The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged governments to ensure the money and measures used for COVID-19 related expenses are helping the people who need it most.
In a new blog post released on Tuesday, July 28, 2020, the Bretton Woods Institution called for timely and transparent reporting, ex-post audits and accountability procedures, and close cooperation with civil society and the private sector on coronavirus spending.
IMF’s call is coming after Dataphyte’s latest investigation on COVID-19 spending among federal bureaucracies in Nigeria. According to the report, five federal bureaucracies spent ₦1.69 billion ($4.7 million at N360/US1) on COVID-19 in the last three months. These spendings were fraught with incomplete descriptions and vague transactions. This is according to an analysis done by Dataphyte on the Open Treasury Portal (OTP).
The payments were made from March 1st to June 27th, 2020. It has 84 line items with COVID-19 expenses by the five federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAS). The MDAs are the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), and the Federal Ministry of Health.
Apart from incomplete descriptions and vague transactions, it also included bloated procurement and contract in contrast to the essence of the FG’s treasury transparency initiative.
COVID-19 Pandemic Heightens Importance For Stronger Governance
According to the IMF, the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the importance of stronger governance.
Through this, “governments are playing a bigger role in the economy, and this increases opportunities for corruption. “As public finances worsen, countries need to prevent tax evasion and the waste and loss of funds caused by corruption in public spending.”
Lastly, the organisation said, “evidence of corruption could undermine a country’s ability to respond effectively to the crisis, deepening the economic impact, and threatening a loss of political and social cohesion.” As COVID-19 continue to ravage, the IMF urged governments to spend but keep the receipts, so the accountability process would not be missing in the process.
Stakeholders Call For Review Of Transparency Portals
Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju, Chairman, Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), said Nigerian public officials are returning to old ways through the manipulation of the Open Treasury Portal and National Open Contracting Portal. He advised the government to ensure that policies and actions are in place to sanction those that violated the transparency portals.
“It is important for the government to consider actions and intervention holistically. After creating the transparency portals, they need to go to the next level by ensuring people that violated those policies and programmes are dealt with.
“If this is not in place, there is every tendency that things may return to the old order.”
Mr. Suraju urged the government to ensure it does not go to sleep after implementing the portals. “Government must take extra steps to ensure monitoring and evaluation of those policies, review from time to time, and see if it is achieving its purpose or need to review or improve.”
Hamzat Lawal, the founder of FollowThe Money, in a chat with TheCable, said the open treasury portal is an opportunity for the government to do more, to audit spending, and an opportunity for the Auditor-General to thoroughly check excesses in public spending.
The government is definitely making efforts in releasing data as regards COVID-19 Spendings and other daily payments. In terms of open contracting standards, Nigeria needs to do more, Andie Okon, the Community and Capacity Building Manager, Open Contracting, told Dataphyte.
As part of follow up to Dataphyte’s COVID-19 story, Civic Hive by BudgIT also raised concerns about how seven (7) MDAs spent a total of N3.03 billion on COVID-19-related contracts.
A typical example is how the Ministry of Health spent N37.06 million for the procurement of 1,808 pieces of face masks. This means the agency allocated N20,467 per mask. Civic Hive described the procurement as ridiculously expensive.