The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) on Wednesday called on the Federal Government to make the recently established Database on Recovered Assets and the Central Criminal Justice Information System public to curb corruption.
The Executive Director CISLAC, Mr Auwal Rafsanjani, at a news conference on how Nigeria could prevent looting of public funds in Abuja, commended the government for establishing the system.
Rafsanjani said that the long overdue database, if made public, would curb secrecy that bred corruption and would contribute to transparency in the recovery and management of stolen assets.
He said that Nigeria had continued to suffer continuous looting of public funds because public contracts, particularly those in resource sector, were shrouded in secrecy, as officials who managed the contractual process did so without accountability.
“Corruption thrives in secrecy; unless all government contracts, especially those in the oil sector, are made public, we will continue to lose billions of dollars monthly due to corruption, incompetence and international scams.
“Nigerian loses billions of dollars abroad due to the lack of legal policy framework preventing corruption in public procurement, shocking lack of oversight of public funds and the general lack of law enforcement.
“While we commend the announcement of the Database on Recovered Assets and the Central Criminal Justice Information System, I challenge the government to clarify if the database is publicly accessible to all stakeholders, including the ordinary citizens.
“There is need to clarify if the database includes domestically recovered assets where the risks of mismanagement and re-looting have been far greater, compared to international recoveries.’’
Rafsanjani said there was need to also clarify how the numerous agencies charged with recovery of stolen assets would comply with the new policy in the continued absence of the Proceeds of Crime Bill.
He said that only those measures would ensure that all the agencies that recovered assets duly harmonised their procedures, while regularly updating the data.
He said that the management of such assets should be entrusted to persons with proven integrity, so as to prevent public officials from using the assets for their political objectives and personal enrichment.
Besides, Rafsanjani said that Nigeria suffered from international scams and enormous wealth disappearing abroad, citing the Process and Industrial Development (P&ID) company founded by two Irishmen as a case in point.
He said that the company signed a contract in 2010 with Nigeria’s Ministry of Petroleum Resources, adding that in less than three years, P&ID initiated international arbitration, alleging that Nigeria had not performed its obligations under the contract and asked for compensation.
He said that in spite of red flags of corruption relating to the contract since 2010, successive Nigerian governments failed to raise the issue of corruption in its defence in the international arbitration, adding that it was, therefore, concluded that Nigeria repudiated the contract.
He said that the international tribunal awarded P&ID 6.6 billion U.S. dollars as damages plus a seven-per-cent interest, even though neither party had taken steps to perform its obligations under the contract.
Rafsanjani attributed such loses to Nigeria’s delay in raising its suspicion of corruption, Nigerian lawyers’ failure to file expert evidence on jurisdictional issues of Nigerian law, lack of knowledge of the technicalities, among others.
He, therefore, urged the government to prevent such looting by having clearer and more robust set of laws and processes for issues relating to public procurement.
He said that the competency and professionalism of the Nigerian legal representation should be strengthened, while the legal team representing the Federal Government should be able to demonstrate that contracts, not concluded through proper processes, were null and void.
He said that if Nigeria had argued corruption in the arbitration, the Nigerian taxpayers and citizens would not have faced the burden of paying billions of dollars as damages.
Rafsanjani said that if no effective preventive mechanism was put in place to reduce illicit financial outflows to places such as London, Dubai, British Virgin Islands and other tax havens, Nigeria would continue to suffer from the menace.
He said that as in the past, many Nigerian politicians were flagged as prominent customers in the procurement of luxury houses, yachts and other luxuries with money stolen from the public treasury.
“This case once again shows that we recover only an insignificant fraction of assets, while we continue to lose billions of dollars.
“It must be noted that `enablers’ such as prominent international lawyers, banks, tax advisers and others are just as criminal as those that commit the stealing, and they have to be made accountable,’’ he added.