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Billions of dollars were saved under Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s watch as Nigeria’s minister of finance. The former minister, and presently Nigeria’s candidate for the World Trade Organisation director-general election, made the claim in an article published on Bloomberg.
She served as finance minister from 2003 to 2006 as well as between 2011 and 2015.
The article titled “To Beat Covid-19, Governments Need to Open Up” emphasises the need for accountability and transparency during the COVID-19 era.
Okonjo-Iweala, who presently serves on the board of Bloomberg task force on fiscal policy for health, said her two tenures “saved billions of dollars that were channeled to other priorities”.
She said governments across the world must adopt openness and accountability to tackle the coronavirus pandemic effectively.
Said she: “During my tenure as Nigerian finance of minister, we worked hard in a difficult governance environment to open up information and tackle corruption. Though it was not easy, we saved billions of dollars that were channeled to other priorities.
“At a time when many governments are rapidly mobilizing financial resources from their own budgets, international markets and donors, it is vital that funds are not wasted.
“This openness should extend to the emergency budgets that have been established to fund healthcare systems and economic stimulus packages. Even in normal times, finance ministries need to publish their budgets in a way that encourages accountability and citizen engagement. Right now, it is even more important to reassure taxpayers that funds are being spent on the right priorities.
“Opening up procurement and budgets can only have the desired effect if citizens and civil society are empowered to follow the money. Journalists in several countries have already used freedom of information legislation and investigative reporting to shine a light on unfulfilled medical-equipment contracts with dubious, newly formed companies.
“When this pandemic is brought to an end, one legacy should be an expectation for more open government that makes better decisions, uses resources more wisely and puts citizens first”.
She said many countries were experiencing corruption in the procurement of medical supplies to tackle COVID-19.
The WTO DG aspirant therefore urged government officials to publish all tenders and contracts to ensure open governance.
Noted Iweala: “The world will not be rid of Covid-19 until we have a safe and effective vaccine available to everyone. We will not recover from the far-reaching economic impact of the pandemic without a new social compact between governments and citizens based on transparent, accountable and trustworthy governance.
“Every day that the crisis continues, the value of more open government becomes clearer. Getting medical equipment, and eventually vaccines, to those that need them most poses a major governance challenge. Already, many countries are battling price gouging, collapsing supply chains and even corruption in the procurement of supplies, including personal protective equipment.
“Out of desperation, governments have contracted with suppliers who have no track record of delivering the equipment they need. Too often those suppliers have failed. The only way to make emergency procurement fast and efficient is to do it in the open by publishing all tenders and all contracts”.