Corruption and the need for Public procurement Scrutiny

The recent revelation of large sum of money missing in Anambra State Treasury and the speech by Prof Soludo @⁨Chukwuma Soludo⁩ to the effect that the state is financially in a funny state has lend credence to the call for a proper review of the procurement process in Anambra State.

If any money is missing under Obiano’s government, it is possible these monies were not only taken by Obiano.

The current system of public procurement made it possible for other state public officers to siphon greater part of the fund.

Corruption under Obiano’s government encompassed every form of dishonesty displayed by public officers who worked under him.

This notion of corruption is restricted to a specific kind that is obvious in government cycles and is rampant among African governments due to structural defects and lack of external constraints
on the activities of state affairs.

In Anambra State, corruption has become a way of life, not just for those in government cycle but even for the ordinary citizen who now see ‘truth telling’ as a luxury they cannot afford if they must survive.

This is due to our inherited political culture.

From writing exams, to getting admissions, to getting a job, and sourcing for contracts; the corrupt way has become the
preferred way; the right way.

The corrupt way is the preferred standard in Anambra!

Infact, corruption has become official in Anambra State.

The worst form of corruption is the one upon which the bulk of our commonwealth is abused and stolen by public officials.

This kind of corruption is hidden under the pretext of public procurement – the award of contract process.

Anambra’s pattern of corruption is not only institutional but equally systematic, structural and cultural.

Public procurement simply put, is the procurement of goods and services on behalf of a public authority such as a government agency.

Public procurement includes all activities that involves the award of contract by the government on behalf of the people.

Such projects, be it for the construction of roads, building of airports, power plants, conference centres, bridges, installation of street lights, supply of desk for a basic school,
etc, all falls under public procurement.

The endless manner in which Chief Obiano’s government awarded contracts made them remain the biggest client any contractor in Anambra should have as a client; government projects are endlessly continuous – always constructing and modifying, demolishing and expanding, all in a bid to meeting the demands of the
people.

Government unveils itself through projects; if it is not linking two villages through a bridge project, then it is constructing basic schools in a remote area, or constructing a gas pipeline to supply gas to a newly built power plant or even still, it is building a power plant to provide electricity for its populace.

In fact, the only major way government manifests its existence is through procurement; the award of contracts for development projects!

This is one aspect of government that is obvious, axiomatic and inevitable in the long term process of governance.

Despite the obvious reality of this activity, Chief Obiano paid little attention to the effective management of public procurement and the need for transparency, responsibility and accountability.

From the construction of the airport to bridges to conference centres and even to the numerous fraudulent contracts/projects scattered across Anambra; all indicate that the state has no standard set aside for its procurement activities, thereby giving room for massive corruption through this process.

If Prof Soludo must succeed in his government and not end like the one before him, then he must review the public procurement system of the state as a way of regulating the award-of-contract processes in the state.

Major strands of the procurement act included (1) Regulation of procurement, (2) Establishment of common standards in procurement planning, methods, execution, enforcement and review, (3) Access to information and participation: The Act allows for
citizens to request for documents relating to procurement process as well as participate as observers in the proceedings, and fighting corruption: the Act makes provisions that will not only set standards but will also identify and punish corrupt practices and unethical activities related to public procurement proceedings.

Despite having this piece of legislature for over fourteen years now, there is no gainsaying to assert that the fraud in procurement activities has systematically skyrocketed at both the local, state and federal government level.

In Anambra State, the guidelines outlined by the Act was grossly neglected under Chief Obiano to the extent that a state governor single handedly now decides who gets what contract and at what price as against the principle of the Act!

In state ministries and agencies, etc, contracts were either bloated or sold at ridiculous rates to handicapped contractors.

Some officials of these ministries and agencies collect as high as 35% of the entire contract sum to facilitate contracts to willing contractors.

This has seemingly become official in all tiers of government.

In 2014, the Director-General of Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), Mr. Emeka Muoma Ezeh, disclosed that Nigeria loses $10billion (N1.7trillion) annually to
fraudulent practices in the award of contracts and project reviews processes!

How then can Soludo’s administration combat corruption in public procurement, restore transparency, efficiency, responsibility and accountability to our procurement process?

There is no doubt to say that Nigeria has few of the finest of laws and policies in the world, implementing them has remained the major obstacle in tackling its challenges.

Barack Obama, in one of his speeches about the challenges in Africa, stated that ‘what Africa needs are strong institutions, not strong men’, however, he failed to understand that strong institutions cannot be built without strong men, therefore, the strong institutions that Africa so desires must be built by strong men.

Tackling corruption in Anambra requires strong institutions, strong policies and strong men/leadership.

A lack of sincere and patriotic leadership has badly affected the manner in which policies have been implement.

Without good leadership, all good policies will be nothing other than mere paper works, and strong institutions cannot be built either.

I have outlined several steps through which
corruption in public procurement can be reduced/eliminated in Anambra State, few of which includes;

  1. The procurement model should be preceded by the establishment of an independent procurement department/commission [i.e. like the existing Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP).

This procurement
department will be an independent institution and will be the only department responsible for the award of all government contracts.

In other to avoid future litigations, disregards and controversies, this institution must be backed up by law.

Therefore, it must be an institution by an Act.

This procurement department will be the sole
arm of government capable of awarding contracts on behalf of the government and all its agencies, commissions and bodies.

In other words, no arm of the state government, starting from the executive down to the local government, will have the power to determine who gets what contract except through this procurement department/commission.

  1. Stripping of all public officials the power and authority to influence the operation of this commission.

Autonomous agencies and ministries, the State Assembly, etc will be stripped of their powers to independently award even their own contracts inasmuch as the
they are dealing with public fund and spending on behalf of the people.

Such powers will then be vested on this single procurement department/commission.

  1. The internal policy of this commission will be so defined to such an extent that at least six in every ten registered contractor shall have the opportunity to execute at least one project annually.
  2. The operation of this commission shall be so designed with so much administrative constraint to the extent that even if by accident a rogue is selected to head it, such a rogue will be limited by the internal constraint guiding the commission to the extent that he will be unable to display and manifest his rogueness in the commission’s
    affair.
  3. Every activity of this commission shall be open to public scrutiny; all invited contractors, awarded contracts, etc, shall be published on a monthly basis.

Also, criteria for contractor registration and procedure for contractor prequalification, qualification, shortlisting, and categorization shall be made open to the general public.

With these and many more strategies designed as part of the steps to strengthen the procurement process, transparency and accountability will not only be implemented, but also, the process shall offer the general public a cost effective method of justifying government expenditure for equal value on development projects.

It might seem that some of the above mentioned steps are already captured in the existing Public Procurement Act 2007, however, what we have lacked in implementing the processes is a sincere leadership that would respect and protect the spirit of the Act.

The President of the United States of America cannot easily make a common citizen a billionaire overnight without him going through some administrative constraints.

In our Nigeria and Anambra State, it is a different story.

With the too many obvious administrative abnormalities, a state governor, with just a phone, will not only make a commoner a billionaire overnight, but also make him the biggest contractor of his state – a clear indication of a lack of administrative constraints on the behavior of our public officers, or perhaps a blatant neglect of the existing laid down rules without respect to the rule of law.

If we must restore transparency, responsibility and accountability to our public life, then we cannot continue to depend on the self-restraints of our public officers as a way of getting them to behave right, we must learn to establish and if necessary, impose external constraints that will guide their actions and guarantee our individual progress and national interests.

Corruption is rampant in Anambra today simply because we have relied so much on the self-restraint of our leaders, who often end up becoming overwhelmed by the criminality of the politics.

For this reason, there becomes an urgent need to establish external constraints such as independent bodies with clear objective to checkmate and moderate the actions of our government officials.

The same method must be applicable to other spheres of public life, which is; we can no longer continue to rely on the self-restraints of our public officials as a way of expecting them to behave right, we must therefore, impose on them, through legislature, institutions, and policies, some sort of external constraint to checkmate their excesses.

The card reader was a kind of external constraint that worked well to checkmate the rigging excesses of both notorious party riggers and INEC conspirators.

In the civil service, the Integrated Personnel and Payroll System (IPPS) introduced by the Jonathan administration was a constraint on checking the corruption of ghost workers and salary diversion.

It all worked out well, at least, to a large extent.

Constraints, through legislature, technology, institutions, and policies becomes the new method of tackling corruption and restoring transparency, responsibility and accountability in our public life.

However, all cannot be achieved without a sincere and proactive leadership.

Author:

Ernest Okey Okafor,
Awkuzu, Anambra State.
08068405360
[email protected]

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