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To Beat #Covid19, Governments Need to Open Up – WTO Candidate, Okonjo-Iweala Speaks On Accountability

 

“We won’t recover from the pandemic unless leaders can persuade citizens that they’re spending wisely”–

Dr. Iweala

Nigeria’s World Trade Organization candidate for the position of Director- General, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Sunday opined that the way to a full recovery from the Covid-19 virus, would be to develop 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”, Dr. Iweala explained in an article published by Bloomberg on Sunday.

She said many countries are battling price gouging, collapsing supply chains and even corruption in the procurement of supplies, including personal protective equipment.

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“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 article read.

The former Finance Minister opined that emergency procurement could be achieved fast and efficiently only by executing it in the open and publishing all tenders and all contracts without subterfuge.

“ That’s what Ukraine’s open contracting system aims to do: Civil society groups have monitored the prices of surgical masks over the past several weeks and called attention to potential price gouging”.

Still speaking on the need for governments to adopt an open policy in order to foster trust in their citizens, Dr. Iweala said in her article:

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.

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Policymakers should look to South Africa, a world leader on open budgets and audits, where the VulekaMali portal enables easy analysis of budget data. Countries such as Denmark, France, Belgium, Canada and Poland that go the extra mile, including by denying taxpayer-funded support to companies based in tax havens, should also be applauded. Companies receiving funds should not be anonymous or avoid their social obligations.

While such reforms will not be easy to implement, they will save lives in the short-term and build stronger societies in the long-term. During my tenure as Nigerian finance 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.

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The time to act is now. Through the nearly decade-old Open Government Partnership, reformers in civil society and governments are already pioneering such open approaches to response and recovery. 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.

Source: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala/ Bloomberg.

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