Graft, investment and growth in perspective

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The degree of corruption as measured by Transparency International in its 2015 Corruption Perception Index puts Nigeria at 26 out of 100. The relative scores for Ghana and South Africa at 47 and 44 respectively, give further credence to the fact that Nigeria is perceived as being more corrupt than other key sub-Saharan economies. For emphases’ sake, zero means very corrupt and 100 very clean. How much business is being lost based on these perceptions? Perhaps, it would be apt to say at this point that there should be urgency in collective demand for real change.

Of course, if Nigeria is going to change perceptions– which is often all that people have, particularly of the anticipated investors– then the organisations, ranging from public to private sector, need to clearly demonstrate a culture, which will not tolerate corruption.

The good news in this respect is that a “risk challenge culture” may have been developed over the years from many previous attempts to effectively tackle the menace.

A report from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), defined ‘risk challenge culture’ as a system, which ‘encourages, requires, and rewards inquiries that challenge existing unfavorable conditions’. Perhaps too, Nigerians are again increasing their awareness, disdain and resolve to fight, especially with the ongoing campaign against corruption. But the big question remains whether the risk challenge culture is actually reaching the “top”.

It would seem that Nigerians have become incensed enough to speak freely against corruption in the public sector, inferred by the size and level of scandals publicised by the media. This outcry, resonating also in the social media, perhaps indicated a unified call for the highest level of accountability and transparency of government structures, systems and processes.

The Head of Policy, Sub-Saharan Africa, ACCA, Jane Ohadike,
Said: “A winning strategy to fight corruption for the long term will determine the broad skill set required of a winning team. Though not an exhaustive list, the necessary due diligence process from the outset will require the broad skills of an auditor to unearth and assess the inherent gaps across public systems and structures.

“Other critical competencies would include accountants, Information Technology strategists, communications experts and seasoned change managers. The sustainability of the strategy will also be measured by the responsiveness and sensitivity of government to the implementation change drivers in the public sector.”

• The fight against corruption should also look into building confidence in commitment to change. Government needs to build confidence and demonstrate its commitment to change. The fight against corruption as it is, communicates the current administration’s resolve towards the issue, however, observations that the anti-corruption initiative is only being “powered” by the executive without the support of the other two arms of government, showed that Nigeria may be heading down the same well-trodden path as before.

• Enhancing systems and institutions: Advances in technology have enabled the efficient development of platforms to detect corruption and fraud in institutions. The current government has leveraged technology in the financial services sector in setting up the Treasury Single Account (TSA), and facilitating the Bank Verification Number (BVN) project to step up controls, and mitigate fraud. This needs to be sustained and further implemented throughout the public sector.

For example, report said the Federal Government has uncovered about 23,000 ghost workers in its payroll, through the combined application of BVN and TSA, which at the minimum wage of N20,000 is estimated at over N5.5 billion yearly. This is indeed a good policy direction and the momentum should be kept.

• Building capacity: This is critical, especially for the agencies and arms of government that are at the forefront of the fight against corruption. All institutions and individuals within these institutions should be able to operate within the ambit of the law. The ability to investigate a case properly is as important as arresting culprits and filing a watertight case. Due process can only be followed by institutions, which have the capacity to understand its importance.

• Demonstrating value for money: The ability of government to demonstrate value for money is critical. Establishing value for money as a principle, for example, in the budget submitted to the National Assembly, will further drive accountability and enable government to build public trust.

“In these austere times when oil price has plummeted, and Nigeria’s export revenue has fallen short of budget expectations, it would be important for government to look at ways to periodically report on the ongoing expenditure, tracking progress towards the delivery of targeted public services. This should be timely, simplified and transparent in order to manage low public tolerance for any perceived funds misappropriation and wastefulness,” Ohadike said.

• Identifying existing policy impediments to new and updated laws: This point speaks for itself. New laws generally, aim to improve systems, and not to hinder or complicate them. This means it is absolutely critical to invest in the resource and expertise to carry out due diligence on the myriad of existing laws and policies across all public institutions to ensure that the objective of the laws are not impeded by an unsuspecting existing policy or law.

“The additional benefit to this due diligence is the identification of duplicate policies and laws that may cover loopholes that encourage corrupt practices as you could find in public sector remuneration where a public official could receive a double share of benefits classified under more than one category.

“Dealing with corruption requires a long term strategy to ensure that the results are sustainable beyond the term of the current government. The nature of the corruption in Nigeria is systemic, and requires solutions that exceed the remedial initiatives focusing on punitive measures.

“A strategic road map for tackling corruption should be produced through an audit and assessment, taking account of the indicators of accountability. This will ensure that the systemic issues and gaps are identified, and the right team constituted to deal with the issue. Anything short of this will simply be unsustainable in the long run,” the accountant added.

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