President Buhari, Corruption Is Still Official In Our States -By Tony Osborg

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Tony Osborg

Tony Osborg

 

How do we build an effective public procurement process in our states and local governments and fight this type of corruption? How do we get fair value for every contract our government awards? How do we ensure that at least six in every ten qualified contractors get a job to execute even without knowing anyone in government? How do we establish a transparent and accountable procurement process? These are the questions begging for answers from the Buhari’s anti-corruption administration.

A Nigerian Professor once declared in a provocative manner “it is not just a fact that Nigerian government officials are corrupt, it is also a fact that in Nigeria, corruption is official!” To those who understand the historical interconnectedness of the unlimited abnormalities that have become a norm in Nigeria, they will simply agree that this professor aptly captures the reality of our present day Nigeria with those few words. Indeed, corruption has become an official way of life in Nigeria and that is one reason why many doubt the ability of President Buhari to tackle this challenge from a cause/bottom-top approach.

While Nigerians cry about the effect of corruption in the society, they obviously do not seem to know how it is perpetrated by those in government circles, thereby making it difficult for them to know how to tackle it. Today, I intend to do justice to this. What is the major source of corruption in Nigeria and how can it be tackled?

There is a unique kind of corruption in Nigeria which is actually the major method through which our government officials/politicians steal public funds without being detected? It is also because of this method that our courts are finding it difficult to indict them? How has corruption become official in Nigeria?

In government circles, there is what we call the public procurement process. In a nutshell, this simply means the manner in which governments award contracts. Presently, in Nigeria we have a defective public procurement process that allows our government officials to inflate public contracts to as high as thirty-five percent of the entire contract sum with no regard for procurement laws. The defect in our public procurement process allows ministers, commissioners, state governors, etc to award inflated contracts without questioning by the law. The existing procurement law allows these officials to manipulate the process easily, and single handedly decide who should get what contract and at what price. In other words, when a state governor awards, let’s say, a one hundred million Naira contract for the construction of a primary school, there is a possibility that over thirty-five percent (which is 35 million Naira) of this sum will be shared amongst the government officials involved in the project. Thirty-five percent is not a benchmark, as some states collect twenty-five percent, others fifteen percent, and the least, most times, is ten percent! This practice is rampant in virtually all the states of the federation, including in federal government procurements, although there is a Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) at this level, which still does not have effective control over all federal procurement activities. Some commissions like Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC), etc do not work with percentages, they simply sell these contracts to willing contractors, thereby stealing tens of billions of Naira through the process and without the people getting any real value for the contract sum. In most state government award-of-contract processes, the lowest bidder is not the criteria to get a contract. Sometimes they just award contracts to fulfill budgetary requirements, pay upfront for the contract and even refuse to execute it. One will be amazed that many uncompleted projects in our states have been fully paid for without even fifty percent execution.

Many Nigerians get excited when their state governments execute such projects as the construction of schools, roads, health centres and other government funded projects which they tag as developmental projects. They get excited over what they perceive as a performing government carrying out its corporate responsibilities. But they are ignorant of the fact that public funds cannot disappear in a vacuum, it has to be accounted for; therefore contracts must be awarded to make the stealing look legal and official. Yet, the people only wish that more of such projects can be executed; they fail to understand that with a defective procurement process in place, the more projects a government executes under this abnormal process, the more kickbacks its officials receive, the more money is stolen, and the more corruption is patronised. In fact, under our present abnormal procurement process, the more project a government executes, the more money its officials steal through each contract inflation and kickbacks. If we therefore do not fix our public procurement lapses, stealing through contract inflation and kickbacks will become an inevitable and official act of corruption, as it has seemingly already become in our states. Imagine how many contracts are awarded in a year by our various governments. Imagine how much is stolen through the process, especially considering the fact that award of contracts is the only major thing governments do these days to show that they are working.

In other words, under a defective procurement system, when next your state government builds a monorail or a model school or health care centre or buys stoves or even builds a stadium, do not simply clap for them because they have done well. Why? Because they just stole ten, twenty-five or even thirty-five percent of your commonwealth by executing such projects. This is one way corruption has become official in Nigeria.

Funny enough, the only way we Nigerians and even our governments rate official performance is through showing how many projects have been executed. Yet, nobody is asking about the processes through which these projects were awarded and implemented. Once we fix this sort of corruption, we will have achieved a major milestone in the anti-corruption fight. I am interested in knowing how President Buhari intends to tackle this issue, especially as it affects our state governments, since the federal government might have no power to interfere in the state’s procurement processes.

How do we build an effective public procurement process in our states and local governments and fight this type of corruption? How do we get fair value for every contract our government awards? How do we ensure that at least six in every ten qualified contractors get a job to execute even without knowing anyone in government? How do we establish a transparent and accountable procurement process? These are the questions begging for answers from the Buhari’s anti-corruption administration.

Until we fix our public procurement process in the states and the federal government, corruption through contract inflation and bloating will remain an official way of stealing Nigeria’s commonwealth without it being detected. Until we fix this problem, our state governors and top government officials will continue to decide who gets what contract and at what rate and which contract should be paid for and which is more important than the other. I believe this was one of what President Obama meant when he said Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men.

How do we build strong public procurement institutions in our states?

Tony Osborg writes from Port Harcourt

 

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