Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo has again called for an intensified global action against vices associated with corporate secrecy stating that “breaking the wall of secret corporate ownership is an existential matter.’’
Speaking at the opening of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Beneficial Ownership Conference today in Jakarta, Prof. Osinbajo said, “it is for us literarily a matter of life and death. Masked or Hidden corporate ownership is deeply implicated in the sad story of our underdevelopment.’’
According to him, “we know that anonymous companies are not always illegal or are not always designed to harm. But we also know that secrecy provides a convenient cover for the criminal and the corrupt. And we are not just operating from the theoretical or hypothetical standpoint.’’
He said the dangers of corporate secrecy are evident across the world and does not separate developed societies from the underdeveloped ones.
He said: “Our lived experience has shown clearly that anonymous corporate ownership could serve as vehicles for masking conflicts of interest, corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, and even terrorism financing.
“But this is not just a developing world’s problem. We live in a more inter-connected world, and anonymous companies have footprints and tentacles that do not respect the developed/developing divide.’’
According to Osinbajo, “Opacity in one section of the globe undermines openness in the other. We need to break down this wall together as we are all at risk of the evil effects of opacity in business ownership.’’
The Vice President commended the efforts of the governments of the United Kingdom, Norway, Netherlands and Denmark for leading the way in establishing public registers of the real, human owners of companies in their countries and call on other G8 and G20 countries to follow suit.
He however noted that the challenges ahead transcends establishing registers of beneficial ownership to making such registers effective in achieving the objectives for which they were all established.
According to him, “Making the register count will take a lot of work. It will be important to develop mechanisms to verify the data disclosed and to build the capacities of tax authorities, law enforcement agencies, media and civic groups and even citizens to wade through, interrogate, make sense of and use the data in the registers.’’
“We also need to move away from the illusion of a magic bullet. In fact, there are no magic bullets in the quest for openness and governance reforms. Those who profit from opaqueness will not roll over. They do not have the incentives to do so,’’ he added.
He advocated for a set of legislative measures that would “effectively discourage or totally prohibit non-disclosure agreements by governments with big corporates, and to re-evaluate the use of secret trusts to hide beneficial ownership from the prying eyes of the law.’’
He mentioned some of the measures taken by the Buhari administration in the global campaign against corporate secrecy as, “Nigeria’s membership of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and government’s commitment to the National Action Plan that prioritises the establishment of this all-encompassing and publicly accessible register.’’
Another effort worth mentioning, the Vice President noted include, “the proposal for a draft Money Laundering Prevention and Prohibition Bill to the National Assembly in 2016.’’