This is a 4-part series because of the seriousness of the problem. This week we shall see what a government can sincerely do about the problem, provided the government itself is sincere about it. We shall conclude the series next week and move on to other subjects.
What can a sincere government do?
1. I believe the first thing is to be ready to live by example. We could have got it right under Buhari had he not started to prevaricate and protect some privileges for himself. If the people see that the government is ready to be honest, they will comply and follow behind. People started to shape themselves in this country in the first coming of Buhari and under Murtala Muhammad. If a government however shows that it is all about enjoyment and oppression, the people will dig in and do their own thing. People started to be more careful once it was clear that Buhari may win 2015 elections, but all that disappeared under a few months of his swearing in.
2. We should also first and foremost BELIEVE IN NIGERIA. See, in my humble opinion there is absolutely nothing wrong with our nation but ourselves. Yes we may have disagreements. Yes we have done ourselves a great many injustices. But continuing with injustices is not a way of solving the problem. Every corrupt act is at its base, an expression of unbelief in the nation. Every corrupt act is violence done to the heart of the nation; it is a continuation of the many injustices we wreak on ourselves.
3. Use technology but risk-manage by having several layers of control that don’t see themselves. This is how to out the many tech-enabled and complex corruption we have today. This is what the private sector usually does at least to protect their shareholders. Government must be run like private sector companies especially in terms of accountability.
4. Follow the money – every large disbursement must be followed for value-for-money compliance. Just follow the money and look out for contract-splitting, cloning, and resurrections. Technology is still our only hope in spite of its being twisted by smart Alecs. A top civil servant who came from the private sector told me of how a large contract was resurrected in a place he worked, with the figure slightly varied. Because he is of well above-average intelligence, he remembered the name of the contractor and entered the name into the GIFMIS system, thereby discovering that this was a clone and that the huge amount was to be paid and shared by these desperate Nigerians who are hell-bent on killing the country. But how many of such would have escaped and are escaping daily. I believe an emergency should be declared on some levels of transactions and they should be put through the wringer without necessarily slowing them down. Multiple checks can be conducted on an inter-ministerial fashion between agencies that don’t see themselves.
5. Document all the new forms of fraud – no longer corruption – being perpetrated in the civil service in order to keep learning faster than these criminals. Make your knowledge public so that the world learns and so that Nigerians are on the lookout for these things. There will always be a tendency for collusion, even if you have an elite corps checking these things, so dynamism is required. Your strategies must change from time to time in unpredictable fashion. Again this is what they do to protect shareholders in the private sector. The ordinary people must be treated as shareholders of government and so tightly protected.
6. Remove nepotism. When I was a banker, we discovered a fraud relating to Federal Government revenue cheques (e-payment and TSA – Treasury Single Account – has curbed this to some extent now). We reported to one of the parastatals where a junior accountant was involved in pilfering millions in VAT and Withholding taxes due to the Federal Government. It was a shock to me that despite the director’s effort, the junior accountant was let off without even a query because they said a former Chief Judge of the Federation intervened on his behalf. We must deal visibly and firmly with fraudsters in the civil service and send the right message. The process of getting this done must be shortened. I believe this is possible. For now we have a cultish way of operating the service that does not help. It all depends on who you know.
7. Make corruption expensive and unattractive – This will be done by ensuring stiff punishment for corrupt people. Some have suggested the Chinese approach of execution. That will certainly work, though I am against execution of any type. I prefer life of hard work in prison for corrupt people. The government of the day is presently boasting of convicting two former governors (whom I reckon will appeal their cases and be out in no time), but those cases took 11 years. How many criminals have died in that time, suffering no repercussions for their acts. How many corrupt governors do we have that we can only convict two of them after that long? And this throws up the issue of INHERITANCE TAX. Another good way of making corruption unattractive is by taxing all inheritances in Nigeria. It is difficult but FIRS and the state IRS’s should know that they are there to do the difficult stuff. In a seriously corrupt country, a government makes sure that corrupt people don’t simply transfer their ill-gotten wealth to their children at death. Inheritance taxes bridges the income gap, and ensures we don’t keep unleashing unto society, irresponsible moneybags whose claim to wealth is their parents’ fraudulent acts. This is what we do in Nigeria today and it is pathetic. While working on this article I came across a heartfelt paper written to President Obasanjo in 2006 by one Patrick Odionikhere. Of course nothing was done and we still live in sin till tomorrow. I was even in the same space as the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, and Mr Fowler, FIRS Chairman, where she asked rhetorically and jokingly that Nigerians resist all taxes and they cannot introduce inheritance taxes without a protest. I just felt she wasn’t serious minded and was telling us she is afraid of powerful people who put her there. For how long shall we continue this way though?
8. We must institute a new system of shared services. In the USA – as capitalist as that country is and in spite of what some of our economists say about the evils of centralization – they have just one agency (GSA – Government Services Agency) which procures for all MDAs. Whatever asset an agency needs is obtained from this agency and returned when no longer needed, or when nearing its shelf life (for auction). This agency also ensures that only American goods are purchased by government. It’s a shame how our MDAs binge on foreign goods. We are killing this country with our choices which do not reflect any humility, introspection or even common sense. A country that produces nothing should not revel in luxury at public expense.
9. Government must get its acts together and actually govern. No amount of preaching can work if public services aren’t working. A serious government will lay the rules, and go about fixing public schools and public hospitals, plus public transport and electricity – everything the people need. As this is being done, anyone who decides not to use them and opts to steal instead just to prove he/she is smarter than the country, is shown the other side of the law.