By Auwal Ibrahim Musa
The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Transparency International Chapter in Nigeria iis organising a special session titled Public Registers of Beneficial Ownership: Essential or Overhyped on the 16th of October, 2019 at the World Bank/ International Monetary Fund Annual Membership Meeting in Washington, DC, United States.
CISLAC, together with international partners, considers publicly accessible registers of true owners of companies, trusts and other commercial entities as an essential tool in the fight against corruption. According to the World Bank data, over 70% of grand corruption cases included the usage of anonymous companies to move financial assets undetected and without a trace to a true owner – frequently a corrupt public official.
In Nigeria, the President made a commitment in 2016 to the international community and to the Nigerian pubic to establish a Public Central Register of Beneficial Owners of companies. After four years, there is no beneficial ownership in sight as at the end of 2019. Despite partial successes in advancing legal framework through the re-enacted Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) to include beneficial ownership reporting by companies and utilization of audit data in the extractive sector by NEITI to create a database of oil and gas ownership structures, the nexus between big business and grand corruption in Nigeria is still shrouded in secrecy.
Meanwhile, some great opportunities in the fight against corruption were lost in recent years. An example is the failure to enact the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA). This single act has inexplicably jeopardised the asset recovery effort, which the Executive championed with great vigour. Many international partners and domestic stakeholders have been horrified to observe the opportunity lost as hundreds of millions of US dollars are awaiting to be returned to Nigeria by the international community. Without POCA, there is no framework to do that in an accountable and transparent way. Other examples include the failure to enact the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) repeal Bill, pass the Witness Protection legal framework and many others. We call and urge to investigate, who sabotages our collective effort in the fight against corruption in Nigeria and abroad.
CISLAC, with partners, are a part of international movement, which mobilises leaders and policy makers’ attention to the fact that off-shore financial centres, which enable creating of 100% anonymous companies hidden away from law enforcement authorities and others, enable gigantic graft and rob tax payers and citizens of the access to services. In the case of Nigeria, while over 50, 000 Nigerians enjoy assets worth more than 1 million USD, over 60% of Nigerians live in abject poverty.
While the Executive Director of CISLAC, Mr. Auwal Musa (Rafsanjani), advocates for the implementation of the Nigerian government to implement the beneficial ownership registry as promised, CISLAC and partners also call on the international community to support these efforts. It is noted that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has made critical steps towards addressing corruption in the programming and policy implementation.
We commend IMF for working together with Transparency International and other partners to develop a methodology for assessing the nature and severity of governance weaknesses.
Firstly, we call on IMF and all other multilateral and bilateral partners to develop and implement clear and transparent anti-corruption policy, which will facilitate policy-recommendations targeting systemic and coherent anti-corruption and transparency measures.
Secondly, in the context of weak institutions, pervasive corruption, the penetration of organized crime into national governance structures and state capture by criminal networks and individual kleptocrats, civil society organisations should be consulted in the process of governance assessment and policy responses.
CSOs, governments and development partners must work jointly especially in areas of i) fiscal governance, ii) Public Procurement, iii) Rule of Law, iv) Anti-Money Laundering and Combatting Facilitation of Corruption. The registers of beneficial ownership are a tool, which can prove decisive in tackling loopholes in all these four areas.
We invite all present Nigerian stakeholders and partners to join this important session in Washington, DC, on the 16th of October, 11:00-12:30, room IMF HQ2 – 03B-838B. All those that cannot be present, can contact CISLAC for more information.
CISLAC and partners thus invite all to join us in the fight against corruption and for greater transparency. President Buhari has been right in stating that “if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kills us!”
Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani)
Executive Director, CISLAC