New rules as Buhari firms up anti-graft plans
• Stricter penalties against tax evasion coming
• Cameron praises president, to stop flow of ‘dirty’ money
• Kofi Annan’s panel wants UK to lead anti-graft campaign
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday disclosed that in furtherance of the country’s ongoing war against corruption, his administration would soon begin the full implementation of the principles of the Open Contracting Data Standards (OCDS).
The OCDS enables disclosure of data and documents at all stages of the contracting process by defining a common data model. The publication of OCDS data ensures greater transparency in public contracting, and can support accessible and in-depth analysis of the efficiency, effectiveness, fairness, and integrity of public contracting systems.
At the one-day Anti-Corruption Summit hosted by the British Prime Minister David Cameron at the Lancaster House, in London, Buhari said that the Federal Government would apply the OCDS to major projects in the oil, transportation, power, health, education and other sectors.At the event, Cameron announced plans to stop the flow of dirty money through the London property market.
The foreign firms that own more than 100,000 titles in Britain, many of them anonymous offshore companies, will have to reveal their true owners, as will any foreign firms buying new property or bidding for government contracts.
A statement by his spokesman, Femi Adesina, quoted Buhari as saying that his administration was also taking steps to ensure greater transparency of the ownership and control of all companies involved in property purchase and public contracting.
“Nigeria is already collating this information through the Extractive Industry Initiative process and will extend it to other sectors. Nigeria will establish a transparent central register of foreign companies bidding on public contracts and buying property. We welcome the proposal by developed countries to work together to improve the access of developing countries to beneficial ownership information for use in public contracting.”
He also welcomed a proposal to restrict the ability of those involved in corruption to travel, invest and do business overseas.
“We commit to joining the pilot initiative for automatic exchange of beneficial information. Nigeria commits to deploying public-private information sharing partnerships to bring together governments, law enforcement, regulators and the financial sector to detect, prevent and disrupt money laundering linked to corruption.
“We are committed to working together to enhance company disclosure on the payments to governments for the sale of oil, gas and minerals, complementing ongoing work within the EITI.
“Nigeria is already reporting progress through the EITI working groups and will continue to work with interested countries to build a common understanding and strengthen the evidence for transparency in this area.
“We welcome voluntary disclosures through EITI reporting and by some major companies regarding payments to governments for the sale of oil, gas and minerals.
“We welcome the new 2016 EITI Standard, in particular the requirements on beneficial ownership and the sale of the government’s share of production. We will sign up to the Common Reporting Standard initiative.
“We are committed to reviewing penalties and other actions against professional enablers of tax evasion, including for corporations that fail to prevent their employees from facilitating tax evasion.
“We support the development of a global commitment to country by country reporting on tax information for large multinational enterprises. We are committed to the strengthening of our asset recovery legislation, including through non-conviction based confiscation powers and the introduction of unexplained wealth orders.
“In order to improve on the current legal procedures and ease asset recovery procedures, we have drafted the Proceeds of Crime Bill which provides for the transparent management of recovered funds and assets and a non-conviction based approach to asset recovery.
“We will work with others countries, civil society, international organisations to support accelerated implementation of the voluntary provisions of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and we commit to the implementation of the outstanding obligations under the UNCAC.
“We support the establishment of an International Anti-Corruption Coordination Centre to be managed by National Crimes Agency of Britain. We will work with NCA in promoting this centre in the African region,” the president said.
The measures by Britain, intended to combat money laundering, were announced as Cameron seeks to build on public anger over the leaked Panama Papers to secure a new global commitment to tackle corruption at the summit.
The presidents of Afghanistan, Colombia, Ghana, Norway and Sri Lanka, United States Secretary of State John Kerry and the heads of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are among those attending.
Cameron’s efforts were hampered by a gaffe in which he was caught on camera bragging that the leaders of some “fantastically corrupt” countries were attending the summit, naming Nigeria and Afghanistan. But according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) while briefing Members of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Cameron said Nigeria and Afghanistan had taken “remarkable steps forward” on corruption.
Meanwhile, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan-led African Progress Panel has called on the United Kingdom to show leadership.The panel in a statement said the summit provided an opportunity for the UK government to show leadership again as it did at the G8 Summit in 2013 at Lough Erne on the issues of tax and transparency.
“Transparency is a critical weapon in the fight back against corruption. For too long corporate secrecy has enabled corruption to thrive. The panel thus remains a strong advocate for the establishment of a public central registry of beneficial ownership information, for which there is now increasing international support,” the panel said.
Buhari, who has embarked on a widespread anti-corruption campaign since taking office last year, responded with a pointed request that Britain return assets stolen by corrupt officials who fled to London.
Cameron later paid tribute to the efforts of both Buhari and Afghanistan’s Ashraf Ghani in tackling corruption, and in a statement acknowledged: “The evil of corruption reaches into every corner of the world. A global problem needs a truly global solution. It needs an unprecedented, courageous commitment from world leaders to stand united, to speak …”
There were reports, however, that the final declaration was being watered down. It was also unclear exactly who would be signing up, with officials only confirming a handful of the 50 nations said to be attending the summit.
The move to shine a light on the property market in Britain, particularly in London, where 44,000 titles are owned by foreign firms, had been well trailed and were welcomed by transparency campaigners.
More than £180 million ($260 million, 228 million euros) of property in Britain was investigated as suspected proceeds of corruption between 2004 and 2014, according to Transparency International, which says this figure is just the “tip of the iceberg”.
Britain also announced it would set up a new international centre, with help from the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland, to help coordinate global anti-corruption efforts.
It also hailed France, the Netherlands, Nigeria, and Afghanistan for taking the same action as Britain in creating a public register of who ultimately owns all companies incorporated in those countries.
This register will not be extended to Britain’s overseas territories, however, despite demands by campaigners to introduce a move they said would open up key players in global financial secrecy.
More than half of the 214,000 companies represented by the Panamanian law firm at the centre of the leaks, Mossack Fonseca, were incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.
Instead, some of the overseas territories are among 40 jurisdictions automatically sharing company ownership details with law enforcement agencies under a new deal, officials said.
Territories such as the Cayman Islands, which will be represented at the summit although the BVI and Panama will not be, say a public register is unnecessary.
Jose Ugaz, chairman of Transparency International, a leading advocacy group, welcomed the move on public registries.“Bit by bit they are making it harder to hide the proceeds of corruption. But we need more progress on public disclosure of company information,” he said.
Robert Palmer, of campaigners Global Witness, added that the government announcements represented “good progress”, “but the biggest piece of the puzzle is still missing — the tax havens must open up.”
French Finance Minister Michel Sapin was quoted to have urged Britain to “go right to the end” to enforce the same levels of transparency in the tax havens as elsewhere.
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