Monday, June 1, 2020

Coronavirus pandemic is a silver lining for corrupt officials

The saying that ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ could very well be true in the current unfortunate situation of the Coronavirus pandemic. Herein, the cloud is the pandemic itself that has brought untold panic and suffering to humankind whereas the silver lining is the golden opportunity for public and private officials to loot funds meant for the pandemic. History and the present have shown that corrupt people are daring, at times smart to beat the system, sophisticated and complex. For them it’s now or never. Above all, they are protected by their close proximity to powerful political and administrative willing actors. Armed with these advantages, dispensing funds to fight Coronavirus pandemic is not their priority but deriving personal maximum benefit from the funds.

Corruption by those who thrive in it has become the abnormal-cum-normal with collusion between public and private officials in circumstances where proper tendering, adjudication and final award of such tenders was the procedure. High value tenders presumably awarded under acceptable circumstances complying with the rule books have ended in courts where in some instances, corrupt behaviour and conduct have come to the fore where the blind can even see it. The supply of water reticulation tenders in some parts of the country together with hospital construction are some of the high value tenders currently marred by corruption allegations. The National Petroleum Fund scandal is one form of a corruption case where required and expected administrative failures obtain to the tune of about P 250 million.

With the emergence of Coronavirus pandemic, normal procedural requirements to procure accommodation for people to be quarantined; clinical resources necessary for the frontline staff like doctors and nurses to perform tests on persons exhibiting Coronavirus symptoms and other such resources and equipment are bound to be ignored or suspended due to the emergency nature of the pandemic. It is common cause that staff could be reduced across the public and private sectors in an endeavour to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading the virus. This would mean the normal practice of procuring goods and services to deal with the Coronavirus would be executed by fewer persons than would be the case in a normal situation. The President has pronounced that government has made available about P 2 billion for the Coronavirus. Government has asked members of the public who duly complied to donate financial aid to help in the fight against Coronavirus. International high profile individuals and organisations like Alibaba and Jack Ma Foundations are pouring in aid in terms of equipment to ease the fight against the pandemic. This is where the silver lining around the dark cloud of Coronavirus will shine brighter than probably before for the greedy and the corrupt.

The health systems of many countries with particular reference to Africa have for the longest periods suffered from chronic systemic weaknesses in providing public health care particularly to the poorest members of the community. In our public health care facilities, the provision of such care is deplorable and appalling where the supply and provision of drugs, medicine, bedding, food and other related stuff leaves a lot to be desired when put mildly. There is this perception, rightly or wrongly, that chances of a patient dying in public health facilities is greater than returning home cured given the existing deplorable and appalling conditions in public health facilities. With these public health facilities already under severe pressure to supply quality health care to existing medical conditions of patients, the Coronavirus pandemic is set to worsen the situation even further.

Now with the anti-corruption drive failing to control the runaway corruption in all sectors of the economy, it should be fair and reasonable to suggest that the Coronavirus pandemic will in itself and of itself be an opportunity for the corrupt officials to raise the bar in taking their vocation to a higher level for the ultimate kill. Inside knowledge will lead to price fixing of essential tools and gadgets required to deal with the pandemic; shelf companies will quickly be formed and contracted to supply inferior goods and services to those unfortunate to be quarantined; it will difficult if not impossible to account for financial and other resources pledged to fight the Coronavirus pandemic. The list is endless.

With the corrupt eagles ever circling the horizon to pounce on any situation however grave to humanity it could be, the Coronavirus pandemic has presented a perfect silver lining to those corrupt eagles. And the perfect excuse for them will be that the pandemic is an emergency akin to a desperate situation requiring desperate measures. The desperate measures would include but not limited to totally disregarding acceptable imperatives of strict accountability, transparency and good corporate governance. If corruption perfectly obtains in normal situations where attention to detail is a prerequisite but is not the case in many instances, can someone reasonably and objectively argue that it cannot reach fever pitch in the era of the Coronavirus pandemic? Not by any stretch of the imagination! Someone said the other day that the world should prepare itself for the Coronavirus pandemic corruption scandals of the century at the end of the pandemic should such end be in the immediate future. I cannot agree more with him. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.