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Development-compliant corruption and graft-resilient growth (2)

TALKINGPOINT continues with the second part of Usman Audu’s article that appeared a forthnight ago.

SOME  Obasanjo apologists may jump up in jubilation and cite this article as some kind of recognition that Transcorp PLC was a fantastic idea. The Chaebols of South Korea were not set up by government fiat.

They grew organically and are waxing stronger. We all know that the poorly conceived and hastily created contraption called Transcorp PLC has not grown much since its birth. The question now is : What do we do then? How do we replicate the Korean paradigm? Here is how. The government must create a level playing field for Nigerian companies.

Promote competition and good corporate governance. Liberalise important sectors like the energy industry. Reward professionalism and efficiency through access to incentives. Patronise indigenous companies that are outstanding in all the sectors of the economy. Create an environment that would enable Nigerian businesses take firm root in Nigeria then fan out initially into West Africa, then Africa, then the world at large.

We can do it. Let us do it. I know that some Nigerian banks have consolidated at home and have spread their tentacles into some countries in the West African sub-region. This, in my view, is a good development if it is value-adding to their bottom line in particular and Nigeria in general.
Nigerians that have been following Governor Fashola’s activities will recall that he visited the man I would call the Genius of Singapore sometime ago.

I mean Lee Kuan Yew.  Among the things the Governor got from the visit, I believe, are advice and inspiration. That Singapore is a developed country is not news. The truth is, it is now one of the richest countries in the world by GNP per capita(Purchasing Power Parity). This country became fully independent in 1965. So, what did they do to get so high on the ladder of growth and development in the decades that Nigeria wasted?

A lot! But one particular element is instructive. Let us call it “The Living Wage Model”. We may equally call it the competitive government-pay model.

When Lee Kuan Yew started the accelerated development of his country, he galvanized into action the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau(CPIB) which was set up by the British Colonial Government in 1952. Our EFCC is similar in orientation to this Singaporean agency. The CPIB was empowered to conduct arrests and searches, call up witnesses, investigate income-tax returns and bank accounts of suspected persons and their families.

The agency had power to investigate officers and ministers. As a matter of fact, several ministers were charged with corruption. But Lee saw a snag.

He realised that the legitimate earning of his ministers was insufficient to guarantee the clean and honest government of his dream. What did he do?

In 1994, he proposed to link the salaries of ministers, judges and top civil servants to the salaries of top professionals in the private sector. He believed that this would help in recruiting and retaining talent into the public sector as well as controlling corruption. The Singapore of today is a brilliant example of transparency and multi-dimensional success. In Nigeria, we have our own EFCC created to combat corruption. Fantastic idea indeed!

Nothing can be better than a society that runs on merit, competition and honesty but what has the government done about a living wage for the public sector? We have a handful of government agencies where the pay is somewhat reasonable like NNPC, Central Bank, LNG, et cetera. Do we just consign the great majority of public sector workers to avoidable misery and impoverishment just because of lack of vision and paucity of administration genius?

A federal minister serving in Abuja that decides to play by the rules and distances himself from corrupt practices might not be able to acquire a decent house that befits his level of achievement and status. His counterpart that elects to be corrupt can own uncountable number of landed property.

The issue here is that, in Nigeria, the profit of honesty is poverty and the profit of corruption is prosperity. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore knew this.

So, he did something about it. If we assume that our rulers (not leaders) know this fact, what are they doing about it? We have a lesson to learn from the living wage model of Singapore. It could help in corruption minimisation while we focus on well-conceived and smartly pursued development strategies. We can do it. Let us do it!

Audu Usman is of the University of Surrey, United Kingdom.

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