It's time to curb bribery by in­sti­tut­ing sim­pli­fied ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­cesses

One of­ten has to suf­fer un­due de­lays and pay more than the stip­u­lated fees for ob­tain­ing a driver’s li­cence, in­ter­na­tional pass­port, ve­hi­cle reg­is­tra­tion doc­u­ment, per­mits, cer­tifi­cates and tran­scripts from ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions, and even ef­fect­ing change

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - A Fi­nan­cial Nige­ria colum­nist, Fun­mi­layo Odude is a La­gos-based le­gal prac­ti­tioner, and a pub­lic af­fairs an­a­lyst.

The Pres­i­den­tial En­abling Busi­ness En­vi­ron­ment Coun­cil (PEBEC), chaired by the Vice-Pres­i­dent, Yemi Osi­bajo, cre­ated, on Fe­bru­ary 21st, a 60-day Na­tional Ac­tion Plan on Ease of Do­ing Busi­ness in Nige­ria. The aim of the plan was to “re­move crit­i­cal bot­tle­necks and bu­reau­cratic con­straints to do­ing busi­ness in Nige­ria” with the ul­ti­mate goal of “mov­ing Nige­ria twenty places up­wards in the World Bank Ease of Do­ing Busi­ness Rank­ing.” (Nige­ria ranked 170 out of 189 coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank Ease of Do­ing Busi­ness Re­port 2016).

Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari's ad­min­is­tra­tion's aim for con­sti­tut­ing PEBEC was to at­tract in­vest­ment into the coun­try and sup­port eco­nomic re­cov­ery. Hence, the 60-day plan pri­or­i­tized eight key ar­eas for re­form, namely – start­ing a busi­ness, deal­ing with con­struc­tion per­mits, get­ting elec­tric­ity, reg­is­ter­ing prop­erty, get­ting credit, pay­ing taxes, trad­ing across bor­ders, and en­try and exit of peo­ple. The in­clu­sion of reg­is­tra­tion and pro­tec­tion of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty would have made for a more com­plete list of fo­cus area. Nev­er­the­less, this was a good start­ing point.

The ef­fect of the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the plan on in­crease in in­vest­ment – es­pe­cially for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment – may not be very soon to hap­pen or easy to cor­re­late. But there is an­other ef­fect, which we must take note of and lever­age to cre­ate sim­i­lar ac­tion plans for all gov­ern­ment agen­cies and paras­tatals. The 60-day ac­tion plan also aimed at re­duc­ing pro­cesses to help curb ram­pant cor­rup­tion in gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions. This ar­ti­cle fo­cuses on the ef­fect of re­duc­tion in cor­rup­tion.

The re­cov­er­ies of looted funds – some­times un­be­liev­able sums of money – by this ad­min­is­tra­tion have head­lined the sin­gle-minded fo­cus on theft by gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials as the only type of cor­rup­tion that needs to be tack­led. But cor­rup­tion goes beyond theft and abuse of power.

There is an ur­gent need to ad­dress a dif­fer­ent type of cor­rup­tion that makes liv­ing and do­ing busi­ness in Nige­ria ex­tremely frus­trat­ing. This al­ter­nate form of cor­rup­tion is bribery, and it has per­me­ated ev­ery area of our lives. Bribery in Nige­ria is en­demic, en­trenched and – I dare say – in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized. As such, we are vir­tu­ally all cul­pa­ble of it.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Cor­rup­tion Sur­vey pub­lished last month by the Na­tional Bureau of Statis­tics, Nige­ri­ans pay es­ti­mated N400 bil­lion in bribes to pub­lic of­fi­cials yearly. A stag­ger­ing 82 mil­lion bribes are paid ev­ery year. It is com­mon­place to have to grease palms and be 'friendly' to get le­git­i­mate pro­cesses done faster for us.

Ad­dress­ing this bribery men­ace might not seem as ur­gent as re­cov­er­ing and seiz­ing stolen funds and per­sonal as­sets. But it would en­hance the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment in Nige­ria. And tack­ling this form of graft does not in any way pre­clude the an­ti­cor­rup­tion drive to re­cover our stolen funds and pros­e­cute loot­ers.

There is no ques­tion that to in­sti­tu­tion­al­ize the fight against cor­rup­tion in Nige­ria, we must pun­ish any­one found guilty of cor­rup­tion. But we must also re­con­struct the sys­tems and struc­tures that en­abled them to the po­si­tions whereby they could brazenly abuse power. The process of re­con­struc­tion has to take place in all the gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions.

The truth is that gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions go a long way in de­ter­min­ing the pre­vail­ing cul­ture in any so­ci­ety. In his pa­per, “What are in­sti­tu­tions?,” pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Eco­nomic Is­sues Vol. XL No 1 March 2006, Bri­tish economist, Ge­of­frey M. Hodg­son, states: “In­sti­tu­tions en­able or­dered thought, ex­pec­ta­tion and ac­tion by im­pos­ing form and con­sis­tency on hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties … In­sti­tu­tions both con­strain and en­able be­hav­iour.”

In his ar­ti­cle pub­lished in the 2016 Edi­tion of the United Na­tions As­so­ci­a­tion – UK's, “SDGs: The Peo­ples Agenda,” An­drew Rath­mell, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, Ak­tis Strat­egy Ltd, stated: “In the­ory, gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions play an im­por­tant role in shap­ing and in­cen­tiviz­ing the way so­ci­ety and or­ga­ni­za­tions be­have by set­ting the 'rules of the game'. Th­ese rules guide eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ac­tions, de­ter­mine how goods and ser­vices are de­liv­ered, shape how bud­gets are spent, and reg­u­late the jus­tice sys­tem. But, by them­selves, th­ese rules are not al­ways ef­fec­tive. When rules are not en­acted and en­forced by ef­fec­tive and trusted in­sti­tu­tions, then re­sources are wasted, ser­vices aren't de­liv­ered, and peo­ple (es­pe­cially the poor) do not re­ceive the re­quired pro­tec­tion.”

Cor­rup­tion abounds daily even in the sim­plest things such as ob­tain­ing or

re­new­ing a driver's li­cence. When an ap­pli­ca­tion is to be made to a gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tion that is­sues li­cences or per­mits or to a reg­u­la­tory agency in Nige­ria, the ap­pli­cants are very quickly di­vided into two or three classes de­pend­ing on how 'friendly' they can be.

Be­cause of the com­plex pro­cesses and pro­ce­dures adopted by gov­ern­ment agen­cies for very sim­ple ap­pli­ca­tions, civil ser­vants have turned their of­fices and po­si­tions in gov­ern­ment as av­enues to ex­tort money from the cit­i­zens. One of­ten has to suf­fer un­due de­lays and pay more than the stip­u­lated fees for ob­tain­ing a driver's li­cence, in­ter­na­tional pass­port, ve­hi­cle reg­is­tra­tion doc­u­ment, per­mits, cer­tifi­cates and tran­scripts from ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions, and even ef­fect­ing change of name (for mar­ried women). The list of il­le­gal prac­tices in pub­lic and some pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions is end­less.

But this cul­ture of seek­ing un­law­ful grat­i­fi­ca­tion to pro­vide ser­vices can change if pro­cesses are sim­pli­fied, trans­par­ent and timely. I would use two per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences to il­lus­trate why this is im­por­tant if we are go­ing to suc­cess­fully fight cor­rup­tion in this coun­try.

A few years ago, I was to ob­tain my driver's li­cence from the rel­e­vant au­thor­ity. When I en­tered the of­fice to make en­quiries about the pro­ce­dure, I was in­formed of two pro­ce­dures for ob­tain­ing the li­cense. The first was the 'reg­u­lar' pro­ce­dure that re­quired me to re­turn about five times after fill­ing and sub­mit­ting the ap­pli­ca­tion form. The sec­ond pro­ce­dure was the one by which all the bu­reau­cratic pro­cesses would sud­denly dis­ap­pear and I would re­turn to 'cap­ture' my bio­met­ric data.

Of course, the prices for the two pro­ce­dures were dif­fer­ent. The cost for the sec­ond pro­ce­dure was N5,000 higher than the first. Ear­lier this year, I went to re­new the li­cence at a dif­fer­ent of­fice of the agency close to my home. The same sce­nario played out.

Some­time last year, I ap­plied for and ob­tained the Nige­rian Po­lice Force per­mit for the fac­tory-tinted win­dows in my car. Given the un­sa­vory rep­u­ta­tion the Nige­rian Po­lice Force has among most Nige­ri­ans, I had ex­pected to part with some money to ob­tain the per­mit. But I was pleas­antly sur­prised that I didn't. The main rea­son for that was the ap­pli­ca­tion was done on­line. To ob­tain the per­mit, you up­loaded soft copies of all the car reg­is­tra­tion doc­u­ments re­quired and then ob­tained a print­out.

The print­out was sub­mit­ted to the state Po­lice Com­mand where your bio­met­ric data was taken. The process of up­load­ing all the car reg­is­tra­tion doc­u­ments on­line elim­i­nated the need to sub­mit ap­pli­ca­tion forms and doc­u­ments to of­fi­cers who had to check be­fore mov­ing it to the one who would ap­prove, etc. This sim­pli­fied process ob­vi­ated the need for a per­sonal con­tact within the force, also re­mov­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of pay­ing bribes.

The red tape as­so­ci­ated with gov­ern­ment pro­cesses not only frus­trates cit­i­zens and busi­nesses, thereby mak­ing un­will­ing ac­com­plices out of them. It also pro­motes and quickly ex­ac­er­bates bribery and cor­rup­tion. Fur­ther­more, it blind­sides us to the prob­lem of a bur­geon­ing civil ser­vice that con­tin­ues to be­devil the coun­try.

Cor­rup­tion can be greatly min­i­mized if the steps taken by PEBEC in its ac­tion plan, along with some ad­di­tional steps, are adopted by all reg­u­la­tory agen­cies. Along with the pro­ce­dures for sim­pli­fy­ing their pro­cesses, reg­u­la­tory agen­cies should be made to build func­tional and re­li­able on­line por­tals, while en­cour­ag­ing ef­fi­cient vir­tual ap­pli­ca­tion pro­cesses.

If the Buhari ad­min­is­tra­tion suc­ceeds in en­trench­ing a more pro­fes­sional out­look in ev­ery reg­u­la­tory agency, it would have suc­ceeded in strength­en­ing our in­sti­tu­tions. Re­gard­less of any other achieve­ments this gov­ern­ment would have un­der its belt, this would be one of its great­est.

There is of­ten the search for com­pe­tent, hon­est and morally up­right men and women to head gov­ern­ment agen­cies. What if we think out­side of that box and en­gen­der sim­pli­fied and trans­par­ent pro­cesses that would thwart the an­tics of cor­rupt and dis­hon­est civil ser­vants?

Nige­rian in­ter­na­tional pass­ports

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