• Osinbajo blames secret ownership of companies
• Reps probe CBN, Finance Ministry over $500m, N700bn illegal expenditure
• Lawmakers must evolve laws to safeguard public fund’
Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo yesterday in Abuja disclosed that anonymous corporate ownership of companies were covering up ‘multitude of sins’ across the country.
Osinbajo stated this at the opening of the 20th anniversary Africa Regional Webinar of the Independent Corrupt Practice and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in Abuja.
The Vice President listed vulnerable areas in secret corporate ownership to include conflicts of interest, corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, and terrorism financing.
According to him, the devastating effect of secret ownership and beneficial ownership on economies across Africa required that governments and other relevant authorities must collaborate to stem the tide.
“Although anonymous companies are not always illegal, secrecy provides a convenient cover for criminality and corruption nevertheless,” Osinbajo said in his keynote speech in Abuja.
“Our experience in Nigeria, as in other developing countries, is that anonymous corporate ownership covers a multitude of sins, including conflict of interests, corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, and terrorism financing.”He said that another matter of concern that the international community must work together to solve was that of secret corporate ownership and the whole issue of beneficial ownership.
“Developing world, especially Africa, must break the wall of secret corporate ownership because secrecy around corporate ownership is implicated in the continent’s underdevelopment,” he said.
The Vice President regretted that, over the years, massive public resources and assets had been directly stolen, diverted, “deliberately misapplied to gratify corrupt tendencies, stashed in foreign jurisdictions or mired in and susceptible to pilferage by the inequitable and unjust international economic system that continues to undermine the social and economic development aspirations of poor countries, especially from Africa.”
He warned that, without effectively combating corruption, IFFs and promoting international cooperation for asset recovery and return, Africa could not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 16 of the SDGs is devoted to corruption and committed to reducing illicit financial flows and arms flows, strengthen recovery and return of stolen assets as well as combat all forms of organised crime by 2030.
Noting that there was no magic bullet to ending corruption, stemming IFFs or promoting asset recovery and return, he added: “We simply must work hard at it and be determined to succeed. We must make corruption expensive for those who engage in it and send the unequivocal message that corruption simply does not pay.”
“We must also make all members of the international community see the benefit of shared prosperity and inclusive growth and development. It is the unenviable but noble task of ICPC and other anti-corruption agencies to make corruption unattractive to its disciples and facilitate new approaches to stemming IFFS and promoting asset recovery and return.” We must democratise the fight against corruption. Many of our citizens are interested in the fight against grand corruption.
“Grand corruption as you know, cripples the economy. But they also want to see action in what would be regarded as petty corruption – in their interfaces with government officials either in search for certifications, approvals or licenses and all of that.”
Osinbajo said that many would want to see corruption at the civil service level tackled effectively, as well as more innovative ways of doing so.
“We must protect, even more, whistle-blowers – persons who come forward with information against corruption. We must protect those who are ready to fight against corruption and who are prepared to do so without necessarily disclosing their identities, and even those who are ready to disclose their identities.”
The VP, however, warned that corruption would often fight back. ‘‘And it is fighting back because it has the resources to do so. In recent times, one of the chief ways that we are seeing more frequently is the use of unscrupulous individuals who are paid to use social media platforms to make outrageous allegations against persons perceived to be fighting corruption.
“The fight against corruption is nuanced and hydra-headed; it is not going to get easier by the day; as a matter of fact, it will get more difficult by the day and many will become discouraged in standing up against corruption,” he said.
Earlier in his opening remarks, ICPC Chairman, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye said that the Commission had in the past 20 years recorded a number of achievements
According to him, from 44 petitions in 2000, it received 1,934 in 2019, adding: “It has received cumulatively 19,381 petitions in 20 years. He said that the commission successfully investigated about 5,000 of the petitions and prosecuted almost 1,000 and secured convictions in about 20 percent of the cases over the years, including successfully defending up to the Supreme Court a challenge to the constitutionality of the enabling Act.
Within the same period, according to the chairman, the ICPC have conducted 47 System Study Reviews on public sector MDAs and 5 CRAs in different key sectors of the economy including transport, education, health and the e-government system.’ ’
This comes as the House of Representatives yesterday resolved to probe the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for illegally expending over N700 billion belonging to the Nigerian Exports Supervision Scheme (NESS) Fund.
The probe will also extend to the Federal Ministry of finance.The House, at Plenary presided by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, mandated its Committee on Public Accounts to probe into the issue and report back to the House within four weeks.
Moving the motion, Mr Abdullahi Abdulkadir alleged that, for the past 10 years, the Federal Ministry of Finance and the CBN expended the monies as slush fund without approval of the National Assembly.
This, he argued, constituted gross violation of the letter and spirit of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007, the transparency intents embedded in the Pre-shipment Inspection of Export Act 1966 and the Finance (Control and Management) Act.
Claiming that the act cost Nigeria over N700 billion within the last 10 years, the lawmaker alleged that over $500 million was also expended from the Fund without budgetary approval.
The lawmaker accused the Federal Ministry of Finance of refusing to render its account in respect of the NESS Fund to the Auditor General for the Federation. He therefore, warned that if urgent steps were not taken, Nigeria could lose more money; the CBN and the Ministry of Finance could continue to divert such monies to personal use without public scrutiny.
As disclosure of corrupt practices among public officers subsists, Goodman Akwu, a social crusader and former governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), in Kogi State, yesterday, said that only legislators could frustrate stealing of public fund by corrupt public officers.
The politician, who disclosed this to journalists in Lokoja at a press conference on Tuesday, noted that the time had come for legislative arms of government to evolve laws to safeguard public money from being pilfered by public officers.
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