighted that some public officers continue not only to demonstrate the core values of ethics, integrity and patriotism but have been identified for their sterling anti-corruption disposition in their workplace.”

The Minister of Finance in her address at the event attributed the improvement in the Nigerian economy to Buhari’s fight against corruption.

The minister said, “The most recent GDP data, which reports real GDP of 5.01 per cent in the second quarter of 2021 and 4.03 per cent in the third quarter of 2021 are very encouraging news, as it indicates that the fight against corruption has yielded result that the Nigerian economy is solidly on the path of recovery.

“And it is important for us to note that much of this growth is driven by the expansion of revenues from the non-oil sector.”

The minister said to achieve greater economic gains, all arms of government must work together to eliminate corruption.

She said, “The Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning continues to play a critical role in ensuring funding requirements for Ministries, Departments & Agencies (MDAs) that are involved in achieving this objective, including especially the anti-corruption agencies, as well as the security agencies.

“The war against corruption is a continuous one. There is the need for the executive to strengthen the existing agencies fighting corruption, such as the ICPC, the EFCC, and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and a few others.

“These agencies should be supported even more to adopt innovative methods of preventing officials from stealing public funds through the deployment of information technology, there should be judiciary reforms as well, that are aimed at improving the capacity of the judiciary to speed up the dispensation of justice as far as corruption cases are concerned.”

Ahmed called for a justice system that would strengthen speedy trials of corruption cases.

“It is possible special courts and expedited trials can be introduced or adopted. For corrupt cases, we must design our justice sector to meet our peculiar challenges and the ever-changing pace of corruption itself.

“There’s also the need to embark on increased tempo or reorientation amongst Nigerians to change our attitude and psychology as a people towards corruption,” said the Finance Minister.

In his speech at the event, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation said that the Federal Government will no longer allow the little resources at its disposal to be used by corrupt officials to build fake projects.

Mustapha said, “Systemic corruption prevents government from maximizing its potential of providing good governance for the people with available little resources especially at this time of Covid-19 pandemic.

“Government is highly worried that about 60 per cent of Federal Government’s Overhead Expenditure in three years (2012 to 2014) was spent on travels, maintenance, local and international training, welfare, office stationery / consumables, honoraria etc.

“Recent data from the Budget Office indicates that actual MDAs recurrent spending is still on the rise viz. from N3.61trn in 2015 to N5.26trn in 2018 and N7.91trn in 2020.”

“President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration, has, therefore, been unrelenting in making sure that our little resources will no longer be budgeted and/or used for frivolities, hidden in fake projects, unnecessary travel, wasteful overhead costs, meaningless capital projects and remuneration of ghost workers.

“We also remain focused on getting back our resources that have found their ways into the private pockets of those who fraudulently orchestrate the budget process for their selfish desires.”

As a government, Mustapha said the concerns have always been to continuously reflect and take measures to mitigate the negative consequences of unrestrained cost of governance.

“It is increasingly becoming public knowledge that our anti-corruption agencies, especially ICPC, are doing a lot in the area of prevention and also recovery of diverted or stolen public funds, building the capacity of MDAs to resist corrupt practices, promoting ethical values through the National Ethics and Integrity Policy of government.

“Some of the capacity building measures include System Study and Review of operations of MDAs; Corruption Risk Assessment and the establishment of Anti-corruption Monitoring Units in all MDAs.

“Recoveries of public funds in recent years have no doubt demonstrated the strong resolve government to stem financial hemorrhages and promote initiatives towards curbing illicit financial flows,” he added.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria in his address delivered at the event disclosed that in 2021, the judiciary presided over the conviction of about 1,144 suspects who were prosecuted for corruption-related offenses.

Mohammed said that part of the properties forfeited by the convicts includes aircrafts, real estates and vehicles.

“Between 2nd January and 14th November, 2021, a total number of 1,144 suspects were convicted of various corruption and financial related crimes, while the number of non-cash forfeited assets has also risen to include: eight Aircrafts, seven Filling Stations, 48 Real Estates and 149 Vehicles, amongst others. Similarly, various cash forfeiture were made in hundreds of millions of Naira,” he said.

Mohammed assured that the judiciary arm of government will remain dedicated to the just course of ridding Nigeria of every trace of corruption.

However, the most senior judicial officer in the country observed that there is mutual distrust between government and the citizenry.

“An average Nigerian citizen does not believe nor has any convincing reason to believe that the instrumentality of governance is designed to benefit him or her by any fraction,” he added.

He advised that the way forward is for government to quickly bridge the gap of communication and distrust between “the ordinary man on the street and the government”.

He also urged every Nigerian stakeholder to work in harmony so as to ward off corrupt practices which are detrimental to the corporate development of the nation.

A highpoint of the event was the presentation of the 2021 Public Service Integrity Awards to three distinguished Nigerians.

They are Nelson Okoronkwo, Deputy Director, Legal, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Muhammad Ahmad; Assistant Commander of Narcotics, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and Ikenna Nweke, a PhD student, from Imo State, studying in Japan.

Okoronkwo, who was recognized for his consistent acts of integrity in the different ministries where he served, is a committee member on fertilizer distribution that led to the recovery of billions of naira from racketeers with collaborators within the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

He was credited to have reported corrupt practices that led to the Ogoni cleanup investigation in the Federal Ministry of Environment.

As Committee Chairman on Illegal Recruitment in the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, the Deputy Director facilitated the detection and removal of over 3,000 fake employers from the Service thereby saving the government millions of naira in terms of salaries and emoluments.

The NDLEA officer, Ahmad, was recognized for demonstrating the highest ideals and standards of the public service in the discharge of his responsibilities.

Also, a recipient of the Chairman/Chief Executive Award for Outstanding Performance and Integrity, Ahmad recently recovered and declared to his Agency the sum of $24,500 offered to him as bribe by a drug baron to compromise an investigation of 27.950 kg of cocaine, worth billions of naira

Nweke, the Nigerian PhD student in Japan who found a wallet containing a very large amount of money and other valuables returned it to the Japanese police.

He declined 10 per cent of the money offered to him as a reward.

The Nigerian, who joined the event virtually from his base in Japan, was recognised for his act of ‘‘honesty and integrity,’’ by the President.

On Nweke, President Buhari said, “I am also happy to note the ICPC special award to Ikenna Steve Nweke, a Nigerian Ph.D student from Imo State studying in Japan.

“He has done Nigeria proud in far-away Japan by displaying traditional Nigerian values of honesty and integrity and returning a wallet containing a very large sum of money and other valuables to the police.

“He also declined 10 per cent of the money found as a reward offered to him. I join the ICPC in declaring him ICPC citizens anti-corruption volunteer group icon.

“He is indeed an icon and a beacon for our youths. I also congratulate all those awarded the ICPC Certificate of Integrity through their agencies.”

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