Can Nigeria achieve a corrupt-free public service like Singapore?
The probe going on at the nation’s House of Representatives is both interesting and funny. Interesting in the sense that it is bringing out startling revelations about the massive corruption in the downstream sector of Nigeria’s oil and gas industry; funny for the fact that those presiding over the probe are themselves guilty of the same offence they are investigating. The question is what will come out of the probe? Many Nigerians believe that nothing good will come out of it. Put those found guilty behind bars for five years, they will serve their terms and return to the society with a welcome party. Family members, community leaders will roll out the drums to welcome them home. So long as the man has money, how he came about it does not matter in the Nigeria of today.
This was not how it was in the early days of Nigeria’s independence. Time it was when a man who has gone to prison for whatever offence, was ostracized. Members of the society avoided him like leper. It was taboo to have a jail bird in the family. Then Nigerians of every calling were satisfied with what they earned. Teachers were revered as noble, their reward being in heaven.
They were committed and dedicated. Pastors and ministers of the gospel were truthful and their words were taken as gospel truth. As a junior teacher then after the Udoji salary awards, teachers were paid N22 per month as salary, yet, they were satisfied. Nigeria was moving up in honour and honesty until 1979/1980 when some politicians who went into political office bankrupt started to buy private jets and said they are yet to see Nigerians eating from the dustbins.
This group of men was followed by those in uniform who debased the Nigerian psychic by class distinction. Telephone is not for the poor, cars are not for the poor syndrome. In the bid to be like others, law and order were relaxed for the rich and powerful in society. Their children and wives got involved in drug trafficking and advance-fee fraud popularly called 419. Civil servants were no longer sure of their future so the doors were thrown open for the rat race of getting rich quick by all means. Salaries of public office holders have been very low. Singapore, a city state has won global applause for low level of corruption. In Singapore, the Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, makes S$3.1 million ($2.4 million) annually to run a country. Lots compared with, say, Barack Obama, who as U.S. president, gets $400,000 a year. Lee’s compensation will fall 36 per cent, and that of Singapore’s president will drop 51 per cent, to S$1.54 million. The cuts were based on the recommendation of an advisory committee formed three weeks after last May’s elections, when opposition party candidates made hay with the pay issue — and the ruling People’s Action Party won with the narrowest margin since independence in 1965. Such still-fat paychecks may give pause.
Nigeria is not the only country where there is corruption of great proportion. Since the 1997 Asian crisis, the region’s other governments have had a mixed record in holding public servants to account, making growth more efficient, and creating the institutions — independent judiciaries, central banks and media as well as freer watchdog groups — needed to clean up political and economic systems. One way for Asian countries, home to a big share of the world’s households living on $2 per day, to boost their economies is to increase the pay of their civil servants.
In China, corruption is the common link between state-owned banks doling out billions of dollars to cronies; land grabs by local government officials; and the negligence that killed 40 people in a high-speed rail crash last July. If Beijing paid higher salaries, it might reduce the incidence of graft and rent-seeking that aggravates the lopsidedness of China’s development.
Japan should consider fattening public paychecks, too. Although Japan’s best and brightest are still drawn by the prestige of a government career, over the past two decades, the differential between private and public salaries has grown. Ministerial slush funds help make up the difference, and in recent years, numerous scandals have arisen involving bureaucrats using such money for limousines, louche excursions, and golf-club memberships. More fundamentally, Japan’s economic model encourages dangerous collusion between the public and private sectors. The root of the problem is “amakudari,” or “descent from heaven.” It’s the main gravy train for public servants; when they retire, ministers and bureaucrats get cushy jobs in industries they oversaw while in government. The incentive is to look out for your future employer, not taxpayers.
Singapore isn’t exactly a hotbed of anti-corruption muckraking. According to the 2010 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report, journalists in Singapore practice “self- censorship,” the level of public debate is “moderate,” and opposition parties face “formidable obstacles.” Yet, the city-state does have an aggressive Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau; professional courts; a ramrod political will inculcated by its first prime minister, Lee Kwan Yew (father of Lee Hsien Loong); and a ruthless, relentless emphasis on efficiency and results.
Not every country can follow that recipe, especially those with larger, more diverse populations like Nigeria with ethnic sentiments. Nigeria has the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offenses Commission, ICPC, what have they been able to achieve to reduce corruption? How many probes have been carried out in Nigeria? What were their outcomes? Has Bankole not gotten out of the hook from the charges leveled against him and many others? Can Nigeria achieve a corrupt-free public service like Singapore by paying top salaries to leaders and ministers and attracting the best and brightest to public service and reducing the temptation to engage in graft? Done properly, such initiatives can make government more efficient and economies more vibrant. It is worth a try than these noisy sessions at the National Assembly called probe.