Politicians-in-power: Do They Mismanage Or Gobble Up Public Funds?

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

Governments around the world, including the Nigerian government, have passed legislation aimed at eradicating corrupt practices involving government officials. Yet, in Nigeria, it is a commonly accepted business practice to woo clients and potential business partners through “entertainment” and “gifts.” But, when it comes to dealings with government officials, great care must be taken to ensure that the line between creating a convivial atmosphere in which to conduct business and a criminal transgression is not crossed.

But the really gruesome thing is not that the politicians-in-power have not done their homework, or mismanaged or gobbles up public funds, but that the authorities have allowed the same old problems to repeat year after year. Misappropriation of public funds, severe losses on government investments, and repeated delays or irregularities involving major government projects have become “regular issues” in this country. When dealing with companies who have secured contracts with governments or government agencies, it will be prudent to investigate how those contracts were won.

This is certainly the case whenever dealing with companies who have secured government-sponsored contracts or contracts with underlying government permits or approvals, particularly in foreign jurisdictions where the custom of demanding “bakseesh” is well-entrenched and, at least historically, has been treated as an accepted business practice. If there is a published policy permitting all members of the public to use meeting rooms, the rooms may be used by political committees subject to the same rules applicable to all other members of the public.

However, the governmental body may be required to substantiate this claim. Similarly, elected officials may attend functions where they participate as speakers or panelists as part of their official duties to discuss political issues without violating the law. Salaried administrators may likewise attend functions as part of their official duties to provide information relevant to a ballot issue. Some of us, sadly, think when we attain certain Social and Political status, we ought to be exempted from all Laws that bar corruption. And no one below us in rank, or outside our Tribe, should have the effontery to question us on our corrupt behavior.

People should be ready to accept the fact that when their leaders commit blatant crimes such leaders ought to be fairly brought to Justice and our Judiciary must eschew selective convictions to strengthen the implementation of our Laws.

There are innumerable examples of “black holes” in state investments. Even Old Aba road inside Oyigbo, a city in Rivers State had its construction money released by Amaechi administration, but the contractor squandered the fund, to turn that project into abandoned one. To mention just a few, the rural telephone project invested over 60 billion naira ($500 million) under Obasanjo government, became a project without any outcome. The government of Kwara State invested 560 billion naira ($72 million) in the Mechanized Agriculture Project, where most lay-off Zimbabwe white farmers, got recruited and used but due to irrational farming method and chaotic management, the project had to be suspended. In Sokoto, the government invested several hundred million naira in a water-pumping and purification project, but after it was completed, its products could not be sold and 40,000 workers were laid off.

Dismissal from office or suing of ministers and political post holders on corruption charges through a public note is unprecedented in Nigeria. Until recently, corrupt ministers were removed and reappointed in a different location. Findings unravel billions of squandered public funds each year in government annual report before the National Assembly, but not a single minister has ever been accused or appeared before a court of law to account for the lost money.

We have all, in some way; come face to face with the stack realities of corruption in Nigeria. It is doubtful whether any of us is prepared make a sacrifice to fight it.
In a transitional society where people care more about material wealth than where the wealth comes from it becomes an uphill task to shame corrupt practices in public. In certain respect, the masses even urge their leaders on to get corrupt. Education and more education may be the weapon to beat corruption. Punishment cannot beat corruption for, only but a handful in Nigeria can hold up their head that they have never been corrupted by the ‘system’ they are supposed to serve.

It is a criminal offence under the Criminal Code to offer to a public official, and for a public official to accept, any form of “bribe,” which is broadly defined to include any sort of loan, reward, advantage or benefit of any kind, as “consideration for co-operation, assistance, exercise of influence or an act or omission in connection with” the transaction of business related to government

In the United Kingdom, the general position on gifts given to Members of the Parliament is that they, the Members of the Parliament and for those matter government officials, can accept some gifts; but they have to officially declare all such accepted gifts. Failure to declare them constitutes an offence. There are certainly no laws in Nigeria that deal with gifts given to government officials. If there were such laws, all Nigerian government officials from Presidents to Members of the Parliament would have breached them. *This raises an immediate need for laws to be passed to deal with gifts given to Nigerian government officials and all other Nigerian political office holders. Our laws could follow either the ones that bar government officials from “receiving” such gifts; or the British laws that allow acceptance of some gifts but place a duty on politicians to officially declare such gifts. The idea of proscribing acceptance of such gifts in Nigeria is to make it difficult for foreigners to use gifts to influence the government officials, [I guess]. In the case of Britain, a declaration of gifts offered to, and accepted by serving politicians, [I guess], makes it possible for cases of conflict of interest to be looked into and established, for example, where the giver and the receiving politician share some common interests.

In view of the fact that in Nigeria, there are no laws that bar government officials from accepting gifts from foreigners or any other givers, the twelve “mentally deluded” government officials who accepted the total of $244,000,000 cash from the TSKJ company with whom they were negotiating a contractual agreement had the “infantile audacity” to argue that the cash given to them was “a gift”, and not “a bribe”. And to date, both the Government and the Opposition have left the twelve Nigerian officials to go Scot-free, because of the absence of a law specifically proscribing the acceptance of gifts by government officials.

And who would want to go to court, to prove to them that those “two thousand dollars each” gifts were “neatly wrapped” bribes? Nigeria has copied a lot of foreign political ideas and practices from America and Britain, but we have always failed to copy and put in place their “control mechanisms” that allow those ideas and practices to work efficiently. We must make and put in place laws to bar Nigerian government officials from secretly or openly accepting any gifts from anybody while they are serving in any official capacity. We need these laws to stop our morally and ethically bankrupt and greedy politicians from exploiting their official positions to “make any makeable money” they can make, irrespective of any possible negative consequences their actions may have on the nation.

Even more serious is the wasteful approach to construction projects. There are huge numbers of needless “achievement projects” — built

to boost the prestige of local governments — as well as projects that are suspended, postponed, or built according to the wrong specifications.

The Nigerian people are among the worlds most diligent. We are diligent, but not affluent. Waste has become the No.1 killer of Nigeria’s wealth. In order to curb this extreme wastefulness, I suggest revising the article on power abuse in the criminal law to make it applicable to heads of state-owned enterprises. Also, I suggest that an article prohibiting the waste of public funds be written into the criminal law. There should be detailed regulations proscribing the abuse of power and the wastage of public funds.

To curb waste, citizens must have avenues through which to report and expose it, including the media. The government needs laws and procedures protecting and encouraging ordinary people to report to the authorities concerning the misuse of public funds. Any citizen who has evidence of abuse of power, corruption, or misuse of public funds should be able to sue the guilty parties.

An accountability system should be established. Information concerning the expenditures of public bodies, including state-owned enterprises, should be made available to citizens through the Internet. Only the institution of procedures to ensure transparency and accountability can put a stop to this serious problem.

Reports have always received widespread media coverage, powerful backlash from the opposition, as well as heated discussions among the public. And then things will get back to normal. No one has been dealt with, and no one has been made to assume responsibility and resign. So much has been said, but what the people want to see is some pragmatic actions. If we begin with the findings, all those responsible for the irregularities in Nigeria government failure to perform-well will be brought to book, perhaps we will let the people see the sincerity of the government in implementing the reforms while warning the public servants not to cross the line.

However, as is all too apparent, Nigeria should fight to remove the clause that immune corrupt practices involving government officials. Anti-corruption legislation in Nigeria is broadly drafted and can present serious risks for politicians who are not aware of the consequences. Particular care needs to be exercised in transactions involving joint ventures or the acquisition of government-properties where the value is derived from government-sponsored contracts or contracts requiring government approvals or permits.

How were those contracts or the related government approvals and permits obtained? By their very nature, corrupt practices are conducted surreptitiously and so, are exceedingly difficult to uncover in any sort of standard due diligence process. Given the sharpened focus on corrupt practices and the severity of the associated penalties, it is becoming increasingly common for parties to commercial agreements to demand specific representations and warranties to address the issue directly.

Contracting parties are often now expected to verify expressly that they have not engaged in any “corrupt” practices, including specifically any activity that violates the Code Of Conduct Bureau or EFCC or other applicable legislation. Nigerians would be wise to avoid any questionable practices involving government officials and to be extremely cautious in dealing with others who claim to be able to deliver government contracts or approvals.

It is the insatiable greed and lust for power that is mostly behind our intractable penchant for corruption. We have come to use our Tribal and Political differences only as justifiable, ready tools to gain what we are gullibly seeking. Our failure to change and drop our “mago-mago” ways stems from our deep-seated belief that the end justifies the means and that no law or individual or Government should be in our way, while we scramble to grab all we could for ourselves.

Many people do not think what is happening in Arab-Africa, for example Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, necessary or not, justified or not, did anything to stop our “man-know-man”. Many claim that the fact that they quickly recovered from the shock of that Revolution’s harsh methods to force us change indicates that we can never change from being so decayingly corrupt. There are others who strongly advocate we should remain in the status quo because whatever pertains in our System uniquely identifies our Society. All that is painfully erroneous!! I believe we can change. I believe we do not have to be whipped or shot or ripped naked in public to change.

We only need serious, morally strong leaders who would not compromise on the Laws of the Land to seek Justice, while living and leading us in exemplary fashion. Those of us who give in to Nepotism, Cronyism, Tribalism and any form of nefarious discrimination are only displaying our utter human weakness that we have refused to curb. Corruption, in any form, is inexcusable and unjustifiable. Some folks are truly forced into playing along in it. But it still remains self-corroding, and destructive.

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1 comment

uju February 23, 2011 - 3:14 pm

let us know the judas among our govt officials


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