(By Omale Omachi Samuel)
The solution for effective procurement in our country lies in character rebirth and not on the laws of the land. If the character is good, the laws would work naturally such that it would seem the laws are not needed. I am looking forward to a day when public officers in government would be publicly awarded honour, accorded recognition and rewarded materially for their good conduct rather than for the positions they occupy.

PROCUREMENT is the acquisition of goods and services. According to Weele (2010), it is favourable that the goods or services are appropriate and that they are procured at the best possible cost to meet the needs of the purchaser in terms of quality and quantity, time and location. Corporations and public bodies often define processes intended to promote fair and open competition for their business while minimising exposure to fraud and collusion. Integrity of Nigeria government in the procurement process is questionable, negating the concept of consistency of action, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcomes. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions. This is evidently lacking in the business of governance and government in our country. The fundamental poser to this issue raises questions as to the security of our collective resources in the hands of the government.

Certainly the government is saddled with the responsibility of large-scale spending which has multiplier effects on the economy. This is different from normal household expenditures limitedly by domestic consumption. The goods and services, procured for government are purchased through a series of laid down rules and procedures, which is well known as due process. The current guideline for public purchases is laid down in the Public Procurement Act 2007. However, the PPA 2007 is yet to achieve its full objectives.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 in Section 38 also provides that; all contracts with regard to the execution of the annual budget; shall comply with the rules and guidelines on – (a) procurement and award of contracts; and (b) due process and certification of contract.

It is essential to state that there are lots of bottlenecks frustrating the implementation of the procurement laws. This can be traced to the moral-fiber deficiency of the implementers other than the inadequacy of the laws, as some people tend to postulate.

To a certain degree, Nigerian laws have the necessary ingredients to point the way and protect the citizens to satisfaction as far as government expenditure on goods and services is concerned if accompanied by high level of morality.

No doubt, the credible way of transmitting the impact of government expenditures on the lives of the citizens is through public procurement processes. The processes have the inherent capacity to complement the incomes and wages earned by government employees. Procurement takes the form of constructing new roads, hospital, health care facilities, schools, housing, power plants, dams/irrigation facilities, and other programmes/cost benefits and purchases of government, which are expected to benefit the people. The level of credibility applied with the use of procurement laws by implementing officers, shall determine the maximal benefits to be derived from the populace.

Several ministries, departments and agencies widely referred to as MDAs violate the procurement law every day, in the cause of carrying out government business. This is not to say that there are no credible people in the system, but the percentage of credible officers in the MDAs leaves much to be desired.

The loss of credibility in the MDAs has made both local and international suppliers seek collaborative succour in Nigerian contracts. This has been the trend for years with daily reports of contract scams flying on the pages of our national dailies.

What bothers me most is the inability of the law enforcement agents to prosecute cases of corruption levelled against public officers; they perpetrate the crime with impunity and with disregard for the masses. The syndrome of the rich against the poor holds sway even in our justice system.  A toll on the number of prosecuted cases in the courts is disturbingly weighted against the poor.

Several public office holders in the decision-making hierarchy seem to lack the moral capacity to occupy their positions. Their subordinates kowtow to them with a ready spirit to help them perpetrate their heinous act, of course, so that they too can be beneficiaries.

If this is the case, why would the judiciary fall prey to this game instead of being a bulwark against evil and the last resort of the common man, filled with integrity and rekindled hope for a better future. Against this backdrop, I raised the following posers:

Since the inception of this PPA 2007, how many cases involving public officers and contractors have the judiciary successfully prosecuted? The Act provides in Section 58 as follows:

Any natural person not being a public officer who contravenes any provision of this Act commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not less than five calendar years but not exceeding 10 calendar years without an option of fine. And also in     Section 58, subsection (5) provides thus: Any person who while carrying out his duties as an officer of the Bureau, or any procuring entity who contravenes any provision of this Act commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a cumulative punishment of: (a) a term of imprisonment of not less than 5 calendar years without any option of a fine; and (b) summary dismissal from government services.

In the same vein, Section 22 of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) Act, deals extensively with contract agencies. These include giving assistance, inflating contract prices, transferring fund allocated for a particular project etc.

Based on the foregoing, how come no one has been convicted or made to face the full weight of the law? Do we just sit and pretend not to know about the various atrocities being committed against the Nigerian people?

We have seen many cases of abuse of the procurement process.  The media have reported some of these in the dailies. These range from fraudulent award of contracts, manipulated bidding, non-compliance with procurement procedures, and illegal award of contract after the tender has been publicly opened. Others include non-payment of fees to contractors and non-application for certified true copies of procurement proceedings. The list is endless. It is either the provisions in the procurement laws and other extant laws are scribbled down merely to “fulfil all righteousness” or they are meant for selective applications.

I will like to use this medium to refresh our memories on reported cases of contract scam perpetrated against the Nigerian people:

Various media houses such as; ThisDay, June 14, 2011, The Nation, June 8, 2011, Pointblanknews issue of 17/10/11, published the case of N9 billion scandal involving a high-ranking former legislator in the House of Reps, who was alleged to have procured a touch light for N9, 000 among some other equipment, a price which, evidently, cannot be equated with the market price.    Unfortunately, this dishonourable behaviour was quashed in the law court on technical grounds. We cannot forget so soon the distasteful renovation case of N628 million. The House only took advantage of the scandal to satisfy their political cravings rather than applying punitive sanctions as stipulated by the PPA.

Pointblanknews, Aug 30, 2010, published N5.2 billion Rural Electrification Agency scandal as part of fraudulent activities perpetrated in the procurement process involving a member of the House, and others.

There was the case of N2.3 billion purportedly disbursed for an abandoned road project in Nasarawa State in 2006. The contract was said to have been awarded in 2001 but the contractor left the country after collecting N1.8 billion without executing the project. The lack of technical capacity of the firm, to handle the contract, was pointed out but the advice was ignored. No one has been questioned either by the police or ICPC.

What about the case of an executive director of a research institute, who was accused of awarding three contracts to his son’s Cyber Technologies Company without due process (Daily Trust, January 27, 2011).

What about the case of a N12.3 billion contract for the repair of the rail network the award of which was approved by the Federal Executive Council on October 7, 2009. (www.nigerianbestforum.com/generaltopics/)

An investigation into Federal Government project nationwide was conducted and the report revealed that for over 10 years from 2000 to 2009, there were nearly 12,000 abandoned projects across the country valued at N7.7trn— projects for which the contractors already collected N2.2trn in mobilisation fees!

There has been no record since 2012 that any contractor has been prosecuted, no looted funds have been recovered, and no colluding public officer has been identified much less prosecuted.

The list is indeed endless, leaving us in a comatose state framed in decay in ethics and integrity. Do we continue complaining of a failed system or work earnestly to ensure that integrity becomes the hallmark of the citizenry?

The solution for effective procurement in our country lies in character rebirth and not on the laws of the land. If the character is good, the laws would work naturally such that it would seem the laws are not needed. I am looking forward to a day when public officers in government would be publicly awarded honour, accorded recognition and rewarded materially for their good conduct rather than for the positions they occupy. In the temple of justice, rewards and punishment go hand in hand. Awards are given to deserving people with high level of integrity to encourage them discharge their duties faithfully, while punishment is meted out to the erring ones to discourage them from their evil ways or wrongdoing. But in Nigeria today, awards have turned to political compensation tools to compensate those in the higher class, which is the major factor to probity deficiency in the system. It is high time awards were given to well deserving people to encourage hard work. Anti-graft agencies should punish the offenders and stop the lip service prosecution on the pages of newspapers.

Most importantly, the policy makers should sanitise their conscience and imbibe the spirit of ethical values in their management of public resources, not forgetting the fact that they are no more than managers, and not the owners of the resources.

Inevitably, one thing remains, which we must take heed of: If there is no one to question or sanction your action while on the seat of power; judgment is awaiting you when you finally vacate that seat and we all leave this world.

• Omale Omachi Samuel wrote from Academy for Social Justice, Abuja.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”