Vice President Yemi Osinbajo says there is need for stakeholders in Africa including governments to collaborate in curbing the adverse effect of secret and beneficial ownership of corporate businesses on economies across the continent.
Osinbajo expressed this view in his virtual address at the 20th Anniversary of Africa Regional Webinar of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) on Tuesday in Abuja.
The theme of the webinar is Combating Corruption and Illicit Financial Flows: New Measure and Strategies.
“One more matter of concern that the international community must work together to solve is the matter of secret corporate ownership and the whole issue of beneficial ownership.
“For us in the developing world and especially in Africa, breaking the wall of secret corporate ownership is crucial because secrecy around corporate ownership is implicated in our underdevelopment.
“ Although anonymous companies are not always illegal, nevertheless secrecy provides a convenient cover for criminality and corruption.
“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 even terrorism financing.’’
The Vice President said that at the May 2016 London Anti-Corruption Summit, President Muhammadu Buhari made a commitment to establish a public register of the beneficial owners of all companies operating in Nigeria.
He said that following that commitment, Nigeria joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in December 2016 and subsequently submitted a National Action Plan prioritising the establishment of an all-encompassing and publicly accessible register.
According to him, Nigeria is in the process of amending its corporate law to implement these measures and mandate the disclosure of beneficial interest in a company’s shares and prescribe punitive measures for failure to disclose.
“We are mindful of the challenges dogging advocacy for stemming Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs), promotion of asset recovery and return to victim countries, and enforcement of beneficial ownership disclosure not just in our country but globally.
“We note for example, the resistance of some countries to IFFs, curbing tax evasion and support asset return to countries of origin.
“We note that laws passed in some developed countries to mandate beneficial ownership disclosure do not set examples for best practice as they do not cover territories and dependencies where most of the stolen assets from developed countries end up.
“I sincerely hope this regional webinar will advance the advocacy further and bring up innovative solutions to these internationally shared concerns.’’
Osinbajo said there was no magic bullet to ending corruption, stemming IFFs or promoting asset recovery and asset return.
He said that everybody must work hard at it and be determined to succeed.
The vice president said that corruption must be made expensive for those who engage in it and send the unequivocal message that corruption simply did 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.
“As you ruminate on the key issues to dominate the UN General Assembly Special Session on Corruption in 2021, I urge you to come up with concrete proposals for Nigeria to take to the UN.
“Also, for all of our colleagues in the region, to take to the UN in order to begin to positively shape policy in a way and manner that best promotes the interest of our country and region,’’ he said.
He said that the fight against corruption must be democratised as many citizens were interested in the fight against grand corruption which crippled the economy.
The vice added that whistle-blowers – persons who come forward with information against corruption–must be protected.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, ICPC Chairman, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward kallon, members of the National Assembly among others joined the webinar. (NAN)