Worried by the high rate at which resource-rich African countries lose huge revenues through corruption, illegal transfers of profits and money laundering abroad, the African Union, AU, has asked President Goodluck Jonathan and other African leaders to openly declare their assets and subject their wealth to public scrutiny.
A report on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, compiled by an AU panel led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, said Africa loses an estimated $60billion (about N10.08trillion) annually through such transfers. The report was presented Sunday at a summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The report has stirred massive concerns in Nigeria, which is said to account for over $40.9billion (about N6.87trillion), or 68 per cent of the total figure.
Cumulatively, Nigeria also topped the list of ten African countries with highest incidence of illicit financial transfers between 1970 and 2008, recording about $217.7billion (about N36.57trillion), or 30.5% of the total in the continent.
The issue of accountability and probity by top government officials has always been a source of serious concern in Nigeria, particularly with President Goodluck Jonathan repeatedly refusing to publicly declare their assets.
When the issue surfaced during his third Presidential media chat in 2014, Mr. Jonathan criticised those calling for the declaration, and said leaders should be allowed to determine whether or not the decision to make their assets public agreed with their personal principles.
The president emphasised his disapproval by infamously declaring that he did not give “a damn” about publicly declaring his assets.
“The issue of public asset declaration is a matter of personal principle. That is the way I see it, and I don’t give a damn about it, even if you criticise me from heaven,” the president said.
However, concerned by the findings in the report about the role of senior government officials, politicians and state executives in facilitating corruption and laundering of scarce public funds in the continent, the African Union reminded all African presidents that they must submit their wealth to public scrutiny in line with global standards.
“Global standards in anti-corruption and anti–money laundering require financial institutions to subject accounts held by certain persons to greater scrutiny and monitoring, including senior government officials, leaders of political parties, executives at state-owned enterprises and others with access to a large amounts of state assets and the power to direct them (often called politically exposed persons, or PEPs),” the AU said in its report.
“African Governments can greatly assist financial institutions in this task by publishing lists of PEPs, as well as any asset declarations filed by PEPs and information about whether the country’s laws prohibit or restrict the ability of their PEPs to hold financial accounts abroad,” the AU added.
In addition, the AU said the continent’s governments could demand foreign financial institutions to provide details of accounts held by their listed PEPs, preferably as part of the new system of automatic exchange of financial information being created under the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD.
The AU also proposed the integration of illegal financial transfers as a specific component of its Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, adding that its member states should allow the public access to national and subnational budget information, as well as processes and procedures for budget development and auditing in an open and transparent manner.
To eliminate the opportunity for illicit financial flows from national and local government treasuries, it noted: “Non-transparent government procurement and supply chains could provide opportunities for corruption-related IFFs. African Governments, therefore, should adopt best practices in open contracting to reduce IFFs through government procurement processes.
The panel in its recommendations asked the Bank for International Settlements to publish the data in its possession on international banking assets by country of origin and destination in a matrix format, along the lines of data published by the International Monetary Fund, IMF, for bilateral trade data, foreign direct investment and portfolio investment.
Again, the Panel asked that the global community in all of its institutions, including parliaments, take all necessary steps to eliminate secrecy jurisdictions, introduce transparency in financial transfers and crack down on money laundering.
The Panel also called for stronger collaboration and consistent engagement between Africa and global players like the G8, European Union, EU and G20 to help ensure greater transparency in the international banking system, with banks being required to ascertain the identity, source of wealth and country of origin of their depositors and their deposits.
All countries, the report, said should require beneficial ownership information to be provided when companies are being incorporated, for that information to be updated on a regular basis, and for that information to be of public record.
Beneficial ownership declarations should also be required for all government contracts with third parties. False declarations should result in robust financial penalties.
The Panel was set up after illegal transfers were identified in 2011 as one of the threats to most resource rich countries in Africa to meet their millennium development goals, MDGs, the AU at its 4th Joint African Union Commission/United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, AUC/ECA, Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development constituted the Mbeki Panel to review the underlying issues stalling Africa’s accelerated and sustained development objective.