By Yemi Osibanjo, SAN
There is now hardly any credible opposition to the notion that corruption and Illicit financial flows constitute perhaps the gravest challenge to development. And this is especially true of developing countries.
Besides, we have seen how in Nigeria, in recent years, how corruption directly fueled the terrorist insurgency in the North-East, Nigeria. And, how in turn, this has led to one of gravest humanitarian disasters in the world; 20,000 fatalities and 2 million people displaced. Also the adverse implications for education, healthcare, social services, infrastructure and indeed quality of life no longer require making a case .
Indeed there is a sense in which corruption, grand corruption should be regarded as a crime against humanity. Corruption and illicit financial flows are different. But they really must be twinned. This is because for practical purposes it is an eminently more sensible approach to treat most of the sources of illicit financial flows as corrupt activity, within a broader use of the term.
It is also clear that most economies ravaged by corruption, usually-both as a cause and consequence-do have institutions that are too weak to fight corruption and illicit financial flows. International collaboration is therefore the smartest and most effective approach to apprehend and deter perpetrators, and ensure restitution of stolen assets.
Already much commendable work has been done in creating a robust international framework for tackling corruption and illicit financial flows and the OECD has been a remarkable effective actor in this effort.
These initiatives include:
*The Global Forum for Transparency and Exchange information for Tax purposes (OECD)
*The Multilateral Convention on Mutual Cooperation in Tax matters (OECD)
*The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)
*Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Project (OECD + G20)
*Sections 1502 and 1504 of the Dodd Frank Act (US regulation)
*Automatic Exchange of Information (OECD, G20, G8)
*Anti-Bribery Convention (OECD)
*Public Registry (U.K.)
*United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC)
*The Recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force
*Open Government Partnership and the
*United Nations Tax Committee.
In West Africa efforts regional cooperation is underway . The draft ECOWAS Common Investment Code of 2013 provides in Part. 29 (4) and (5) that Member-States should conclude treaties to allow for exchange of information between the fiscal authorities of the various jurisdictions.
The treaty would also provide for identifying tax havens and examining their taxable basis, rates and fiscal administration through the establishment of a regional body in accordance with the ECOWAS Revised Treaty.
Before I left Abuja yesterday our cabinet ratified a treaty on the ECOWAS Tax Administration Forum, which would open the way for greater cooperation amongst West African States in the exchange of tax information.
Internally, we have established a seven man Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption. We also established an Anti-Corruption and Criminal Justice Reform fund with the support of three international Development Partners; Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation and the Open Society West Africa.
Our Whistleblower initiative launched barely eight weeks ago has achieved great success and praise both locally and internationally.
We also announced a tax amnesty within the context of politics. We signed several bilateral mutual legal assistance treaties on collaboration on financial crimes and corruption
with numerous countries within and outside our region, the latest being with the United Arab Emirates, this we ratified just this week.
Of particular note on the continental level is the ground breaking work of the of the Thabo Mbeki Panel on illicit financial flows from Africa. The initiative which was sponsored by a joint commission of the AU and the ECA, alarmed at the prospect that most African States despite earnings and official development assistance, would still not meet MDG targets in 2015, noted that Africa loses USD50billion annually, in illicit financial flows.
The Panel’s far reaching conclusions and recommendations again underscore the overwhelming importance of global collaboration, especially to bridge the huge capacity gap between the large corporations and organized crime identified as the foremost perpetrators and facilitators of corrupt activity in and also illicit flows from Africa.
Yet more needs to be done.
First as rightly noted by the Thabo Mbeki Panel, the global architecture against corruption and illicit flows remains weak, incomplete and complicated in many important respects. For many African countries, operationalising some of these mechanisms may be expensive, cumbersome or simply sometimes beyond their existing capacities.
Second, developing countries are often left out in the crafting of important initiatives, as for example, the current conversations and measures being taken on the OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Project, (BEPS) the components of which are of importance to economies of developing countries. The OECD, G20 and G 8 Anti-Corruption and Integrity initiatives should have developing countries on the table. The demand and supply side of international corruption and illicit financial flows may be better served by this approach.
Secretary-General, Your Excellencies, We must work collaboratively to ensure transparency in financial transfers, and outlaw secrecy jurisdictions.
There must be more rigorous enforcement of rules promoting transparency in the international banking and financial systems, especially more stringent KYC rules on customer identity, source of wealth, and even country of origin.
Countries hosting global financial centers, and other usually targeted destinations of illicit flows must be held more accountable to enforce mechanisms which ensure transparency of ownership, control, beneficial ownerships, trusts and other legal contrivances that may be used to camouflage financial or other assets.
Open contracting and information systems, are also crucial. Responsible government authorities ought to have information about which companies won what contracts, and what they have paid as taxes to governments in host and home countries . This is especially important for the extractive industry. Nigeria is committed to these standards having joined the Open Government Partnership in 2016.
The tracing, freezing and Return of stolen assets has proved in many cases to be exceptionally difficult for most African countries. We in Nigeria have seen just how difficult it is to get back stolen assets from the international financial system, banks that ought not have received those funds in the first place if the most routine questions were asked.
A robust global framework on repatriation of stolen assets which ensures quick restitution to victim countries is long overdue.
Your Excellencies, there is consensus that corruption and illicit financial flows out of Africa, inexorably delay the attainment of development goals, worsen practically all human development indices and trap the majority of her people especially the most vulnerable in a cycle of misery.
Only a united global action has the power to reverse this trend. We respectfully urge that this power be exercised more vigorously and without further delay.