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The Federal Government inaugurated on June 3 the boards of five regulatory agencies in the health sector. Seventy two persons took oath to serve diligently on the boards of the Community Health Practitioners Registration Board of Nigeria (CHPRBN), Health Records Officers Registration Board of Nigeria (HRORBN), Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN), Medical Rehabilitation Therapists (Reg) Board of Nigeria (MRTBN) and Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians Registration Board of Nigeria (ODORBN). Their appointments come at a time when decisions of regulators underscore their significance and highlight the imperative of having competent regulatory bodies in the country.
Regulatory bodies are some of the often-overlooked institutions within the panoply of government but with outsize importance to the economy and society. They carry out their function in the background. They manifest only when the situation demands. When they do, they take decisions whose impact reverberates across personal, corporate and institutional lives for many years. The implications of such decisions could range from the financial to the personal and professional.
Breach of an innocuous rule by MTN and the dynamics of the season led the Nigerian Communications Commission to impose a humungous fine on MTN Nigeria Communications that threatened the existence of that leading foreign investor and trade relations between Nigeria and South Africa. It delayed the listing of MTN on the bourse as well as sent signals that may not be positive to other investors. Regulatory action.
Regulatory action is currently at the heart of the matter of Oando Nigeria Plc and the Nigerian Stock Exchange. A leading indigenous oil and gas firm, Oando has raised issues about the approach of the Securities and Exchange Commission, its fairness and the appropriateness of the strictures the regulator imposed on it. It is playing out in the courts, of law and public opinion, with consequences for the economy and perceptions of the investment climate in our country.
These and other examples bespeak the importance of the role of regulator. Whether it be in medicine and health generally, in manufacturing, in food and beverage, education or another sphere, the regulator is becoming ever more pronounced. Their actions have a tremendous impact. From NAFDAC through the National Universities Commission to the Architects Registration Council or the Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria, regulators are now ubiquitous and cast a long shadow with extended reach.
The growing power and influence of regulators should compel increased stakeholder attention. Governing boards have legislative, judicial and executive powers. They make rules, receive reports on infractions or compliance, investigate and pass judgements. They effect actions based on the reviews.
A significant consideration, therefore, should be to ensure that only persons worthy in character and learning serve on the boards of regulatory agencies. They must continually update themselves and be on top of developments in the sectors they supervise. They should be clear about the purpose and problems their agencies seek to solve.
Flexibility and agility are critical. Regulators must be able to apply the most effective means and processes in their decisions with no dependence on “the way we have always done it”. Their ability to respond to novel and emerging risks would enable the professions to keep in step with public opinion. When they update, they can also guide the occupations.
Regulators must contend with the Machiavellian question on love and fear. Is it better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? Neither. They should aim for trust and respect. Trustworthiness comes from competence, honesty and reliability. Regulators should set transparent standards and processes with accurate and clear communication about how and why they make decisions. There should be timely and consistent decision making that follows the rules.
Our regulators must be curious. They should question, learn and seek evidence more so in regular times than during a crisis. They should be a repository of high-quality data and sophisticated analytical tools and skills. Even so, humility is essential. They should know their limits and emphasise networking as well as international collaboration and cooperation. They should realise that there are problems that existing regulations cannot solve. Assistance can come from any branch of the stakeholder tree.
Absence of bias is a desideratum. Our regulators must offer fair, independent and the unbiased decision that shows that they value the perspectives of practitioners and the public.
They should also be proactive. The nature of their function means that they often act after the fact in matters of sanctions. However, modern regulators are prioritising proactivity. A gram of prevention is better than a kilogram of cure.
Finally, the boards should have men with the courage and conviction to be independent arbiters. The growing importance of regulatory boards demands no less.