After presenting its one-year scorecard for public appraisal and staging a conference on legislators’ role in the war against corruption in partnership with the National Assembly, the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) is introducing new strategies to the anti-corruption crusade, reports JOSEPH JIBUEZE.
The Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) was set up on August 10 last year by President Muhammadu Buhari with specific mandates. The body was set up to promote the government’s reform agenda on the anti-corruption effort and coordinate the implementation plan for all anti-corruption legislation and interventions.
It was given the role to develop a strategy for the coordination of all components of the anti-corruption and criminal justice reform efforts, promote cooperation between government agencies involved in anti-corruption initiatives and periodically review the performance of anti-corruption agencies and to recommend remedial actions to improve operations, among others.
PACAC, chaired by constitutional lawyer and civil rights’ activist Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), has as its members three professors of criminology – Femi Odekunle, Etannibi Alemika and Sadiq Radda, as well as gender rights’ activist Dr Benny Daudu, civil rights’ activist/Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaigner Hadiza Bala Usman and Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, who is the Executive Secretary and whose only membership is full-time.
The body reports directly to the presidency, the committee presented its scorecard penultimate week before the media and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Abuja.
PACAC is a beneficiary of a $5 million Anti-Corruption and Criminal Justice Reform Fund put together by Ford, MacArthur and Open Society foundations. The fund has enabled the committee function under a dire economy environment and without a Federal Government budget or cabinet in place. The fund is also accessible to other CSOs.
It has produced a draft anti-corruption plan which followed consultations with stakeholders during an inter-agency task force workshop, which was sponsored by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) in May last year.
According to Prof Owasanoye, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Justice Minister Abubakar Malami (SAN), is currently developing a more robust justice sector plan with extracts from the action plan.
The Federal Government’s anti-corruption strategy involves prevention, sanctions and enforcement, assets recovery, ethical evolution and public engagement, the Executive Secretary said.
Within a year of its existence, Owasanoye said, PACAC has interacted with stakeholders such as anti-corruption agencies and the judiciary. He noted that the outcome of such engagement is that judges are less eager to restrain anti-graft agencies from investigating or arresting politically-exposed persons for corruption.
Other bodies engaged by the committee are: the Bar, Organised Private Sector (OPS), CSOs, Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as well as development partners on anti-corruption strategies.
To strengthen institutions, the committee has staged series of workshops and produced strategy documents including: the Corruption Case Management Manual (full and abridged versions), Plea Bargain Manual, Corruption Information/Intelligence Sharing Protocol and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Corruption and other Related Economic Offences.
Others are: the Strategic Communication Blueprint for the Federal Government in the Fight Against Corruption, Assets Recovery Strategy Document, Framework for Management and Administration of Recovered Stolen Assets, Training Manual for Federal Prosecutors on Drafting charges under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.
Besides producing a draft Bill and Explanatory Memorandum for the Establishment of Special Crimes Court, the committee has advised on improvement of prosecutorial capacity, asset recovery and on reopening of dormant high pro?le cases while fostering inter-agency cooperation.
In the year under review, PACAC held over 28 capacity building programmes for anti-corruption agencies, the judiciary (judges and magistrates) across the geopolitical zones, the Department of States Services (DSS), Nigerian Customs Services, ministries, prosecutors and professional bodies, among others.
Acting on its advisory, the Federation Government published N78.3billion, $185,119,584.61; 3,508,355.46 pounds, and 11,250 euros as recovered assets between May 29 last year and May this year.
It put the funds recovered under interim forfeiture include N126.6 billion, $9,090,243,920.15; 2,484,441.55 pounds and 303,399.17 euros and the funds awaiting return from foreign jurisdictions, include $321,316,726.1; 6,900,000 pounds and 11,826.11 euros.
The non-cash recoveries include 22 farmlands, four plots of land, 182 completed buildings, 25 vehicles and five maritime vessels.
Knocks for Jonathan
Going by the PACAC’s scorecard, 55 people stole N1.3 trillion from the national treasury in seven years under President Goodluck Jonathan’s watch. The committee accused the former President of tolerating corruption, closed his eyes to graft while his administration fared worse than his predecessors in tackling official sleaze. “Under his (Jonathan’s) watch, corruption brought Nigeria to its knees,” PACAC said in its scorecard.
Applying World Bank rates, one-third of the N1.3 trillion could have provided 635.18 kilometers of roads, built 36 ultra-modern hospitals in each state, built and furnished 183 schools, educated 3,974 people from primary to tertiary level (at N25.2 million per child) and built 20,062 units of two-bedroom houses.
Owasanoye said PACAC faced public apathy in carrying out its mandates. He accused the elite, who should have supported the anti-graft battle, of complicity in entrenching corruption. He also attributed the poor economy as a push factor for graft. The ine?ective application of preventive measures, Owasanoye said, is also a hurdle. For instance, the use of Treasury Single Account (TSA) was said to be encouraging cash transactions in some MDAs to bypass and circumvent the TSA policy . Low budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Justice, PACAC said, also slows down the prosecution of cases. Other challenges are the negative use of constitutional safeguards, manipulation of fault lines (such as religion and ethnicity) by suspects to ?ght back and undermine government e?ort, as well as weak communication strategy which leaves information gap and escalates speculation and criticism.
Role of lawmakers
On the need for improved collaboration between all arms of government in fighting corruption, PACAC, in partnership with the National Assembly, United Nations (UNODC) and the Africa Development Studies Center, held a two-day national conference with the theme: “Role of the legislature in the fight against corruption.”
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who stood in for the President, said the fight against corruption must be a joint effort based on a “consensus”. He said fighting corruption does not require saints, but an agreement that the consequences of graft in every sector are “grave”.
He said the fuel subsidy scam, for instance, gulped almost N5 trillion, which was almost the size of N6.07 trillion Budget.
Osinbajo said: “We have a chance to develop a uniquely Nigerian approach to dealing with this problem. I think it’s important for all of us to be humble and clear-headed enough to understand that a coalition that should emerge from such a consensus is not a coalition of saints, neither can it be a conclave of only righteous men and women bound by ‘holier than thou’ creed. No.
“What we need is a coalition of reasonable men and women in commerce, in government, or whatever human endeavour, who know that the proposition that corruption does not pay is not merely a moral injunction, but an admission of a grave reality that a corrupt executive, for instance, will destroy all plans for development.
“That a corrupt legislature will use its legislative and oversight functions to enrich itself and compromise its role of check and balance, and that a corrupt judiciary will sell its power over life and death to the higher bidder and return society to the anarchical notion that self-help is best; that corruption in the capital market or banking system means that we cannot be sure that our investments will ever be safe.”
Prof Sagay was unsparing of the National Assembly. It accused the dual legislature of not living up to electorate’s expectations, adding that the legislature, which is the first arm of government in a democratic state, is no longer regarded as such.
He said: “The current low esteem in which the legislature, particularly the National Assembly is held, arises, not from lack of legislative primacy, but from its exhibition of negative values and practices grossly against the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.
“The clear impression is created that Nigerian legislators are in office for themselves and not for the populace. The issue of mind boggling allowances is just one evidence of these phenomena.”
Sagay said for the legislature to play its watchdog role effectively, “its own hands must be clean and its house put in order. A corrupt and self-seeking legislature will not have the credibility and authority to carry out its role as the watchdog of the people. Unfortunately, currently in this country, it is the press that is playing this role of watchdog,” he said.
To Sagay, the National Assembly has not adequately fulfilled its oversight duties under Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution.
The PACAC chair said: “In my humble view, the legislature has not lived up to expectations with regard to its oversight functions. It has tended to be deeply involved in acts of corruption which in the process deprives it of the capacity to fight corruption. The latest development, that of budget padding, is an example of this dilemma.
“In spite of all that has happened in the past, it is most encouraging that the National Assembly has actually taken the initiative to collaborate with PACAC to deliberate on the role of the legislature in the fight against corruption. This is a most encouraging development, marking a turning point in the orientation of our lawmakers towards their duties and responsibilities.”
But Senate President Bukola Saraki believes the National Assembly has contributed a lot through legislation in the anti-graft fight. To him, Nigeria has a long way to go in the fight against corruption. He called for new strategies.
According to him, the fight cannot be fought and won on the basis of prosecution of offenders alone but that a greater effectiveness can be achieved by applying preventive measures across the public spectrum.
Saraki said: “Such preventive measures must include adequate education, ethical reforms and adaptation of technological support systems for better auditing and public procurement systems that help cover loopholes for corruption.
“For example, in order to reduce the risk of corruption and increase the effectiveness of public procurements, electronic tenders should be used more widely where possible
“On our part, the National Assembly is ready to continue to use its legislative time and authority to reform key areas of our laws that will strengthen our institutions and give a fillip to the anti-corruption campaign.”
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu believes that budget proposals should be subjected to public hearings which according to him, would reduce the corruption associated with the budgeting process and improve transparency.
It would also enable the citizens to make direct input, he said.
According to Ekweremadu, Nigeria is perceived as a corrupt nation partly because its budgeting processes are shrouded in secrecy.
He said: “We are one of the few countries that don’t subject our budgets to public hearings. I don’t see why Appropriation Bills should not be sent in early by the executive so that the public can contribute.
“The problem has always been that the executive brings budget proposals at the last minute, usually at the end of a financial year, leaving no room for public input.”
Need for accountability
The PACAC secretary urged the National Assembly to make its budgets public for the sake of transparency and accountability. He said the lawmakers should justify the more than 2,220 per cent increment in National Assembly’s budget between 1999 and 2014.
Owasanoye said the number of lawmakers has not increased, nor has the salaries of other workers increased, yet their budget rose from N6.9 billion in 1999 to N150 billion in 2014.
According to him, National Assembly’s budget was N6.9 billion in 1999; N9.9 billion in 2000; N19.8 billion in 2001; N21.6 billion in 2002; N24.3 billion in 2003; N34.7 billion in 2004; N55.4 billion in 2005; N60 billion in 2007; N106 billion in 2009 and N154.3 billion in 2010.
Owasanoye accused the lawmakers of rubbing shoulders with the executive rather than focusing on their core mandates of lawmaking and oversight duties.
His words: “The National Assembly, just like the judiciary, does not account to anybody for how it spends money. It’s a big problem. The arm of government to help us deal with that is the legislature.
“But for several years they’ve been collecting over N100billion, they’ve not accounted to anybody. They have to justify it to us. That is the only way to remove the negative perception that that the National Assembly is corrupt.
“On constituency projects, which I have no aversion for, in the majority of cases, unless we want to live in denial, a legislator wants to nominate or succeeds in totally hijacking the contract. So, the National Assembly should stop competing with the executive for budget increases.”
Former Director of Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, Prof Patrick Lumumba, who gave the keynote address, said Africans must end the culture of celebrating ill-gotten wealth. He said a person who steals a goat and a person who steals public funds deserve the same treatment.
According to him, countries such as Botswana, Mauritius and Rwanda, have shown that the fight against corruption can be won. He said if Nigeria successfully tackles corruption, it would rob off on the rest of Africa.
Lumumba, who is the Director of Kenya School of Law and regarded as one of Africa’s greatest orators, gave his speech for more than 30 minutes extempore.
He said: “We must create an environment that is hostile for people to participate in corruption. We must ensure that procurement laws do not allow people to steal in accordance with the law. The qualities of laws we enact must therefore be very important.”
He advocated what he called lifestyle audit for public officers, saying: “Before a public officer builds a house, he should show us the source of funds.”
According to him, an economy thrives where there is less corruption, noting that Botwana, for instance, recorded budget surplus due to its high level of transparency and accountability.
Lumumba said: “Institutions must be strengthened. President Buhari is on the right path, but he won’t succeed unless institutions are built. The president will be in office for eight years at most. If there is one good quality corrupt people have, it is patience. They can sleep for eight years and emerge as monsters in the ninth year.
“So, strengthen the institutions such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and others because it is only they that can defy time.”
PACAC intends to scale up engagements with CSO, citizens, states and local government areas to boost anti-corruption advocacy, work with stakeholders to improve the legal framework and engage in further capacity building for anti-corruption agencies, MDAs and the judiciary on money laundering and asset recovery.
It also has a plan to track high pro?le cases and how the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 has been applied towards improved sanctions and enforcement, work towards eliminating corruption in procurement and enhance security of payment, conduct corruption risk/performance assessment for MDAs and anti-corruption agencies, review anti-corruption policy and strategy, among others.
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