As most of you may do know Public Procurement, which is the use of public funds for the provision of public goods, works and services, is an area most vulnerable to abuses that could lead to corruption. Public Procurement provides the link between public officials and the private sector in the provision of public goods, works and services. Engineers play very active roles in the provision of these services,- services used here in general term to include works and supply of goods.
The theme of this conference can therefore not have come at a better time than now when the Federal Government is focused more than any other previous government in fighting corruption. As a matter of fact what brought this government to power more than anything else is the promise to fight corruption. Therefore the Nigerian Institution of Civil Engineers, Abuja Chapter in the choice of this year’s Annual Conference theme chose to key in to the Federal Government’s vision. I want to once again congratulate the leadership for partnering with government as expected of any professional association.
The word corruption has been so commonly used and abused that the full import is ‘corrupted’. It has become so casually used that people are beginning to lose the full meaning and the impact in the society. Let me remind us that corruption is not an indigenous word to Nigeria. It doesn’t belong to any of the 250 or more ethnic nationalities or languages in Nigeria. It is a global word, known and present in all countries. The difference is in the scale and the societal abhorrence of its existence. The World Bank defines corruption as the abuse of public office for personal gain while Wikipedia defines ‘corruption as a form of dishonest or unethical conduct by a person entrusted with a position of authority, often to acquire personal benefit”.
It is the abuse of entrusted authority for personal gain. A much more difficult, scientific definition for the concept ‘corruption’ was developed by professor (emeritus) Dr. Petrus van Duyne. He said that;
“Corruption is an improbity or decay in the decision-making process in which a decision-maker consents to deviate or demands deviation from the criterion which should rule his or her decision-making, in exchange for a reward or for the promise or expectation of a reward, while these motives influencing his or her decision-making cannot be part of the justification of the decision”.
I won’t bore you with the definitions of corruption but let’s look at it from engineering perspective; when an engineering system say a computer is attacked by virus, the system is said to have been corrupted. The system will begin to malfunction, the output will be unreliable such that if you design any facility based on these unreliable data the facility will collapse or won’t even function at all. Such is the case with corruption in any system. For computers and other systems you buy anti-virus to protect the system from attacks.
I just came back from the Capitol Hill on a study tour of their procurement systems along with some notably public officials.
We were stunned to learn that this year alone there had been about five, I mean five billion unsuccessful attempts by hackers to penetrate the data base of the US congress. To digress a bit the House of Representatives with a membership of about 465 has 26 Committees, each member has a vote of one million dollars, out of which the salary is $174000per annum. The rest is for running of his constituency and payment for legislative aides and researchers. The funds are fully managed by the bureaucracy.
Back to corruption, the US congress did not fight the hackers, it designed systems that made it impossible for hackers to penetrate the system. Because the hackers are ever evolving and unknown, the system has to be overhauled and upgraded all the time to beat the hackers.
Therefore corruption is like a virus- it shuts down any system in which it is tolerated. Since virus by its nature can’t be killed, unlike bacteria, it can only be prevented or managed once infected.
Fighting corruption shouldn’t therefore be about talking and holding workshops. It should be about building anti-corruption systems that will make it impossible for corrupt practices to thrive. When I invited one of my friends, a civil engineer too to come and see me talk, he replied and I quote “GOOD ONE, MORE SERMON”. That is the level to which most people have seen our war on corruption as what we say publicly is at variance with what we do in our inner chambers or what we see happen in our various offices.
Corruption is mathematically defined as;
C=Au + Re – Ac
Or alternatively according to Prof Klitgaard, a renowned economist, as
C=M + P – R where
C is Corruption, M is Monopoly, P is Discretionary Power, and
R is Responsibility
From the definitions of corruption above, it will be hard to see any Nigerian who is not corrupt. From the corporate world to professional associations, religious bodies, traditional institutions and to various tiers of government. A system that gives credit to individuals whether elected or appointed for government projects, undermines the war against corruption. When elected officials take credit for government projects in their constituencies and adorn Solar Street lights and Transformers with their photographs, or appointed ministers donate buses to each local government area of his state or take credit for Federal Government intervention in their states, they unwittingly are creating doubts in the minds of the people as to the efficiency of the War Against Corruption
They are in effect telling the Nigerian Public that if I get elected or appointed into any public office I will STEAL enough money to come and empower you or intervene in your community. Meanwhile the project is a Federal Government project, the executing agency is a federal Government agency but an elected or appointed officer is taking credit for the project. This is FRAUD- which means misrepresentation of facts with a view to attracting personal benefit. For the elected person he gets reelected based on falsehood and for the appointed person he gets undeserved public applause.
Therefore like the US congress, what is needed is for a system to be designed to frustrate corrupt practices, a system that will be respected by everyone from the highest person to the least person in the country.
THE ROLE OF ENGINEERING PROFESSIONALS
Before I go on to discuss the role of engineering professionals in the fight against corruption in Nigeria, I want to first put the engineer in the Nigerian context. The engineers in Nigeria constitute less than 0.17% of the Nigerian population. Out of this number perhaps less than 35% are chartered engineers. Ordinarily the engineers ought to be in high demand in a developing economy like ours but that is not so as at today. So the engineer in Nigeria is a product of the bigger Nigerian society and has all the characteristics of a Nigerian in terms of attitude, character and disposition. Having said that and taking into consideration the definition of corruption by Prof Petrus, let’s look as the engineers’ involvement in authority and thereafter we look at what his role should be in the fight against corruption.
ENGINEERS IN POSITIONS OF AUTHORITY
An engineer is described as an ‘expert in the design and construction of engines, mechanical or electrical equipment or expert in the organization of civil works (roads, bridges etc.); a person qualified in any field of engineering’. The word engineer as verb transitive means to carry out, to manage by using tact, craft or ingenuity to achieve (a result)’– Webster Dictionary
The engineer designs, specifies, supervises and certifies projects. Engineers are very heavily involved in the pre award stages of most projects as well as in the process of choosing the contractors to execute the projects.
The process of choosing the contractor is called procurement. When the funds come from the public treasury and the project is a public project, the process is called public procurement. He is involved in the procurement process as technical evaluation team member whose opinion many times over rides all other opinions .After the award, the engineer is involved in the supervision and certification of the project to meet the desired out comes. Engineers are also involved as consultants and contractors as well as teachers and scholars. In each of these positions, opportunities to be corrupt exists. But the greatest risks are in projects delivery. I will therefore focus my attention on the risks of corruption in the contract award and execution chain.
A project gets compromised and possibility of corruption exists when the scope of work is improperly defined or designed by the consultant or the government engineer. The project could be designed in such a manner that only a pre-arranged contractor can effectively provide solutions or build the facility or a brand of equipment is specified in the tender documents or budget. At this level, the engineer has effectively removed competition with its attendant effects.
The project could be over designed with a view to a Value engineering being done in the course of project implementation. Such Value engineering never gets done as we have observed over the years and the consequences are known. The project could as well be under- designed leading to excessive requests for project augmentations based on wrong design data, or based on the fact that soil investigations were not done before design or that they didn’t visit the site at the time of tender
Engineers play very critical role in bids evaluations especially for major infrastructure projects. By ignoring laid down criteria as advertised or watering down prequalification criteria, engineers could effectively scuttle good delivery of projects. By also pandering to political pressures and saying YES to political leaders when they ought to say NO they compromise their credibility and ability to get the projects delivered at value- for- money costs. By maintaining unusual personal relationships with service providers and accepting gifts of value, engineers loose morale right to supervise their contractors. Things of value include free air tickets, hospital bills, payment for children school fees, payment for holidays for family and children among many things considered inappropriate.
At this stage of projects delivery all the shortcomings in the projection definition stage manifest to the detriment of the society and possible abuse. Quantities of work could be exaggerated or poor quality job certified all for a premium. In some cases actual works done are deliberated understated to force the contractor to “behave”. Interim certificates could be unduly delayed until there is a “discussion”. Where funds are not adequate to pay for most of the projects as in our clime, a lot of discretion is applied in payments with its obvious risk of corruption
These are a few examples where a decay in decision making process could lead to corruption. An engineer involved at any stage of the project delivery can decide to act improperly for personal benefit. That is corruption
THE ROLE OF THE ENGINEERING PROFESSIONALS IN THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION
What makes a professional a professional is the avowed adherence to the professional codes and ethics and procedures of that profession. Each profession has its code of conduct that will usually result in loss of license to practice if violated. Luckily the Nigerian Institution of Civil Engineers has a Code of Civil Engineering Conduct. I will just quote from a section of the code.
Section (iii) states “It shall be considered unprofessional and inconsistent with honorable and dignified conduct and contrary to the public interest for any member of the Nigerian Institution of Civil Engineers : a) To exert undue influence or to offer, solicit or accept compensation for the purpose of affecting negotiations for an engineering engagement; (b) To use the advantages of a salaried position to compete unfairly with other engineers and (c) To accept remuneration for services rendered other than from his clients or his employer.
So the Code of Conduct for engineers prohibits us from acting in any manner that is against public interest in the discharge of our professional duties. Accepting or offering of bribe to secure contract or effect payment for jobs duly certified, accepting gifts of value as gratuity, kickbacks etc. are all acts not permitted in the Code of Conduct. But then one will ask, how is this Code of Conduct being monitored? How many engineers have had their licenses withdrawn or publicly shamed? The Code appears to have been observed more in breach.
Engineers awarding contract to themselves or to companies they have interest in without declaring their interest to the awarding authority is a common practice which the Code frowns at. Compelling contractors to award subcontract jobs to them or to companies they have interest in is a sure way engineers’ ability to fight corruption will be called to question.
As professionals most involved in public expenditure especially on infrastructure projects, it is my considered position that engineers should search their conscience and elect to be part of the solution through deliberate effort to design a system that will deter corrupt practices in projects delivery in Nigeria. When you fight you either kill or get killed. A more enduring strategy should be to prevent corruption through insistence on good governance, transparent public expenditure management systems and speedy judicial sanctions for offenders. Engineers can help the government in designing anticorruption ‘vaccines’ for effective WAR AGAINST CORRUPTION.
Corruption as a global phenomenon thrives where institutions and systems are weak. Development and deployment of preventive measures (technology) are the latest strategies being used by developed nations in minimizing corruption. Those who still try to beat the system are easily caught and jailed in record time without a blink of an eye as to their social or political standing in the society because the system does not recognize social or political ranking as everybody is equal before the law. Engineers on their part, due to their critical role in public infrastructure delivery, are exposed to corruption
The Society of Engineers should rejig its mechanism of monitoring the performance of their members either as consultants and contractors or public officials and encourage them to report acts inimical to the Code of Conduct. It should consider setting up a fund to cater for the needs of those who may be victimized in the course of their duties. Engineers hold the key to the success of the fight against corruption. The anti-corruption agencies should engage/task them to design technologies that will deter corrupt practices while they, on their part should sanction their members not living up to the code of conduct for engineers.
A KEY NOTE SPEECH BY ENGR. EMEKA EZE ON THE OCCASION OF 2017 ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE NIGERIAN INSTITUTION OF CIVIL ENGINEERS.