Should regulatory bodies accept gifts of money and property from the same entities they regulate? In its recently released policy briefing paper, Spaces for Change argues that such gift-giving may not only upset the pursuit of transparency and accountability urgently needed in the oil sector, but that gift cultures are also fraught with ambiguities and intrinsic susceptibility to corruption.
However, the PIB did not specify situations in which such gift-giving to the UPI, DPRA or the Corporation may be allowed. Beyond the fractional obligation on the giver to specify the terms and conditions, the Bill is silent on the criteria for conceptually understanding the logic of the gift. And again, the one-part obligation ostensibly heaps the onus of proving motive on the giver, while absolving the receiving agencies from a corresponding standard of accountability. Although the proviso to S. 33, 63 and 139 prohibits members and staff of the named agencies from accepting gifts for their personal use, the PIB overlooks the practical difficulty in distinguishing between gifts to the agency per se, and that of its officials, leaving the door open to the complex maneuvers, obligation and reciprocity inherent in gift-giving.
From the standpoint of reasonableness, would a gift to the Inspectorate for instance, by a company bidding for an oil prospecting license be said to be free from any colourations of reciprocal exchange? Is there any probability that Inspectorate’s receipt of a gift by an entity it regulates may spur the relaxation of its regulatory oversight towards the giver’s environmental felonies? These questions, among numerous concerns, impel the need to lower the incentives for corruption, check abuse and require greater transparency in the gift-receiving mandate.
Finally, and most importantly, S. 4 of the PIB requires all agencies and companies established under the Act to be bound by the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) Act. That means that NEITI’s supervisory role provides a robust window for an independent monitoring, identification and reporting of irregularities that may be associated with gifts. The inclusion of gifts as a funding source for the UPI and DPRA (S. 32 (2)(e) and 62 (2) (g) firmly situates gifts within the sphere of NEITI’s watchdog functions. NEITI is equally expected to ensure transparency and accountability in the application of resources from payments received from extractive industries and promotes conformity with the principles of the EITI.