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Tackling corruption together’

Towards fighting corruption which has been described as a cancer that eats through basic foundations and fabrics of a nation like Nigeria and other countries suffering same fate, the UK Government, in making good its nation’s commitments has among others, proposed a Criminal Finance Bill suggesting; ‘Hundreds of British properties suspected of belonging to corrupt politicians, tax evaders and criminals could be seized by enforcement agencies under tough new laws designed to tackle London’s reputation as a haven for dirty money.

The National  Crime  Agency believes up to £100bn of tainted cash could be passing through the UK each year. Much of it ends up in real estate, and in other assets such as luxury cars, art and jewellery.

The Bill is introducing the concept of  “unexplained wealth orders”. The Serious Fraud Office, HM Revenue and Customs and other agencies will be able to apply to the high court for an order forcing the owner of suspicious assets to explain the source(s) of funds for purchase of those assets.

The law targets not just criminals, but politicians and public officials, known as “politically exposed persons”. Depending on how quickly it passes through parliament, the bill could come into force as early as spring 2017’

The international community is, apparently, offering the Nigerian Government a parachute for leveraging its anti-corruption stance.

Against the backdrop, Corruption has, apparently, become everyday byword in our (Nigerian) society so much so that we have, in a way, become desensitized to the cancer that corruption is. A kind of octopus with tentacles with national and global reach.    The press and especially, Transparency International  Daily Corruption News,  paint a picture of a global menace and a ‘cancer at the heart of so many of our world’s problems’ and more important, presumably, to security of nations than terrorism!

What is corruption? How has corruption become the  cancer at the heart of  worlds’ problems?  Why had attempts by nations and global institutions and law enforcement failed to arrest escalation of corruption in society?

While battling their own corruption problems, the United Nations (UN), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, the commonwealth, the African Union, all have anti-corruption conventions.

The most recent anti-corruption effort on a global scale was the gathering of world leaders, institutions and NGOs in London in the spring of 2016 for the ‘Tackling Corruption Together’conference and summit.

Why should the world hope in this gathering as panacea to all of our corruption problems where others have failed?

This write-up therefore aims, at contributing to discussion and debates on anti-corruption agenda in Nigeria and in the context of the ‘Tackling Corruption Together’  conference and summit and the country’s commitment document; at reminding Nigerian political leaders of the ‘nation’s commitment’ document signed by President M Buhari to tackling corruption in the country and that non- implementation of the commitments in full would deepen further, despair and distrust of the government by the governed.

It is also aimed at exploring possible corruption causation, history and assumed solutions.

The conference and summit brought together forty three countries from around the world together with representatives from the UN, NGOs and civil organizations, for a grand anti-corruption event with the now familiar theme  ‘Tackling Corruption Together’.

A joint anti-corruption declaration was signed and 600 specific country commitments made.

But what is  corruption?      The word may be subject to different interpretations depending on situation and context.      The Oxford English Dictionary defines  corruption  as dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power,  typically involving bribery;  the process by which a word or expression is changed from its original state to one regarded as erroneous or debased. In computing, corruption may mean the deliberate modification of data on a computer and rendering it useless.

Transparency International (TI) defines  corruption  broadly and used in the context of this article as ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.    Political corruption is a manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and financing by political decision makers, who abuse their positions to sustain their power, status and wealth’.

And how did  corruption become human behaviour so widespread?    A sociologist, James Coleman, writing in the American Journal of Sociology, assumed that ‘white collar crime’  (corruption)  has roots in the political economy of industrial capitalism of the 17th  century and that wealth and success are central goals of human endeavour as part of ‘culture of competition’.    From this perspective, each person is seen as individual and to a large measure, responsible for him or herself.

The pursuit of economic self-interest and the effort to surpass their fellows in the accumulation of wealth and status are of critical importance to these individuals….; becoming successful was more than simply one path a person could choose.    It was in a very real sense a badge of one’s intrinsic worth.’

Other sources, including the Christian’s bible, attribute  corruption  to earlier age in human history.

The Bible book, Joshua, written approximately four thousand years ago suggests, partly, that Prophet Samuel’s ‘sons walked not in his ways but turned aside after lucre, and  took bribes…

Greek commercial crime is also testified to by the fact that the Parthenon’s architect had to flee Athens to escape charges of  embezzlement. Roman law foreshadowed today’s suspicion of corporate entities. Roman rulers, according to Gibbons; Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, ‘viewed with the utmost jealousy and distrust any association amongst its subjects and the privileges of public corporations though formed for the most harmless or beneficial reasons were bestowed with  sparing hand’.

The industrial revolution of the 17th  century brought arguably, increased wealth and consequently, explosion in  corruption  and corrupt practices.    Institutions emanating from the industrial revolution, including the government, productive and service industries, all have history of corruption.    The global corporate failures of the 1980s and 1990s and the more recent bank failures of 2007/2009 are all testament to greed and financial corruption that plagued post-industrial society

Affirmation of this position is assumed in the writings of  Edward Alsworth Ross in  Sin and Society: An Analysis of Latter-Day Iniquity;  (1907); suggesting ‘the sinful heart is ever the same, but sin changes its quality as society develops. Modern sin takes its character from the mutualism of our time… Interdependence puts us, as it were, at one another’s mercy, and so ushers in a multitude of new forms of wrongdoing.

The practice of mutualism has always worked this way. Most sin is preying, and every new social relation begets its cannibalism. No one will “make the ephah small” or “falsify the balances” until there is buying and selling, “withhold the pledge” until there is loaning, “keep back the hire of the labourers” until there is a wage system, “justify the wicked for a reward” until men submit their disputes to a judge. The rise of the state makes possible counterfeiting, smuggling, peculation, and treason.  Commerce tempts the pirate, the forger, and the  embezzler.  Every new fiduciary relation is a fresh opportunity for breach of trust…’

What is the human behaviour motivating corruption?    Dr D Cressey, an eminent American Criminologist and Sociologist explores, in ‘Other People’s Money’, motives, adapted for this article, for financial fraud (corruption)    as including financial pressure;    peer pressure,    lust for wealth and fame;    greed; family and or community expectations etc. His work provides us with some insights into financial criminal behaviour but short on explaining why some individuals in a group of people, in similar occupation with similar remuneration, in the same country, choose to ‘steal’  and some do not!

Speakers at the conference and summit failed to define ‘Tackling Corruption Together’.    The presumption, one would imagine, was that we all understood those three words! A definition proposed for the purpose of this article, is ‘the coming together of international community, waking up to the ‘cancer’ that corruption is, especially, to the poor, and coming together to propose a ‘cure’ for the cancer’.

The global collaboration proposed and promoted by the conference and summit was, especially, apt, with the conference taking place in the backdrop of the ‘Panama Papers’.      The data leak in April 2016, by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, laying bare the extent to which corruption, tax evasion, and other criminality is made possible by the global offshore industry.

The Global Witness reporting the leaks in an article of July 25, 2016,’uncovering Africa’s Offshore Empire’ suggests that  ‘More than $50 billion of foreign aid money is pumped into Africa annually. But did you know that roughly the same amount of money is illicitly siphoned out of the continent?

The thrust of the conference and summit was assumed to engraving anti-corruption ‘ammunition’ at the heart of governments, international institutions and organizations by means of corruption preventing measures:  building integrity; ending impunity and upholding the rule of law by punishing culprits      and protecting and empowering citizens and businesses reporting corruption.

Tools and policies promoted for realizing these objectives were  centrally and publicly availability of ownership of company registers; beneficial ownership transparency in property ownership and purchasing; transparency in public procurement, contracting and open data and transparency in the extractives sector and the protection of whistle-blowers.

Statements by government leaders before, during and post conference may go down, one assumes, as some of the strongest anti-corruption and impunity fighting talk. These were aimed; it appears, at pressing home destructive impact of corruption and impunity.    Mr. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State ranked the fight against  corruption  as more important to future security of nations than terrorism, while Mr. David Cameron, the former British Prime Minister attributed  corruption  to ‘the cancer at the heart of so many of the world’s problems… It destroys jobs, traps the poorest in poverty, and weakens security…..’

The  cancer  is prevalent perhaps, in Africa more than any other continent.    The Rev Susanne Matale, (General Secretary of the Council of Churches in Zambia) appears to reflect on this in her contribution to the conference’s ‘leaders anti-corruption manifesto’; suggesting that ‘corruption isn’t just about the individuals that benefit; the crooked politicians, the officials that look the other way, the businessman that offers bribes or the lawyer that provides the cover.

Corruption  isn’t just about the individuals that suffer; the teacher that goes unpaid, the small businesswoman that loses out on a contract, the worker crushed in the collapse of a sub-standard building or the child that dies from hunger.    These are certainly important stories and they need to be exposed. Corruption harms African countries and robs our people of their livelihoods and dignity. It is estimated that over 30% of African wealth is held offshore while over $50 Billion is estimated to leave Africa illicitly every year.’

These are fine and emotive words but we have been here before, countless of times.    The world has had several attempts at fighting corruption, nationally and globally.    The UN membership agreed a Convention against Corruption (2000);  OECD countries adopted the Fighting the crime of foreign bribery    (1997); The G20 countries agreed and adopted the Agenda for Action on Combating Corruption, Promoting Market Integrity, and Supporting    a Clean Business    Environment (2010)  The African Union enacted a Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (2003);      The most flagrant of corruption and impunity in Nigeria is assumed and as reported, to have taken place post establishment of two main anti-corruption institutions namely, the  Independent Corrupt Practices And Other Related Offences (ICPC) (2000),  Its mandate was ‘to rid Nigeria of corruption through lawful enforcement and preventive measures’.  The  Economic and Financial Crime Commission (2004) with the mandate  ’to rid Nigeria of Economic and Financial Crimes and to effectively coordinate the domestic effort of the global  fight against money laundering and terrorist financing’.            These efforts, spanning decades appeared to have failed at countering corruption and impunity.  The one billion dollar question is: would the two day conference and summit do it?

Nigeria, labelled, alongside Afghanistan as ‘fantastically corrupt’ by Mr David Cameron, has, perhaps, one of the largest, if not the largest delegation. The Presidential team was accompanied by Senators and Members of the Federal House of Representatives, Chairs of EFCC and PACC, leaders of civil society etc.    Nigeria was also reported by TI, to fall into the top five of countries making the most commitments in the country’s statement, summarized below, and committed to fighting corruption and impunity –

Beneficial ownership transparency, committing the government to establishing    a public central register of company beneficial ownership information and the commitment to transparency of the ownership and control of all companies involved in property purchase and public contracting; preventing the facilitation                            of corruption, public procurement and fiscal transparency; extractive industry (oil sector and solid mineral) by complementing ongoing work within the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) and tax transparency.

Punish the corrupt and the supporting victims who have suffered from corruption; preventing corrupt bidders from sinning contracts; asset recovery, asset return and transparent management of returned assets

Driving out the culture of corruption wherever it    exists: fostering integrity in international sports, promoting integrity in our institutions; support innovations in the use of technology to fight corruption and supporting international system

These commitments are acknowledgement that much secrecy and transparency deficit in the public and private sectors, oil the wheel of national and global corruption and impunity.

Nigeria stands to benefit not only on global collaboration platform afforded by the conference and summit, but more importantly by implementing to the letter, its nation’s commitment paper. Benefits accruing from global collaboration on combating corruption are coming to fruition as recent press report suggests; ‘Tens  of millions of pounds worth        of criminal assets stolen in Nigeria will be returned after a landmark agreement intended to help London shed its reputation as a haven for ‘dirty’ money.

The new deal signed by Immigration Minister, Robert Goodwill and Nigerian Attorney General,  Abubakar Malami, will mean that bank accounts, properties, cars etc. seized in Britain from Nigerian offenders who have plundered their oil rich country will be returned’. (London Evening Standard, September 16, 2016)

The challenge  now is for our leaders to implement the nation’s anti-corruption and impunity commitments: transparency in beneficial ownership and control of companies; public contracting and procurement and the extractive industry; punishing the corrupt and supporting innovations in the use of technology and collaborating with the international anti-corruption institutions and organizations.

The world is watching and Nigerians, on the receiving end of the  cancer  of corruption, are waiting.

By Tunji Aworinde


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