The sanctions by the World Bank Group hold lessons for government and the anti-graft agencies

Last week, the ‘World Bank Listing of Ineligible Firms and Individuals Notes on Debarred Firms and Individuals’ for this year was released with 59 Nigerian companies and individuals blacklisted for engaging in corrupt practices and other procurement offences. Among those affected are 39 Nigerian companies previously debarred by the African Development Bank, (AfDB), along with 19 individuals identified by the World Bank under the cross-debarment policy. Ordinarily, the sanctions by the World Bank Group should serve as a wake-up call to both the government, the anti-graft agencies, the National Assembly, and apex regulatory bodies. Unfortunately, attention is hardly ever paid to such reports.

For far too long, Nigeria’s image has taken a bashing on the international scene due to several unwholesome practices by some players in the private and public space. From corruption in public office, peddling of drugs, email, and other Internet scams, some of our nationals have been implicated to our collective shame. Although Nigeria recorded an improved ranking in the latest Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by Transparency International (TI) released in January, moving five places up to rank 145 out of 180 countries assessed, the challenge is still huge. By scoring 25 out of the 100 maximum points in the 2023 CPI results, according to TI, Nigeria still places below the sub-Saharan African average of 33 points.

That 59 out of 1210 blacklisted individuals and companies worldwide are Nigerians is another emblem of shame. To be consistently rated low on issues of transparency and accountability is a sad reminder of what we have left undone in terms of judicious allocation of resources for the benefit of the populace. There is therefore an urgent need for more transparency and accountability not only in government but also in the private sector.

The WBG Sanctions Board comprises seven external judges and serves as an independent administrative tribunal in all contested cases of sanctionable misconduct occurring in the projects handled by the bank. The sanctions were imposed following an administrative process conducted by the Bank, which allowed the accused firms and individuals to respond to the allegations. Interestingly, the debarments made by the AfDB were recognised by the World Bank, making the affected firms barred under cross-debarment policy. Each of the sanctions related to a finding that the firms or individuals had engaged in at least one of the five sanctionable practices – fraud, corruption, collusion, coercion, or obstruction – while participating in World Bank-funded projects. The individuals and firms were associated with strong indictments by the World Bank, not only against them but also by implication, on how we do business in Nigeria.  

It is unfortunate that the breaches for which the 59 individuals and firms were sanctioned by the World Bank are usually treated with kid gloves by relevant agencies in our shores. They range from fraudulent and collusive practices, and misrepresentation of past experiences in a bid for a road maintenance contract (falsehood), among others. Firms that run afoul of the law here escape sanctions due to the social status of their promoters, partisan leaning or the fact that some of them are either owned by highly placed public officials or indulge in influence-peddling. 

Corruption, the World Bank has often stressed, diverts scarce development resources “from the people who need them most and corrodes the systems and services that are integral for reducing extreme poverty” and that’s why authorities in Nigeria cannot continue to ignore the reports. The unwholesome acts for which the World Bank Group bared its fangs on these

 Nigerian companies and individuals largely account for the situation in our country today. Both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) should show interest in the World Bank report.

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