$114.28m World Bank Fund: Transparency and accountability as worthy guides

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Accountability, openness and transparency are principles whose seeds have not found fertile grounds to grow in Nigeria. Fingers may be pointed to the strong inclination to corruption which continues to sniff-out breath from these core principles of modern development. The World Bank board of directors had last week approved $114.28 million financing to help Nigeria prevent, detect and respond to the threat posed by COVID-19 with a specific focus on State level responses. The Bank had disclosed this in a statement titled “Nigeria to boost states capacity for COVID-19 response” released last Friday. This included a $100m credit from the International Development Association and $14.28m grant from the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility. The World Bank said: “Through the COVID-19 preparedness and response project (CoPREP), the government of Nigeria will provide grants to 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory as immediate support to break the chain of COVID-19 local transmission and limit the spread of coronavirus through containment and mitigation strategies.” According to the Bank, the $100million credit with Project ID number: P173980, is due to be paid back over 30 years, with additional 5 years grace period. It said that grants to States would be conditional on States adopting COVID-19 response strategies which were in line with the Federal Government guidelines and strategies. According to the World Bank, “CoPREP will enhance the institutional and operational capacity for disease detection through provision of technical expertise, coordination support, detection, diagnosis and case management efforts in all states and the FCT as per the WHO guidelines in the strategic response plan.” It was said that it would also help the government mobilise such response capacity through trained and well-equipped frontline healthcare workers and strengthen the public health care network for future health emergencies.

The World Bank Country Director for Nigeria, Shubham Chaudhuri, had in this regard said that “Nigeria has ramped up its efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, but more needs to be done at the State level, which are at the frontline of the response. The project will provide the states with much needed direct technical and fiscal support to strengthen their position in combating the pandemic. In addition, it added, the project would finance federal procurements of medical equipment, laboratory tests, and medicines to be distributed to the states based on their needs.”

However, suspecting foul play based on past experiences of infidelity on the part of the Nigerian government, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) had in response sent an open letter to the World Bank President, Mr David Malpass, urging him to use his “good office to encourage the Federal Government and the 36 state governments to publicly commit to transparency and accountability in the spending of the $114.28m credit and grant for COVID-19, which the Bank’s Board of Directors recently approved for Nigeria, including by publishing details on a dedicated website.” SERAP also urged the World Bank President to “put pressure on authorities and the 36 state governors to accept voluntary scrutiny by Nigerians and civil society regarding the spending of the funds and use of the resources, including on how they will spend the money to buy medical equipment, and improve access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.”

In the letter signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, dated 8 August, 2020, SERAP had said: “The World Bank has a responsibility to ensure that federal authorities and state governments are transparent and accountable to Nigerians in how they spend the approved credit and grant. The Bank should tread carefully in the disbursement of funds or distribution of resources to states if it is to reduce vulnerability to corruption and mismanagement.” The CSO further expressed “serious concerns that the money and resources may be stolen, diverted or mismanaged by state governors without effective transparency and accountability mechanisms, especially given increasing reports of allegations of corruption and mismanagement of COVID-19 funds by agencies of the Federal Government and state governments, and impunity of perpetrators. Insisting on transparency and accountability would ensure repayment of the credit, and protect the project objectives and intended purposes for which the funds and resources are approved, disbursed and distributed. The Bank’s power to provide credits and grants is coupled with a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that governments spending such funds meet international standards of transparency and accountability, including those entrenched in the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.”

The letter which was also copied to the World Bank Country Director for Nigeria, Shubham Chaudhuri, read further: “Implementing these recommendations would prevent a repeat of alleged diversion and mismanagement of recovered Abacha loot disbursed by the Federal Government to state governments. The World Bank should make clear to all the governors that it will cancel the credit and grant should they renege on their transparency and accountability commitments to spend the money and use the resources exclusively for COVID-19 related projects, and not to steal, divert or mismanage them. As the level of Federal Government monitoring of the spending of the credit and grant and use of the resources by state governors may be based on political considerations, the Bank’s influence might be the only restraining force state governors will take seriously. SERAP encourages you and the World Bank in any future engagements with state governments in Nigeria to insist on accessing information on how governors are spending security votes, and the amounts of public funds states are allocating to pay former governors life pensions, among others, as well as consider the level of corruption within each state before approving any credits and grants. SERAP also encourages you and the World Bank not to sacrifice international standards of transparency and accountability in the rush to provide COVID-19 credit and grant to the 36 state governments.”

SERAP therefore urged Mr Malpass and the World Bank to: “Disclose and widely publish the terms and conditions of the credit and grant, and the exact amount repayable by Nigeria in 30 years’ time, including the details of the interest, if any; and the consequences of Nigeria defaulting; Ask President Muhammadu Buhari to instruct the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to jointly track and monitor spending of the credit and grant by state governments; Ask state governments to allow the media to freely report on their spending of the funds and use of the resources, and not to clampdown on journalists and the media in the exercise of their constitutional responsibilities to expose corruption and hold governments to account; Ask state governments to explicitly commit to encouraging and protecting whistle-blowers as a way of ensuring that the funds and resources are not stolen, diverted or mismanaged;

Clarify if, to the Bank’s knowledge and information, the credit and grant have been approved by Nigeria’s National Assembly pursuant to its constitutional duties, including its oversight functions under Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended); Ensure increased transparency of sanctions and terms and conditions of the credit and grant to each state to enable Nigerians to ask questions as to the spending of the money and use of the resources from their state governments.”

The integrity of the Nigerian Government  is undoubtedly questionable, particularly amidst the high profile records of financial misappropriation and lootings among other variant forms of nauseating corruption devices which have characterized successive governments in the Country. This no doubt has led to the loss of trust by Nigerians in the Government. While the world is watching Nigeria, it is necessary that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government begin the process of changing the narrative by proving and assuring both Nigerians domestically and the international community of efficient application of the funds for the right purposes, bereft of foul plays.

Also, significant it is to desist from the usual practice of making clandestine, the processes and details of the uses to which such funds are being applied. Just as the World Bank has made public the purposes to which the fund were provided for, it remains sacrosanct that the Nigerian Government should make open the processes and details of how the funds is expended as time goes by. Transparency, accountability and openness are therefore key to prove to Nigerians that the present President Buhari-led Government is truly hostile to corruption as widely claimed. To avoid international embarrassment, close monitoring mechanisms of the expenditures of all government agencies or departments, having bearing of receipts from the fund should be strictly set in place to ensure  impeccable accounts of efficiency of use and effectiveness in purpose accomplishment. Unquestionable standards of audits should be put in place to check the activities and expenditures of all government bodies receiving from the fund to effect the set out purposes. Juxtaposing their expenditures with the actual results, pari parsu the intended purposes and expected outcome should be a benchmark for all government bodies having access to the fund, while punitive measures should be set aside for the prosecution of defaulters.