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
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