COVID-19 Relief Programs and Corruption Risk Factors
By Bashir Kabir
The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres mentioned that “the global COVID-19 pandemic is increasing the risk of corruption from the health sector to public procurement, stimulus packages and rescue funds” and that “a strong recovery must include measures to prevent and combat corruption and bribery.”
In Nigeria, billions of intervention funds from government, international bodies, and philanthropists were pronounced in the effort to subdue the impact of the pandemic and to alleviate the hardship millions of Nigerians found themselves in as a result of the outbreak of the COVID pandemic last year.
The programs at various levels of governance were mismanaged. Massive misappropriation of fund and relief materials could easily be identified with the overall process.
Apparently, the pandemic is taking a second round at the moment with the new strains forcing a return to the measures previously taken. This validates the reviewing of what was done (or not done) right last year with regards to the mitigating of the impact of the pandemic.
Kano state was not peculiar to these problems mentioned. During the early stages of the pandemic prevalence, the massive death wave was what initially called the attention of the national observers to the possibility of an outbreak in the state. Up till the expiration of the years, there weren’t near available testing and isolation centers to cater for the humongous population despite the outbreak. Data was very scanty with regards to the prevalence markers and the outcome of the measures taken.
The Kano State COVID-19 taskforce cited on the NCDC website some key challenges faced, which included issues of coordination, post initial incidence, inadequate sample collection sites, logistics, lack of enough PPE, lab consumables, lack of cooperation and inadequate isolation/treatment centers.
One would think there were enough intervention funds to cater for something as essential as PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) said “corruption related to PPE, for me it’s murder actually.”
Because there was supposedly enough intervention funds to provide for these needed PPE but for some reason, the task force identified the inadequacy of the PPE as a challenge.
The world over, managing the COVID pandemic was a challenging task. It can be understood that the Kano State COVID-19 task force was trying to function in an entirely alien territory. But the very little that was done in the effort to prevail over the deadly outbreak was consequential and not near sufficient.
In Nigeria and perhaps around the globe, a vast majority of the populace is more concerned with their livelihood than testing and isolation centers. The economy of the world was hit hard by the pandemic, rendering many businesses bankrupt and leading to untold household sufferings. A very large number of families could eat only once a day. Coupled with the fact that measures such as lockdown were deemed necessary in curbing the virus, millions could only hope for interventions and rescue measures.
In the US the COVID-19 pandemic precipitated the sharpest and deepest economic contraction since the Great Depression. Although their economy has recovered somewhat, millions of Americans who lost their jobs remain unemployed, and the economy is operating far below its capacity.
Foodstuff prices were already on the hike by the time the COVID arrived in Nigeria. Projecting global economic crises coupled with the high corruption risk nature of the Nigerian context explains how things went wrong.
The intervention programs meant to cushion the hardship of the Nigerians when they needed it the most was mismanaged. It came to the broad daylight that several states stashed away foodstuffs meant for distribution in warehouses.
It could easily be identified that some of the reasons why the relief measures were a massive failure last year may include and not limited to lack of transparency. Perhaps the relief process was the one most shrouded in mystery due to the lack of clear guidelines and accountability. The panic and uncertainty of the COVID pandemic situation enabled a selected few to do as they wish with great secrecy.
The committees hastily put in place had no mandates such as making information public with regards to the amounts of money they collected from the government, international bodies and philanthropists meant for relief. There was also no clear information on the procedures of beneficiaries’ identification and subsequent data on successful reach-out to those targets.
Another leeway that left the intervention program paralyzed was the lack of inclusiveness. There was just a handful of committee members handling the distribution of palliatives. Community-based organizations, religious and traditional institutions were not involved in mapping out vulnerable households and ensuring that they received relief.
Unavailability of data in the public domain left people in absolute darkness as to how much for example Kano State collected, who are the responsible persons, and what was done with the amount.
The task force committees were in some cases infested with the relatives of officeholders. In Kano, the daughter of the governor was a key member of the task force and it was widely reported that she clearly was the captain of the whole ship.
How is that going to affect the efficiency of a program of such magnitude? A lot of ways! Meetings were reported to have been postponed or delayed at the dire situation when the pandemic was ravaging the state because she was not present. Responsibilities of distribution were politicized with just a handful making and unmaking decisions.
The palliative distribution committee chairman, Professor Yahuza Bello said that the state received N900 million from the government and philanthropists and that 270, 000 vulnerable households were reached. There wasn’t any data presented in that respect.
These are the corruption risk factors that discordantly make the relief intervention inept and that which should be put into consideration in future endeavors to avoid recurrence.