Millennium Partners, in January 2009, was awarded the Niger Governance Threshold Country Program as part of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Threshold program. The program was managed by USAID under a two-year contract with Millennium Partners under its BRDG (Building Recovery and Reform through Democratic Governance) IQC. The NGTCP objectives were to improve control of corruption, strengthen the role of media and civil society, and streamline business creation and land access procedures. It was awarded as a small business set aside contract.
This is a complex and challenging project that required a rapid deployment and a team of highly skilled and experienced experts. Millennium was able to quickly mobilize a team of French speaking anticorruption experts with many years in West Africa. Our team included a former USAID Mission Director Harry Birnholz (Guinea, Honduras, Albania and Deputy In Mali) who serves as Millennium’s Chief of Party, and Kim Pease, former USAID program director in Mauritania who serves as our Deputy Chief of Party.
Improving the Nigerien public perception of the control of corruption and supporting longer-term solutions to reducing corruption were the main objectives of this project. Millennium also was asked to take on the job of creating a more attractive business climate and legal regime to improve greater access to land security and investment opportunities. In addition, Millennium worked closely with the media and civil society groups to strengthen their capacity to raise awareness of anti-corruption efforts, existing legal rights, and other services available to citizens of Niger.
Improving anti-corruption efforts involved strengthening the capacity of audit bodies within the government to detect, investigate and audit corruption cases. Millennium Partners in partnership with the Nigerien Audit Regulatory Agency (ARMP) provided comprehensive training programs to Nigerien government and regulatory officials involved in public procurement activities. These included line ministry representatives, inspectors general from various ministries, local and regional procurement officials, and ARMP and ENAM staff. Millennium Partners’ technical experts were present at all training sessions to monitor the training program and adjust the course content as necessary. During the four-week period, 79 participants attended the training program.
A corruption control training program for the 500 civil servants and the related training of 100 journalists and civil society members was well advanced at the time of USAID’s decision to withdraw from Niger. The Threshold program was suspended in response to President Mamadou Tandj’s unconstitutional move to stay in power past his term. Millennium Partners is undertaking an orderly wind down of the program through April 2010.
In close collaboration with the Justice Ministry’s Secretary General, Millennium Partners was in the process of finalizing the model for an effective information and complaints unit for the Ministries of Health, Justice, and Education when USAID made the decision to withdraw from Niger.
Civil Society and Media Strengthening
Millennium Partners worked closely with 100 journalist and civil society members to improve their capacity for corruption investigation, and to raise awareness and mobilize public sentiment against corruption using community level debates, judicial clinics, and a broad public media campaign.
Removing Obstacles to Business Creation
Millennium Partners introduced a reform process that comprised registration fee reductions, the simplification of the registry documents and the legal authentication process, and the reducing of publication fees. This significantly reduced the cost and days to register a business as measured by the World Bank/IFC Doing Business report.
Millennium was successful in having included in the 2010 Finance Law a major reduction in legalization fees. Millennium Partners, in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce, made significant progress in preparing for a national media campaign to inform Nigeriens of the availability of a Guichet Unique or One Stop Shop (CFE) services for business registration. Millennium also provided a study to develop the computerization of the business registration process.
Improving Land Rights and Access to Land
Millennium was successful in having included in legislation a recommendation to significantly reduce land transfer tax fees. Millennium provided a road map for a more sustainable approach to land access that focused on support and technical assistance to strengthen local institutions, including village leaders, who are involved in deliverance of property title. The use of a focused media campaign via radio broadcasts was was planned to inform local populations of the ease and advantages of registering their property holdings as a means of securing their assets for inheritance purposes and to reduce ongoing conflicts between competing users.
Millennium Partners wish all of their counterparts in Niger success in continuing to fight corruption and in their efforts to restore democratic rule. It is our hope to return to Niger to continue the good work that was started.