By YUSUF GOJE
It is obvious even to the blind and audible to the deaf that we are confronted with unusual times. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the world to its knees; even the most powerful countries and leaders are desperately helpless and overwhelmed. The global economy is fast
crashing, which could throw us possibly into the worst depression the world has witnessed in recent history. More depressing is the increasing number of confirmed infected cases and rising deaths; which has exposed the weakness of the global health systems to cope with such emergencies.
To nip the pandemic in the bud, countries and sub-nationals have been adopting diverse approaches to halt the high rate of spread, save the infected and resuscitate the failing economies. At this point, it is pertinent to acknowledge the proactive steps taken by sub-nationals like Lagos and Kaduna states. In particular, the latter, which has taken commendable preventive measures that include mass awareness creation, restriction on public gathering, ban on commercial activities and subsequently imposition of a 24 hour curfew.
Also, in view of the looming economic crisis as a result of the pandemic, the state government has taken some austerity measure by re-prioritizing public expenditure. Equally important, in the race to curb the spread and impact of Covid-19, there will be a rush in emergency procedures that require huge public spending and procurement. For instance, the recent statement that imposed the 24 hour curfew on the 26th March, 2020 by the Deputy Governor, Dr. Hadiza Balarabe, hinted that the state is procuring food and other supplies, funded from its contingency budget, to mitigate the challenges of a lockdown for such on especially vulnerable persons in our communities.
Furthermore, she stated that the “items will be distributed in community clusters across urban local government areas in the state. This will be a grassroots exercise as it is people drawn from the target community that will constitute the committee to manage the distribution”. These necessary actions by the government, as laudable as they are, require full and real-time public disclosure in line with open budget and open contracting principles of the Open GovernmentPartnership (OGP) State action plan.
Some key questions that need public response by the government are: what is the preparedness of our fiscal transparency instruments to account for public finance adjustments? Under what Ministry, Department and Agency is the contingency budget in the 2020 approved State budget? Are the budget items made public? What procurement procedures have been taken? If the contracts have been awarded, whoare the contractors?
Other germane questions begging for answers are: what are the criteria for identifying the vulnerable groups? Does the social register of the State adequately capture the vulnerable in our communities? What are the criteria for selecting committee members for distribution of items in the communities? What are the measures in place to check political/elite hijack (as it is being alleged in Lagos)?
The response to these questions by the government is critical to ensuring that the measures taken so far by the government achieves the desired result. For instance, elsewhere in the world, on the 26th March 2020, a working group of 13 Latin American chapters of Transparency International presented a set of proposals to mitigate the risk of corruption in public procurement as part of the region’s response to the Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic. The proposals strongly argue that unless anti-corruption measures are implemented during this crisis, corruption will cost lives.
Furthermore, the analysis (in the same proposals) highlights corruption risks and key preventive strategies to ensure that direct purchases and contracting, which occur as a result of the health crisis, serve to help citizens and alleviate the impact on local economies, and are not instead diverted by corruption or opportunism. This is the more reason why the Kaduna State government must take preventive measures to ensure public transparency and accountability in terms of allocation and utilization of public finances in the race to win the fight against the ravaging virus.
In conclusion, all hands must be on deck especially by the civil society in demanding transparency, public accountability and tracking implementation of all government measures as these are unusual times. We cannot be nonchalant with an issue like this, as millions of innocent people will depends on our intervention. Also, I wish our governor quickest recovery, as we need him to continue to be at the forefront of this fight to defeat covid-19 in the State.
Goje, is Head, Leadership, Governance & Advocacy of
Coalition of Associations for Leadership, Peace, Empowerment and
He can be reached at email@example.com