Corruption in Nigeria’s procurement – “Chop-I-chop”

Corruption in Nigeria’s public procurement cut across every states of the federation, and has enormous negative consequences on the delivery of services that are supposed to be beneficial to the populace. Corruption in Nigeria’s public procurement is a grand scale jamboree that involves politicians, government officials and the private sector, conspiring to siphon money off the government budgets. It is also the indirect misuse of power by top level officials. The leakage of public funds caused by corruption affects the government’s ability to provide basic services to its citizens. It also increases the burden on taxpayers, and reduces the quality of work done for projects. The summary of corruption in Nigeria’s public procurement is that it takes two to tango!  ‘Where there is a willing taker, there is equally an ever willing giver’. While the recent Public Procurement Act is willing, the residual effect is increasing costs of production and ultimately reducing competitiveness. In the short and long term, it will distress our economy and aggravates the quality of life of the people if corresponding and adequate reforms are not initiated. In the few years of the Act, it can be concluded that the procurement system is already out-dated. The Act is uncoordinated to meet our needs and peculiarity, the rules and regulations as currently been implemented, is vulnerable to corruption, the intended aim.

Corruptions in procurement practices in Nigeria occur in various demeanours. First, there are multiple and tailored specifications by government officials to favour particular persons who in turn facilitate kickback. Secondly, there are enormous information restrictions about contracting opportunities, subsequently done in an obscure approach that no one sees or understand the procedure, pre and post implementation. Thirdly, contracts are award to contractor who are directly or indirectly linked to an influential political figure who influence the selection and appointment of the government official in charge or the intended contractors. Fourthly, there are usual claim of ‘urgency needs’ as a ground to award the contract to a single contractor, avoiding due process and tender process. In addition,  the trick of disqualifying certain contractor by deliberate dis-qualification, and colluding with contractor to fraudulently increase prices or the collusion with contractor in order to fix bidding prices, and subsequently ensure that only certain bidders secure the contract. Furthermore, there is wide and wild acceptance of gifts: this takes various forms and ranges from lunches, dinners, donation of personal house in villages of politicians and government officials, air tickets for exotic holidays. In addition, an area of crucial concern is the practice of corporations offering post-official employment to public servants with whom they had official dealings prior to the officials’ retirement, and lastly, the use of proxies or nominee companies of the government official or politicians to bid and secure contracts is a common phenomenon.

From the foregoing, it can be established that though, prior to the passage of Public Procurement Act in 2003, Nigeria was losing billions of Naira annually to corruption in the government procurement system; however, the present system is worse than the previous system in place. The so call ‘Act’ is only succeeding in diverting public funds into unnecessary, unsuitable, uneconomic projects. First, the present geometric expenditure involved in public procurement in Nigeria, the high degree of discretion afforded to public officials in executing procurement, and the involvement of many private sector entities in the process all contribute to the indirect growth of corruption in Nigeria’s public procurement. Secondly, the Act’s mechanisms and frameworks would remain ‘cupboard’ documents unless concrete actions are taken to implement its provisions and to enforce (create) other relevant laws.

It has been established that the adverse effects of corruption in public procurement is of international concerns, almost all countries face legal and practical challenges in overcoming corruption in public procurement, however, Nigeria’s case, as usual is worse off. When the United Nations Convention against Corruption was adopted in 2003, the UN Secretary- General stated that corruption: “… is found in all countries – big and small, rich and poor – but it is in the developing world that its effects are most destructive. Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately – by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice, and discouraging foreign investment and aid. Corruption is a key element in economic underperformance, and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development.” Investigative organizations that should seek co-operation with other relevant administrative organizations and professionals to share and utilize their respective information and expertise to minimise Corruption in Nigeria’s public procurement are inadvertently schemed out.

The publication of procurement opportunities been practise in the country increases participation and consequently reduces the risk of collusion or failure of tendering. All agencies are expected to advertise their procurements; however, it is a rare occurrence to see publications of the name of the winning bidder announced afterwards. The reasons for the decision are sometimes unavailable upon request. I recently received  a complaint from a colleague that have three qualified company, and have steadily express interest in almost contract advertisement for the past one year, but have never for once be informed of the post contract award. Out of ninety-two (92) expression interest his company submitted, only one agency has the courtesy to reply! Therefore, given the long duration of procurement procedures, and the difficulties involved in detecting the ‘smart’ manoeuvre of Nigeria’s public officer regarding fraud and corruption; it is time that all contract documents be retained long enough. Particularly, keeping a register of all bids and a record of the decisions for at least ten years, and that interested individual has access to the documents to allow a review of the procurement system.

The way forward is that we swiftly adopt a code of conduct for procurement personnel, as well to set up a review mechanism for procurement decisions. It is also important that the government, if serious about corruption in the country, should create a central, non-fragmented authority responsible for ensuring that anti-corruption policies are working in the procurement sector. The excellent ‘copy-and-paste’ Procurement Act is not the final answer to procurement corruption; effective enforcement is equally important and such enforcement requires an independent and dynamic investigating Anti-Corruption Agency, and the support and help of the free media and an informed civil society in the country. Enough is enough, and it is time we ban the unnecessarily import of the templates of other countries, rather, my opinion is that we have our own legislation sufficient for fighting corruption. The prevention of corruption is more effective than detection; therefore, there is need for a ‘rule-based approach’, which should be as clearly detailed and matching Nigeria’s peculiar situation. This is particularly important considering the fact each time an election takes place; new politicians take power in Nigeria, the high-ranking members of government boards, and bodies change, including those responsible for public procurement.

The serious issue of characteristics of corruption in Nigeria’s public procurement system is the involvement of the executive. There is a difference between corruption perpetrated by lower-ranking officials for survival and corruption perpetrated by the wealthy and powerful individuals. The real problem is bribery of officials by companies, and it can be concluded that the executive corruption in public procurement have greater detrimental effects than other forms of corruption perpetuated by the lower government official. The solution is that such bodies, like the EFCC, and other criminal investigators in the country should therefore enhance their contact and co-ordination with the private sector. In addition, this piece will not be complete without a word on the selection system for posts of responsibility on government boards, this must be improved to ensure that there is less political influence on who is selected. In addition, there is need for a multi-disciplinary practice whereby prosecutors cooperate with tax authorities and land registry authorities, in ascertaining the wealth and assets of public officials, especially those involve in public procurement.

Although, public procurement involves specific technical issues pertaining to construction, engineering, and technology. Therefore, law enforcement agencies cannot easily identify fraud or corruption in such matters, and must rely on technical experts for evaluations and analysis. Therefore, to address this shortcoming, an ad hoc team of various professionals (legal, scientific, engineering, accounting, etc.) can be established for all procurements to investigate potential corruption cases. It is also important that the independence and impartiality of such experts must be assured. One way to ensure impartiality is to select a standby pool of qualified people in advance of any investigation, post procurement procedures.

To effectively combat corruption in public procurement, the role of the mass media and civil society’s participation should also be enhanced. In particular, whistle-blower legislation and a witness protection programme should be adopted to detect corruption in public procurement; and lastly, appropriate measures to facilitate the voluntary disclosure by anyone concerned of information relevant to corruption in public procurement should be considered.

Although no public procurement system will likely ever be fully free of all corruption, a system that promotes transparency, efficiency, economy, fairness, and accountability will be a system where corrupt activities will be more difficult to conceal and will be easier to punish administratively and criminally. Adequate training of procurement officers, the establishment of multidisciplinary and multiparty evaluation committees, rotation principles for procurement officials and the establishment of accountability and report procedures, are keys in fighting corruption. The development of codes of conduct for staff is also extremely important. These are but a few ideas as to how to address and control corruption in the context of public procurement. In addition, in so doing, the public sector shall likely acquire high quality goods and services at a cost or price deemed to be fair and reasonable.



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