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Wednesday, 10 May 2017 14:18

An Interview With Dr Joe Abah : "Nigerian Government Committed To OGP" Featured

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DG, BPSR. Dr Joe Abah DG, BPSR. Dr Joe Abah
Dr Joe Abah, the Director-General, Bureau of Public Service Reforms has reiterated Nigeria’s  commitment to the Open Government Partnership, (OGP) and the need to address the corruption in the extractive sector. In this interview with Mr Emeka Ononamadu, National Coordinator PWYP-Nigeria and Mr Audu Liberty Oseni, editor Extracting Accountability, at the National Steering Committee and donors meeting for OGP, he speaks of the government commitment to OGP and the importance of addressing the huge corruption in the extractive sector, particularly in the oil and gas.

 

 

Below are the extracts of the interview:


Q: Within your reform agenda do you have any specific focus for the extractive sector?

R: The specific attention is our work in strengthening Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI). The World Bank is talking to us about working with the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the agencies under it, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and a few of them. But they are still talking with the Minister for state first, and when they are ready they will let us know. We have done some work with the ministry of solid minerals particularly with regards to the solid minerals development fund that is supposed to be set up and run. We will help them to sort out how that fund is best managed.

Q: There are specific NGOs that are so interested in what your agency is doing, like Publish What You Pay that is focusing on the extractive sector, how do we connect with your agency in terms of promoting the ideas to the grass roots?

R: We partner with a number of NGOs on different issues, we worked with Right to Know Initiative, for instance, to put in place the country’s first Freedom of Information (FOI) portal which we also exported to NEIT. We are trying to make sure it goes into the Open Government Partnership (OGP) national action plan as a standard practice.

We have worked with PPDC on procurement transparency; in fact, they rated us as the best in the country in terms of procurement. Our scope is so wide, we can work with anybody on any issue, anything that draws monies from the Federal Government, it doesn’t matter what it is.

I think, if we are able to identify areas of mutual interest, there is no reason why we can’t partner on specific things. Another thing that we do quite well is to facilitate joint work among the government. Assuming you want to do something, we could work with you to bring NEITI with other people in government together. We have that convening power.

We work across government, we are doing some work with NNDC, we need to go and sort out that place so the agency can deliver for the people of the Niger Delta. Again, we bring support from the World Bank, FOSTER, DFID and EU as well. We are not territorial; our work is on anything that improves governance.

Q: There have been series of reforms in the past to sanitise the oil and gas sector, yet the corruption in the sector has continued unabated, What measures do we have in place to make sure that this one is the final nail in curbing corruption in the extractive sector?

R: There is no such thing like final nail on corruption anywhere in the world; I think that is raising the threshold to an unrealistic level. I think what we need to do is to make sure the processes are in place to avoid abuse and impunity.

We have had in the past, NNPC operating as almost an extra-legal entity; it is bizarre that NNPC could have a recurrent budget higher than that of the Federal Government. If you are running NNPC, you are running an alternative government, and those are the sort of things we need to address and make sure they don’t happen anymore.

We have had issues where it is difficult to state with confidence the exact number of barrels of crude we are producing per a day, we don’t know how many we are losing to bunkering, we don’t know where the monies that oil companies pay go to, whether they even pay what they are supposed to pay. All of those things are not just the way they should be.

People will tell you, it is highly political, yes, everything is highly political, but the important thing in my view is, do we have the system in place such that if there is abuse you can easily trace the source of the abuse? If you look at a number of these agencies, the government has not yet taken the decision to rationalise some agencies and parastatal, some of those agencies such as Petroleum Price Regulating Agency (PPRA) I don’t know what they are regulating and what they are there for. The Petroleum Equalization Fund, I don’t know what they are equalising, and even the PTDF.

There are a number of these agencies that are just an overhead, and the more of these agencies we have, the more difficult it is to nail down where exactly the problem is. Those are some of the things we are hoping that if we put in place a streamed lined extractive industry sector where responsibilities are clear, we strengthen NEITI to be able to monitor, report independently and clearly, we ensure that the National Assembly takes NEITI report seriously and also equip NEITI to be able to go to the citizens. Even if the National Assembly doesn’t because the greatest friends of the reformer are the member of the public, if you are getting blockages in the National Assembly,  you go to the people, the people will demand and back you up. That is what we are trying to do.

Q: Within the 2016 budget framework, the government has not allocated any money to support the OGP in addition to other support they are going to be getting. How do you take away the fears of the people that government needs to match its words with action?

R: I think it is important that government does that, but does it in a decent way. And that’s why if you look at the Minister of state and my intervention this morning, we wanted to make sure the project is realistic. A lot of what is in the project is what we call civil service costing. People putting more activities that they can’t do physically if you were to count all the monies and give to them, they just cannot physically do all of them.

In a lot of cases, the activities are not contributing to the commitment, I don’t know what people think, you designed activities and there is no clear link to what you want to achieve. I think it would have been a bit difficult for a government to just say here are a hundred million funds for OGP when it does know how the project is going to be run.

That is going to be a bit difficult, however, the government usually puts aside N1.5billion every year for public service reform under the service wide vote, and if you look at passionately, everything we have talked about here is all about public service reform. Although there is no label that says OGP N200million or N500million, we are confidence that within the service wide vote, it is possible to fund some of the activities if they are clearly defined.

And that is why, it is important that we look through the activities one after the other, see which ones are already budgeted for in the 2017 budget, see which ones donors have already pledged to support and then see the gaps. I think the way we are trying to do it is more honest, than government coming out to announce, it is putting N5billion to OGP and the money never comes out, that will be unfortunate.

That’s why some of our people may feel that we have been harsh on them this morning, but we have to be, this is something we are exposing ourselves to the international community to see. It will not be good if by December when the evaluation will be done and we are at 25% or 30% implementation. A lot of the activities in the OGP are cost free, the more useful and urgent ones are the ones that do not require financial resources. For example, the head of the service issuing a circular of a new rule being put in place does not need additional funding.

I think it is important that government continues to show commitment, the Attorney General of the federation was here, there were about four other ministers here today, and that is a clear sign of government commitment to OGP. I was in Paris when we launched the national action plan, we held few meetings, and the international OGP secretariat is keen to supporting Nigeria, even with peer learning (capacity building).

I think the sceptics is normal for anything new, particularly giving the track records the government has had in this kind of initiative, but, with the OPG being co-chaired with the national action plan been co-created, it is unlikely that government will simply not do anything. You could see the commitment of the donors here today. One of them said, the money is in the room, but, we just need to make sure the plan is clear. So I am very optimistic.

Q: You talked about Peer learning, for us at the CSO, what is the plan to get key government agencies particularly those within the extractive sector into this peer learning mechanism

R: We have designed a tool on how to successfully run a government agency, many people are appointed to this position without knowledge on how to run a government. We have designed a guide to help them, we have also produced a tool with which people can actually access themselves and improve their performance.

We have piloted that with NEITI, Nigeria Communication Commission, Federal Road Safety Corps, and Universal Basic Education Commission. We are trying it with the Niger Delta Development Commission, and later on Investment Promotion Council, Economic and Financial Crime Commission, and Export Promotion Council. There are about 12 to 15 agencies that we want to pilot the designed tool with and refine it.

Ones the tool is refined and finalised, we will be able to use that to spread good practice across the board. Using this, we will start to create pressure on the MDAs to do the appropriate thing. And no Director in any of the MDAs will like to be ranked low.

 

DR joe abah

 

Q: Within the FOI Implementation, what do you think are the reasons why the extractive sector is not complying?

R: For a number of reasons, first of all, they have a lot of money and with that, they can dare anybody. Secondly, there is an inbuilt attitude not to be open and transparent, and that has been in the interests of both the government and oil companies.

If they are not transparent, government officials and oil companies get more illicit funds, pay less tax, and destroy more of the environment. It has been beneficial to everybody for not being transparent in their operations.

I think that is why, and like as I said earlier, if you are in NNPC and you are running overhead budget bigger than the Federal Government who would you listen to, that is just the way it is.

Q: There is a general belief that the beneficial ownership will bring sanity in the extractive sector, do you believe, key players in the oil and gas will support this initiative

R: I don’t actually think they need to key in, we are government, we need to say this is what we need to be done, and if you don’t do it, we will revoke your license.

What are they supporting, the government should simply say, if you are going to prospect for minerals in this country, this is what you need to do. Is either you do it or you don’t get the license to operate.

With regards to the beneficial ownership, Nigeria has a beneficial ownership register and you will need to comply. We will give the people time to comply and set a date after which we will start to take action.

People will simply be told, we need to know exactly who are the real owners of the companies, not necessarily the legal owners, it has to do with, is government sufficiently committed, and if the government is sufficiently committed they will comply. Is like gas flaring, the day government needs the flaring to stop it will stop.
 
END
Read 269 times Last modified on Wednesday, 10 May 2017 15:48

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