Still on Nigeria’s Health and Economic Response to Covid-19
By Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani)
In Abuja, the 16th of April, 2020: The public health and economic emergency caused by the COVID 19 pandemic presents Nigeria and the world with an enormous challenge unparalleled to any other in the living memory of most.
As the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Kristalina Georgieva said, Nigeria is threatened by the twin shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanied sharp fall in international oil prices. Even before the crisis, more than half of Nigerians were living in abject poverty and without access to basic health services. This crisis has the potential to worsen the situation exponentially unless complete and unreserved transparency in the health and economic response to this crisis.
Nigeria is likely to be amongst the hardest hit in the world if appropriate policy actions are not taken. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of African oil produces is expected to shrink by 2.8% in 2020 according to IMF. This can have a devastating effect on Nigeria as plummeting oil prices and wider economic slump can erase millions of jobs. Livelihoods will collapse and already alarming levels of poverty can sky-rocket with unprecedented socio-economic impact.
As a responsible and patriotic Civil Society Organization, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)/ Transparency International Nigeria will like to use this medium to call on the Government of Nigeria to ensure complete and unreserved transparency in the health and economic response to this crisis.
We are not unaware that Nigeria has requested financial assistance under the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI) facility, in addition to the United Nations in Nigeria and the Government-launched COVID-19 Basket Fund to harmonize investments in a national pandemic response plan. In addition, private donations from corporate organisations and individuals are managed under the newly established Central Bank of Nigeria private sector led COVID-19 Relief Fund Account.
We commend the newly announced economic mitigation measures by the Federal Government such as food distribution, cash transfers and loans repayment waivers to protect the livelihoods. It is equally encouraging to observe that the President directed the current social register to be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households. This assistance is welcome in the context of necessary pandemic mitigation measures but inadequate, considering that tens of millions of Nigerians under the poverty threshold are locked down and unable to feed themselves and their wards. International effort such as debt relief, emergency credits and donations are also commendable and have a potential to benefit Nigeria’s population.
We commend the National Assembly for yielding to CISLAC’s earlier call for asserting strong leadership in the demand for transparency in the emergency assistance. We equally hope such effort would be strengthened and sustained to ensure total accountability of the Covid-19 relief measures.
We acknowledge the vital role of the Government of Nigeria, private sector, international community and citizens all have in ensuring that the emergency funding serves the intended purpose of preserving health and livelihood of the nation. We, therefore, call on the Presidential Task Force and other relevant authorities and other like-minded partners to implement the following measures in their responses:
1)Commit to full transparency in emergency expenditures and assistance
We believe it is important that all information regarding the financing should be published as quickly as possible.
Every economic and health program has to publish the full list of financial, technical and in-kind assistance including the source and targeted beneficiaries. Competent and objective third parties must be tasked with verification and evaluation of the impact in an un-bureaucratic and depoliticized manner.
For example, while we commend the Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment, Maryam Uwais, for providing citizens with an overview of the allocation for the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme, we would like to stress that there is a need to make data available in its disaggregated form on the website of the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) or National Cash Transfer Office (NCTO). NCTO shows that 1,028,416 households have been enrolled across 32 states in the country without any further breakdown. A breakdown to the ward level will aid the independent monitoring of journalists and the civil society. This move will be in line with the proactive disclosure of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act 2011, which will improve transparency, reduce the risk of diversion and boost the trust of citizens in the process. This disaggregation should also include the percentage of the funds sourced from the $322m Abacha loot, the World Bank or the Government’s share of its contribution.
A central database with all forms of credits, donations and technical assistance to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, including the subsequent economic crisis, must be established under the joint management of the Government, CSOs and private sector representatives.
2)Scale up integrity in Emergency Public Procurement
Most public corruption transactions occur in procurement as it is a corruption ‘hot-spot’ in Nigeria. To mitigate risks such as hidden contracts, overpricing, collusion, and bribery in Nigeria’s COVID-19 response, it is essential that transparency, openness, and integrity are preserved and that public purchases and anti-corruption safeguards in government contracting processes are reinforced.
Procurement information on government purchases and service including contracts financed through the recently established COVID-19 Basket Fund must be published in a timely manner, in an open data format and, wherever possible, on a single platform.
Further, companies that bid and/or are awarded with a public contract should publish beneficial ownership information in order to help authorities, media and civil society identify potential conflicts of interest, reduce the opportunities for collusion between linked companies, create fair competition for companies and ensure full knowledge of who is ultimately benefitting from public funds. Fair and open competition among bidders, including both state owned enterprises and private companies must be upheld; where non-competitive bidding takes place for emergency reasons, the use of this approach is strictly limited in both time and scope. EFCC, ICPC and other agencies must be empowered to prevent corruption and monitor market developments in critical sectors in order to eliminate collusion between economic actors or practices that result in price speculation.
3)Ensure audits by internal audit bodies and third parties
Competent anti-corruption and audit institutions must be given unreserved access to monitor all emergency funding provided by the Government, international lenders, private corporations and non-governmental organisations.
Disbursed emergency assistance must be audited by relevant governmental agencies such as the Office of the Auditor General. National Assembly must establish competent committees to monitor the disbursement of funding and their effect without political and other side interests. In addition, the Presidential Task Force should guarantee that as soon as practically feasible, an external comprehensive audit should take place.
Priority should be given to critical areas such as health, public procurement, infrastructure, and social security expenditures and expansion of health insurance.
Competent and objective third parties, such as media and civil society, must be provided with opportunities to verify and evaluate the impact of the disbursed funds in an un-bureaucratic and depoliticized manner.
4)Set up safe reporting channels for whistle-blowers
The government and all partners must pro-actively encourage whistle-blowing where there is suspicion of criminal misuse of emergency funds or incompetency in their management. International practice shows that corrupt practices and incompetence is hard to disclose if whistle-blowing from insiders or those directly involved is not encouraged and supported.
While Nigeria does not have a whistle-blowing law and suffers from a culture of lack of transparency and repercussions against those who blow the whistle, in particular civil servants, we call on the Government and all other Nigerian and international partners to actively encourage whistle-blowers, guarantee their safety and ensure all reported cases are investigated in a transparent and open manner. Nigerian citizens must also be encouraged to use established complaint mechanisms by governmental or non-governmental agencies to ensure maximum accountability in the provision of emergency assistance.
5)Speedy transmission of Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill into Legislation
We applaud the proactive decision of the National Assembly in the introduction of the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill, 2020, which has gone through relevant stages in the House of Representatives. While we observed that conclusive stage of the Bill was halted by the emergent legislative recess necessitated by Covid-19 pandemic, we call for prompt finalization and transmission of the Bill for Presidential assent at resumption of legislative activities to provide appropriate legislative framework on relief to companies and individuals to alleviate the adverse financial consequences of a slowdown in economic activities caused by the Covid-19 disease; protect the employment status of Nigerians who might otherwise become unemployed as a consequence of management decision to retrench personnel in response to the prevailing economic realities; and implementation of holistic measures to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 lockdown on the vulnerable groups at all levels.
Finally, we reiterate that the health and economic responses must be accompanied by transparent and accountable oversight to prevent corruption and mismanagement of these resources.
CISLAC assures the Government, private sector, international community and all other partners of its unreserved support in combating the global crisis. We are determined to work with all state and non-state actors in the spirit of social justice, solidarity and patriotism to minimize the health pandemic and socio-economic crisis for the benefit of all Nigerians and beyond. We believe that this crisis is an opportunity to address common challenges without selfish individual profiteering and seeking political advantages. We are determined more than ever to play our part in this crisis.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani)
Executive Director, CISLAC