NTA: Our Systems Have Ensured No More Open Bribery At Nation’s Airports
For many years, open bribery at the nation’s international airports have marred the image of the country, attracting the attention of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), which says it has now sanitised the sector. In an interview with journalists in Abuja, ICPC Chairman, Ekpo Nta explains how the feat was achieved. He also restates the goals of the agency in establishing an Academy for corruption research. ABOSEDE MUSARI was reports.
The provost said that the academy has commenced operation and some of your staff have undergone some training. When will the academy commence training with the ACTUs and postgraduate programmes?
ACTU is a baby of the ICPC and the Head of Civil Service of the Federation. The whole objectives and expectations are clearly within our mandate. In the past, all manner of training bodies and persons; some deal directly with MDAs and talk about issues that are not related to the ACTU mandate. That’s because they want to exhaust the training vote. I said I was going to stop all that so that we can get value from experts who set up the programme and know what it is. ACTU is a representative of the ICPC in all the MDAs so that there is no doubt about their powers and activities.
To show how serious some international bodies take our ACTU, the DFID of the UK, through its training component, J4All, has been actively involved in the training of ACTU and they have said they are delighted with the programmes at the academy.
Quite a number of them
are not misinformed. For them, each blow they give the country is money. For them it’s a commercial enterprise whether the country exists or not. The whole noise they make for relevance to international communities is commercial. There are also uninformed international communities that are ready to put money on any course. As you find them circulating all over the world, showing up at different conferences paid for by international communities, it has become a source of income and living for them
ACTUs are supposed to be compliance officers and whistle blowers. By the time we realise their full potential, ministries and departments-based fraud will reduce. As high as 80 per cent of whistle blowing must come from insider sources, either people who are aggrieved or those who have been cheated. This 80 per cent source of information should be given good training on reporting styles. Outsiders who are victims such as contractors who are dealing with the agencies form the remaining 20 per cent; those who feel shortchanged because they’ve been asked to do things they don’t like. Clients who go for a service and they are asked to pay. People who are looking for appointments and they are asked to pay. But when they pay and they can’t get the employment that is when they begin to look for ICPC, forgetting that paying that money was also an offence. Then they ask us to recover the money.
Have you considered working with the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA) on your academy project?
The IACA is in Luxemburg, Austria, we actually started our collaboration from 2012 when I visited them. And we’ve always attended all their meetings. Nigeria was the first country in Africa to have full membership right following my visit to them. I pursued our membership registration. Through the National Assembly, we had great assistance from Senator Lar. It went to the President, he accented to it and it went to the ministry of foreign affairs from where it went to the Attorney General, who is the designated representative. We are even fighting to be on their Board.
Provost of the ICPC Anti Corruption Academy of Nigeria, Professor Shola Akinrinade, is one of the raporteurs of IACA. He was elected in Azerbaijan in December. That was a massive recognition for this country. He represents the whole of Africa and we are still fighting to be on the Board of IACA.
One of our staff, Mr. Godwin Oje is on secondment to IACA. He came out extremely well in a competition for selection. They take you on the basis of performance and I can tell you he is one of the best international staff in the place. He took the experiences of ICPC in systems study and review to IACA, and it has been incorporated into the master’s programme. So, he is solely in charge of teaching that. That is the way we have been reversing things.
Before, they thought Africa was a dumping ground for their own ideas but now they are beginning to accept that we have great potentials and ideas. What we also need from them are software and equipment like the Gocase I talked about so that we can access the entire world. Even Nigerians who are buying properties abroad, you have to register in the US, for example; there is a public record. So, I can sit here and access those records.
We have a smaller version of that requirement in Nigeria. It’s called SCUML. And then the NFIU. But a lot of people are filling their names using proxies. But there is a limit to which you can hide your name.
What international collaborations does ICPC have to track down persons who may have stolen public funds and absconded to other countries?
It is one area under prevention that is causing so much disagreement between the developing world and the foreign jurisdictions. You write to the recipient country that Mr. X, a public officer or a businessman, has taken money from our country and it is alleged to be in your country, we will like you to assist us to recover the funds. They respond: ‘State the account and bank where the money is domiciled. Attach a court order from your country and include the bank where the money is.’ If I knew the bank where the money is, will I be asking you to help recover it?
So, writing back and forth takes two years. First I write to my colleague and he says he has not received such a letter. He tells me to route the letter through the Attorney General of my country to his country’s Attorney General, who will now send it to them. But if you have good rapport, you can ask him informally and he will tell you where the money is. But he will warn against disclosing.
We work with a network of civil society groups and we registered over 300 of them. But last year when we did the certification meeting, only 39 showed up. All the others had fallen aside and are looking for fresh areas where they think there is money. The moment you hear that they have pumped money into anti corruption now, you will see 4,000 civil society groups coming in — just like we had in HIV/AIDS
We should also take into consideration some of the recipient countries that are feeding fat by having those monies in their countries. It’s a major source of disagreement, but the world is now becoming closer because we’ve been attacking them for being part of the problem by not disclosing. There is a website called ‘TRACK’ developed by UNODC telling you the processes under which you can ask for assistance, and other agencies that can help. It’s an expensive process and time consuming, but Nigeria has been very successful in this area in terms of public officers that have had their funds repatriated.
I’m sure you know about the Abacha loot, which was celebrated worldwide. Some of these changes have forced Switzerland to also change their internal banking laws on secrecy. We also have tiny nation states like Eisenstein; it’s a very small country in Europe. We had Abacha money there too. They have agreed after 10 or 11 years, to return part of the monies. And then, sometimes the issue of national jurisdiction comes in. They will ask you we have seen the money, what do you want to do with it if we return it? That we are not going to return it because we are not sure it will not be stolen again.
The ICPC is partnering some civil society groups to fight corruption. Some of them still fault the fight against corruption. Do you have training to educate them on the trends and dynamics of corruption fighting?
Quite a number of them are not misinformed. For them, each blow they give the country is money. For them it’s a commercial enterprise whether the country exists or not. The whole noise they make for relevance to international communities is commercial. There are also uninformed international communities that are ready to put money on any course. As you find them circulating all over the world, showing up at different conferences paid for by international communities, it has become a source of income and living for them. Whereas, the good ones are doing their jobs. Having worked with us, they know the truth.
We work with a network of civil society groups and we registered over 300 of them. But last year when we did the certification meeting, only 39 showed up. All the others had fallen aside and are looking for fresh areas where they think there is money. The moment you hear that they have pumped money into anti corruption now, you will see 4,000 civil society groups coming in –– just like we had in HIV/AIDS.
I have met quite a number of them at international fora where they had absolutely no knowledge of the basic workings of the organisations. They show up there and stand outside to distribute complementary cards. Some of the groups are not registered. That is why we have a coalition that we work with that we can vouch for and they are credible.
How have you been able to get Nigerians to appreciate your method of fighting corruption?
WHEN new initiatives come up, they face a lot of resistance even from your own organisation or home. Because nobody wants to go into a new thing that has not been tested out; in case it fails. It was very rugged to have to think out these processes, but I have a very strong social science background. I graduated from University of Ibadan in political science with a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s in political science. I did a lot of research in systems review. My early training was with the Royal Institute of Public Administration in the UK, what was then known as organisational methods. That there must always be a reason for certain things to happen as you will find out the critical path.
When I came in here, I looked at the whole issue of corruption and I discovered that for Nigeria, and indeed the Third world, what was happening is what I will call opportunistic corruption. That is, they take advantage of unguarded systems to steal. That is what has been happening in our society. As the society grew, more persons were coming into the civil service and public institutions. The integrity of knowing who is who and your family when the system started new was now giving way to big institutions and processes you don’t know who was where and who were their parents. And so people started pushing those boundaries and of course, there was no adequate monitoring process.
It’s like the pension scams –– it didn’t just happen yesterday. Over the years, it had gone for over 30 years until it became unbearable and we had a lot more petitioners who can now speak out. They are speaking out because these are much more educated persons who are retiring and they know their rights. And so, suddenly we woke up and started redesigning the law. Now we have the Pension Reform Act, new processes for capturing pensioners.
Even to this day, during verification, you ask the pensioner to bring his first letter of appointment, letters of promotion and that of retirement. And as a former Director of administration, I ask myself who should be bringing what? Am I not the person who appointed you? I should have those things. What I am concerned about is to make sure that it is this person I appointed. Now, from the point of appointment, I will do biometrics and take your pictures, knowing fully well that 30 years down the line, or 35 years, you are going to retire. When you come, I tell you to put your hands here and all your service records will pop up.
But with the old system, people will come and say that they lost their documents in the flood that happened somewhere. Who are you going to ask now? The person who appointed them is dead. Currently, we are going on verification exercise with some of these agencies and these are some of the things I’ve seen that led to some arrests. Some petitioners have died and their relations were still collecting the money. Their communities and families are aware.
So, when we begin to work on our institutions, and strengthen them electronically, it will reduce all the hue and cry. When we are talking about prevention, we are talking about improving systems, spending more on systems that will check infractions, but at the same time, if anybody is able to beat your system, don’t let him go. Work your prevention package to address 80 per cent of the society and you’ll be better off.
What we are doing now in terms of arrest, I see it as a siege mentality. Grab him first, and then find out the truth. You can imagine the mental trauma. But there are some people who are compulsive fraudsters. Design systems that continue to upgrade. If you go outside of this country, countries that are doing well, they have not relaxed to say they are number two on the Transparency International listing. They are still working on daily basis.
Look at airline travel to buttress the prevention aspect versus the arrest aspect. Arrest is reducing because the generality of the public cannot go to the point where they would be grabbed by officials. Different electronic processes will stop you on the way. Electronic visa these days, which is encoded in the international passport; you go to where there is the passport reader and you put it there. If the visa is fake, automatically you are out. If your international passport is not from the proper source, as soon as they put it on the machine they ask you to step aside.
By the time you travel once through other international airports, nobody will tell you not to waste your time trying to be phony. I have always told people that systems review and prevention is always the best. That is why you have people who sat down and redesigned the telecommunication industry smiling to the bank by the second.
Before now, telecommunication in Nigeria was based on trust; with NITEL. Use and pay at the end of the month. People were not paying for the services. But people sat down and designed the wireless system and reduced human interface. Now you pay before service. When it is finished, the system tells you to recharge.
When the sole monopoly at the time, MTN said they couldn’t charge below one minute, another came and charged per second. Now MTN charges per second. That is the essence of designing anti corruption packages. The greatest example of eradicating corruption in any sector is the telephone that everybody uses. That has touched every home. And of course you can see the ripple effect when you don’t have to travel when you can make a call. Now you can exchange data and shop online. This is a massive reduction in corruption prone processes. But which we are not celebrating. We don’t count it as a major thing.
With the unbundling of PHCN today, I foresee when competition settles down, that the same will be replicated. Already, communities have protested the high cost of service. A petition came here from an estate that metres were supposed to be free but they were charged for it up to N64,000 per metre. That when they were supposed to pay N14 per kilowatt, they were paying N34. And I minuted it out for investigation. Two days later, the same petitioners wrote in to withdraw the petition, that the matter had been settled. I saw in their letter that they had copied the people supplying the power and those ones immediately agreed on a whole lot of things.
Beyond petitions trickling in, don’t you think that the power sector should be looked into properly by your commission. There are a lot of discrepancies going on with PHCN in terms of billing and other issues.
If that community had not written, they wouldn’t have had that quick response. People must begin to affirm their rights. Report them directly. It solves a lot of problems. We heard instances where transformers were approved to a community and they came around to collect money from all the landlords to buy a transformer. We had a case like that, but when they heard we were doing an investigation, the transformer was installed within two weeks.
Sometimes, somebody will deliberately cause your transformer to have a problem because he thinks the capacity is too large for your community. He comes to take it away claiming he wants to go and fix it. He then brings back one with smaller capacity, and because you are not technically inclined, you accept it. They install it and take the one with larger capacity to another community. I know this because I used to work in OMPADEC.
Since you do not need petitions to investigate issues, is there anything you are doing or planning to do about perceived corruption in the power sector?
We started two years ago. First we are working within the government circle for example, government provides finance for payment of utilities, water and electricity. We wanted to find out if government agencies were owing PHCN. So we did investigations, which started two years ago by the Corruption Monitoring department. Surprisingly, a lot of money, running into billions, was owed to PHCN nationwide. There is a place in Port Harcourt, what people did was throw a wire on top of PHCN installation and current comes into their houses without paying a kobo. Did we expect this to continue?
For example, you have three phases coming into your house. When there is no power on one phase, you design a breaker system to reconnect to another line or someone climbs the pole. Everybody who sees light in that person’s house rushes to the phase. When power comes back to this other phase, nobody is coming back. And then the line where they have all migrated to is overloaded.
Now, these three phases are coming out from what we call the feeder pillars. And there is a rating here with the fuse, because everybody in the community has migrated here, it blows the fuse because each fuse carries a rating. What they do now is to buy copper wire and wind it round the fuse several times. That way, no matter the load that comes in, it cannot cut the wire. But the consequence is that one day, the wire will become overheated and weak. It catches fire and burns the transformer. This is self-inflicted. When technicians come, they remove the fuse and install another but still it blows because people have overloaded the line.
Two years back, you started investigations into the health sector but the details of your finding was not publicised. What were your findings?
What you heard was that we were inviting the contractors for the National Primary Healthcare projects. The auditorium was filled with contractors. All the management staff and the chief executive of primary healthcare were here. They showed on PowerPoint, each contract with pictures. For the projects that were abandoned, we invited the contractors and gave two months notice. It was a strategy and it worked because immediately they saw their names in the newspapers, they knew there was a problem.
Quite a number of them ran back and completed their projects or took it up to the point where they had collected money. We also saw there was a problem in the way contractors were paid. That with the mopping up of funds at the end of the year before new funds are released, and the man has collected money from the bank for the contract and he now has to wait while the interest rate piles up. And maybe materials left on sight have been stolen by community members. By the time you are ready to give them money again, they will tell you to reverse the contract.
You know the President has just accented to the National Health Bill, a lot of more money will go to primary healthcare agencies. We are not going to wait for these monies to begin to develop wings. We are going to put in place the monitoring and training process that will help them know the objectives of what they are supposed to be doing to help the system. We are working out an MoU with the World Bank on that.
What have been your findings in the aviation sector?
The first reaction is that no more open bribery. The only place you probably will see is in the case of touts outside; but the minister has given directives for the airport security to clear them. We have an MoU. In terms of direct open corruption on the floor, which used to happen with impunity, which has clearly stopped. That for me, is a major change. We did a drama at the airport before we had the seminar. People didn’t know it was a drama. A woman came out of the line to seek ‘help’ from an airline official who received monetary inducement from her. ICPC officials swooped in to arrest the official and everybody was shocked. It was a televised drama. That was the first time some people knew these things can happen at the airport. The ‘airline official’ was also our staff.
The training for aviation will start very soon. KPMG say they saw it on television and they have already sent a proposal to support us. We didn’t invite them. They came to us. That means people are ready from different places to get involved in fighting corruption. We will jolly work with them too.
What has been the result of your study of the Directorate of Transportation in Abuja?
The study we did shows that 80 per cent of the people who do business at the VIO office pay there. But the regulation is that you pay at the bank. We are going to address that. The same thing goes on at the passport office. People are meant to pay at the banks not at the passport office.
I’m trying to design something I will call Citizens Action against Corruption. Corrupt people don’t want noise. You buy your freedom when you raise your voice. You can film the corrupt officer with your phone and upload on YouTube. I receive a lot of that from students. A lot of the police officers at checkpoints were dismissed this way.
As for the VIO, we did a report and we are bringing the entire management team here to present it to them that we are setting up a response mechanism. That is why systems study for us, is fantastic. We look at your system, look at the loopholes and redesign the system for you.
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