Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a global finance expert and Nigerian-nominated candidate for the position of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General, has said during her tenure as the finance minister of Nigeria, “we saved billions of dollars that were channeled to other priorities”.

Okonjo-Iweala who is Chair of the Board of Gavi, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation stated this in an opinion article titled; “To Beat Covid-19, Governments Need to Open Up”, published by Bloomberg.

Elucidating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on nations economy, democracy, and health system, the Nigerian first female foreign minister and finance minister said; “The world will not be rid of Covid-19 until we have a safe and effective vaccine available to everyone.

“We will not recover from the far-reaching economic impact of the pandemic without a new social compact between governments and citizens based on transparent, accountable and trustworthy governance.

“Every day that the crisis continues, the value of more open government becomes clearer. Getting medical equipment, and eventually vaccines, to those that need them most poses a major governance challenge.

“Already, many countries are battling price gouging, collapsing supply chains and even corruption in the procurement of supplies, including personal protective equipment.

“Out of desperation, governments have contracted with suppliers who have no track record of delivering the equipment they need. Too often those suppliers have failed.”

In April 2020, Okonjo-Iweala was appointed by the President of South Africa and the Chairperson of the African Union, Cyril Ramaphosa as a special envoy of the AU.

In her opinion article, she recommended that; “Policymakers should look to South Africa, a world leader on open budgets and audits, where the VulekaMali portal enables easy analysis of budget data.

“Countries such as Denmark, France, Belgium, Canada and Poland that go the extra mile, including by denying taxpayer-funded support to companies based in tax havens, should also be applauded. Companies receiving funds should not be anonymous or avoid their social obligations.”

Okonjo-Iweala introduced the practice of publishing each state’s monthly financial allocation from the Federal Government of Nigeria in the newspapers. Highlighting how the practice could be most effective, she said; “Opening up procurement and budgets can only have the desired effect if citizens and civil society are empowered to follow the money.

“Journalists in several countries have already used freedom of information legislation and investigative reporting to shine a light on unfulfilled medical-equipment contracts with dubious, newly formed companies.

“This is only possible if freedom of speech, civil liberties, and civic space are protected. In some countries, Covid-19 is being used as a cover to crackdown on civil society and erode democratic freedoms.

“This is short-sighted and will ultimately further undermine the trust of citizens in their governments, which is critical in times of crisis.”

While acknowledging the difficulties of her proposed “reforms”, she noted; “they will save lives in the short-term and build stronger societies in the long-term.

Using her tenure as a two-term (2003-2006; 2011-2015) minister of finance in Nigeria as a case study, Okonjo-Iweala said; “we worked hard in a difficult governance environment to open up information and tackle corruption.

“Though it was not easy, we saved billions of dollars that were channeled to other priorities.”

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