A Washington DC based Think Tank, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), which has Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on its eight-member advisory board, is caught up in a questionable $1.95 million dollars (over N400 million) “contract” awarded to it by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
According to information on the GFI’s website, the organization works to “curtail illicit financial flows by producing ground breaking research, promoting pragmatic policy solutions and advising governments”.
It enjoys a tax exempt status under section 503(c )(3) of the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code. By all accounts the organization’s special report on the magnitude of illicit financial flows leaving countries such as China, India, Brazil, Russia and several others, have been very well received by academia and development practitioners. However, although Nigeria featured in GFI global ranking for 2014, which estimated that between 2003 and 2012, an average of $15.7 billion in illicit financial flows left Nigeria every year, no special report has been published on Nigeria.
A GFI spokesman told SaharaReporters that they “were not aware whether a competitive bidding process” took place in Nigeria for the contract awarded by the CBN.
The spokesman also confirmed that the contract, authorized by the CBN, hired GFI to investigate “oil theft and bunkering” in Nigeria and missing remittances from the CBN under its former Governor Sanusi.
Amidst widespread concern about the squandering of Nigeria’s resources and lack of accountability and due process in public spending, attention is now focused on how GFI could, in the very first few months of its existence, qualify for a contract that was not even advertised in Nigeria. There are concerns that this may very well have been another form of illicit financial flow, one that derives from transferring public resources abroad without due process or appropriation. According to financial statements available on GFI website, revenue from Nigeria amounted to 80 percent of its total revenue in 2013. Given the size of other revenues from Norway ($56,293.00 or 2.3%), Ford Foundation ($53,365 or 2.2%) Africa Development Bank ($6,051.00 or 0.2%) and UNDP ($8,116.00 or 0.3%), Nigeria’s contribution is considered outlandish and questionable.
SaharaReporters asked the GFI spokesman whether Okonjo-Iweala was aware of the contract, which he said “she only found out long after it [the study] was released.”
He also told SaharaReporters, when asked about GFI procedures preventing conflicts of interest that he was unable to speak about that but “to follow up in writing.” The spokesman did confirm, however, that Okonjo-Iweala has been affiliated with GFI “for many years” and that they predate the contract between them and the GFI.
Some of the key sources of concern about the payment are:
The conflict of interest created by Nigeria awarding a contract to an organization with its Minister of Finance on its Advisory Board;
Noncompliance with procurement procedures, especially as they relate to competitive bidding that would have attracted interest from many NGOs and think tanks in Nigeria and abroad;
The absence of any public information in Nigeria on the “contract”;
The “contract” being awarded at a time when many MDAs, including the EFCC, were being starved of funds; and
The unusual nature of the transaction, given that other countries do not seem to have paid GFI for research.
Neither the CBN, in whose name the money was paid, nor the Ministry of Finance under Dr. Okonjo Iweala, which approves such contracts, provided any information to the public on the issue before it surfaced in the international press.
In economic development circles, GFI is being frowned upon for collecting such huge resources from a country where illicit financial flows have contributed to so much poverty.
Furthermore, the complete silence of GFI on news about the disappearance of oil money from Nigeria, and an almost total lack of discussion of any issue on illicit financial flows from Nigeria seems to confirm the finding of a recent New York Times article on think tanks, that “donations have led to implicit agreements that the research groups would refrain from criticizing the donor governments”.
For Nigeria, it is a double blow, showcasing another example of the Jonathan-Iweala era profligacy, with observers forecasting that there is much more to be unveiled.