COVID-19: Ensure transparency in health, economic response – CISLAC tells FG

By Chimezie Godfrey

The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Transparency International (TI) Nigeria, have called on the Federal government to ensure transparency in the health and economic response to coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic.

The group also called on the presidential task force, PTF, on COVID-19 and other relevant authorities, to implement full transparency in emergency expenditures and assistance.

Auwal Rafsanjani, who double as the Executive Director of CISLAC, and a partner of Transparency International (TI) Nigeria, in a statement on Thursday, also commended governments’ new economic mitigation measures.

He however said the measures were inadequate considering the millions of Nigerians under the poverty threshold, who are locked down and unable to feed themselves. 

“As a responsible and patriotic Civil Society Organization, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)/ Transparency International Nigeria will like to use this medium to call on the Government of Nigeria to ensure complete and unreserved transparency in the health and economic response to this crisis.

“We are not unaware that Nigeria has requested financial assistance under the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI) facility, in addition to the United Nations in Nigeria and the Government-launched COVID-19 Basket Fund to harmonize investments in a national pandemic response plan.

“In addition, private donations from corporate organisations and individuals are managed under the newly established Central Bank of Nigeria private sector led COVID-19 Relief Fund Account.

“We commend the newly announced economic mitigation measures by the Federal Government such as food distribution, cash transfers and loans repayment waivers to protect the livelihoods. It is equally encouraging to observe that the President directed the current social register to be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households. 

“This assistance is welcome in the context of necessary pandemic mitigation measures but inadequate, considering that tens of millions of Nigerians under the poverty threshold are locked down and unable to feed themselves and their wards. International effort such as debt relief, emergency credits and donations are also commendable and have a potential to benefit Nigeria’s population,” Rafsanjani stated.

He commended the National Assembly, NASS, for yielding to CISLAC’s earlier call for asserting strong leadership in the demand for transparency in the emergency assistance.

He also expressed hope that such effort would be strengthened and sustained to ensure total accountability of the Covid-19 relief measures.

The Human Rights Activist who acknowledged the vital role of the Government of Nigeria, private sector, international community and citizens all have in ensuring that the emergency funding serves the intended purpose of preserving health and livelihood of the nation. 

He however, urged the government, relevant authorities to ensure full transparency in emergency expenditures and assistance.

“We, therefore, call on the Presidential Task Force and other relevant authorities and other like-minded partners to commit to full transparency in emergency expenditures and assistance.

“We believe it is important that all information regarding the financing should be published as quickly as possible.

“Every economic and health program has to publish the full list of financial, technical and in-kind assistance including the source and targeted beneficiaries. Competent and objective third parties must be tasked with verification and evaluation of the impact in an un-bureaucratic and depoliticized manner.

“A central database with all forms of credits, donations and technical assistance to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, including the subsequent economic crisis, must be established under the joint management of the Government, CSOs and private sector representatives,” he said.

He added that government should scale up integrity in emergency public procurement, as most public corruption transactions occur in procurement as it is a corruption ‘hot-spot’ in Nigeria. 

“To mitigate risks such as hidden contracts, overpricing, collusion, and bribery in Nigeria’s COVID-19 response, it is essential that transparency, openness, and integrity are preserved and that public purchases and anti-corruption safeguards in government contracting processes are reinforced.

“Procurement information on government purchases and service including contracts financed through the recently established COVID-19 Basket Fund must be published in a timely manner, in an open data format and, wherever possible, on a single platform,” he said.

Rafsanjani further urged the government to allow competent anti-corruption and audit institutions unreserved access to monitor all emergency funding provided by the government, international lenders, private corporations and non-governmental organisations.

According to him, government should set up safe reporting channels for whistle-blowers, adding that the government and all partners must pro-actively encourage whistle-blowing, where there is suspicion of criminal misuse of emergency funds or incompetency in their management. 

He equally called for the speedy transmission of Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill into, which he said will alleviate the adverse financial consequences of a slowdown in economic activities caused by the coronovirus disease, among other benefits.

Rafsanjani reiterate that the health and economic responses must be accompanied by transparent and accountable oversight to prevent corruption and mismanagement of these resources.