ESTABLISHMENT, ACHIEVEMENTS AND CHALLENGES OF ANTI-CORRUPTION AND TRANSPARENCY UNITS (ACTU) IN MDAS OF GOVERNMENTS
Efforts to tame the scourge of corruption in Nigeria are usually associated with some common rhetoric such as “Fighting’’, ‘’Combating”, ‘’the war against’’, or “cancerous”. The use of these words invokes pictures of an enemy that can either be defeated, surgically removed or treated with drugs. Together, these images suggest that corruption can be eliminated if only the solution is found.
However, corruption is a complex crime that has the ability to resist some of the toughest measures that may be deployed against it. Nevertheless, a combination of different strategies can help to effectively reduce the scourge to the barest minimum.
The experience of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in dealing with the pervasive nature of the vice has led to its realisation that one way to effectively stem the tide of corruption is through the involvement of the citizens in preventing and fighting it.
Consequently, ICPC has established the Anti-Corruption and Transparency Units (ACTUs) in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government as one of its strategies to tackle corruption in the public service using staff of the organisations. This is premised on the belief that those working directly in the organisations would have a better understanding and ability to identify causes and fertilising agents of corruption within their organisations.
The ACTU was created to serve as an extension of ICPC in the MDAs through an approval by government, vide the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation circular Ref. No. OHCSF/MSO/192/94 dated 2nd October 2001, and another circular Ref. No. OE/MS/MSO/196/S1/7 dated 16th April 2003. The underlying reason for the establishment of the unit was to complement and strengthen the efforts of the Commission in the areas of monitoring, reporting and preventing corruption in the MDAs.
The units, deriving from Section 6 (b)-(d) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000, is empowered to examine and review corruption-prone systems, practices and procedures, enlist the support of other public officers in fighting corruption, develop a code of ethics for staff within MDAs and ensure strict compliance with same; and conduct regular anti-corruption sensitisation.
The activities of the ACTUs are guided by the Standing Order for the Operations of ACTUs, issued by ICPC.
Currently established in over 445 MDAs, ACTUs have in the past 19 years, made remarkable impact on the anti-corruption crusade in many ways: they have introduced some level of accountability in the manner public officials do business, and they constantly demand probity from public office holders, especially in the allocation and utilisation of public resources. They are also in the forefront of ensuring that those entrusted with public offices give account of their stewardship. In this regard for instance, many ACTUs have produced and launched a code of ethics and corruption prevention guide for staff of their organisations.
The units are key agents helping to achieve the corruption prevention mandate of ICPC as system studies and reviews conducted by ACTUs have led MDAs to identify corruption vulnerabilities within their system, and obtained recommendations that have helped to block such loopholes. A few examples here will suffice: when the ACTU of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) state offices of Lagos, Edo, Kaduna and Kwara conducted such reviews, it identified corruption-prone procedures and submitted a report to ICPC with relevant recommendations to guarantee blockage of such procedures.
Some ACTUs have also been effective in the areas of undertaking preliminary investigation of petitions either written by staff of their organisations or transferred to them by ICPC. Some successful investigations carried out by ACTUs are those of University of Calabar on employment racketeering, Federal Polytechnic Nekede on allegation of extortion by an academic staff of the Polytechnic.
In 2015, the ACTU of Ken Saro Wiwa Polytechnic, Bori, Rivers State investigated a case of staff overpayment of salaries. The unit interviewed 38 members of staff in connection with the case involving N34,329,906.37. At the end of the investigation, a total number of 27 staff of the institution were found culpable: the two who manipulated the payment records were recommended for dismissal, while the rest were recommended to either be suspended, make a refund, or have their appointment terminated. The unit also recommended that the institution’s payroll system be overhauled to block the loopholes identified by the ACTU in the course of its investigation.
The units have also made a lot of impact through recommendations proffered to management and ICPC, leading to offenders being punished, and full-blown investigation carried out by the Commission.
ACTUs in MDAs have also been effectively involved in monitoring and evaluation of budget implementation and procurement processes, with a view to guaranteeing compliance with due process and guidelines. Through such monitoring, an ACTU of one of the key government agency was able to discover purchase of a second-hand Toyota Camry Car in place of a brand new model at a budgeted sum of N11 million. Many examples abound here.
As a way of encouraging and increasing the volume of corruption reportage, some ACTUs have designed and placed suggestion boxes in strategic locations within their respective MDAs, and hosted websites to make reportage of corruption issues easier. Examples are the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Trade and Investments, Nigeria Deposit Insurance Company, to mention but a few.
Inclusion of ACTU members in relevant committees as observers to procurement, promotion and recruitment processes have put the management of MDAs on their toes. The aim of their inclusion in committees is to ensure that proper procedures are followed in carrying out stipulated procedures, and to prevent corruption.
The duties of the units also cover areas such as assisting in the deployment of the Ethics and Integrity Compliance Scorecard in MDAs in line with international best practices, to entrench organisational core values, drive the achievement of institutional mandates and promote effective service delivery.
Finally, ACTUs are constantly educating and enlightening the staff of their MDAs through sensitisation and awareness workshops, stickers/posters, T-shirts with inscription of anti-corruption slogans, etc.
Several challenges face the ACTUs such as the perception that they are spies within their organization who report on the activities of the chief executives and other staff, and thus they are generally under-funded.
Other challenges faced by ACTU members are the fear of loss of jobs, fear of danger to self and family, and apathy to duties by some of them as generally obtain in the public sector.
However, ICPC has set up a mechanism of addressing the issues faced by the ACTUs through the assignment of ICPC Desk Officers to the ACTUs, and introduction of the ACTU Effectiveness Index as a way of monitoring how the ACTUs are performing, with a view to strengthening them and making them relevant in their respective MDAs.
ICPC also conducts trainings for ACTUs to ensure that they are on board with their responsibilities and in tune with best practices for performing their role.
Managements on their parts must ensure the selection of the right calibre of staff into relevant positions involving integrity issues and ACTU; and above all, provide a first line budget for the successful operation of the units.
ACTU members must continue to serve as advocates for greater support for the work and effective operation of MDAs, in words and conduct, demonstrate zero-tolerance for corruption and professional misconduct. They must exemplify compliance with due process and organisational value to promote the ethics and compliance agenda.