President Muhammadu Buhari has admitted that if the only punishment for persons convicted of corruption was jail term, then the menace will never be defeated.
Buhari made the submission on Sunday in Paris, France, where he called for stringent actions against perpetrators of illicit financial flows, including crackdown on safe heavens, warning that continuous impunity will encourage more pilfering of countries’ resources to the detriment of poor and vulnerable populace.
The president who spoke at the first edition of the Paris Peace Forum held on the sidelines of the Centenary of Armistice Day, said Nigeria has strengthened its laws and institutions to fight corruption, fast-track recovery of stolen assets and punish offenders, urging more commitment from governments and international institutions.
Buhari delivered his statement on “Illicit Financial Flows (Iffs) and Corruption: The Challenge of Global Governance’’ during the event, attended by about 70 world leaders and governments.
“We must crack down on safe havens for corrupt assets. I also advocate sanctions by professional bodies against transactional middlemen (lawyers, bankers, brokers, public officials, etc.) who facilitate Illicit Financial Flows.
“I would like to reiterate that the Government of Nigeria remains open and is ever willing to continue to identify and share experiences and strategies to give life to the ideas that will lead to winning the fight against corruption,’’ the President said.
He noted that illicit financial flows pose a risk to the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as many countries grapple with the challenge of gathering resources to improve their Human Development Index, while a few privileged individuals continue to explore the weaknesses in financial systems.
“Our experience in Nigeria is that financial crimes, such as corruption and fraudulent activities, generate enormous unlawful profits which often prove so lucrative that the threat of a jail term is not sufficient to deter perpetrators.
“A more powerful deterrent is to ensure that profits and assets generated from illicit financial flows and corruption are recovered and returned to countries of origin.
“This is not to under-estimate the value of strong institutions. It only indicates that asset recovery represents significant deterrence compared to the traditional focus on obtaining conviction by the law enforcement agencies of the countries of origin,’’ President Buhari said.
The President urged world leaders and global institutions to remain resolute on the Global Declaration Against Corruption made in London in 2016, which encapsulates the collective commitment to the principles of Open Government Partnership, especially the National Action Plans to actualize beneficial ownership transparency and enhance the capacity of Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs).
He called for the reinforcement of the Independent Reporting Mechanisms and support for the activities of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes..
“As we take stock of the strengths and weaknesses of domestic, regional and international mechanisms against Illicit Financial Flows, I seize this opportunity to recall the Global Declaration Against Corruption made in London in 2016 and our commitment thereto,’’ he added.
President Buhari said tremendous progress had been achieved through the enactment of global instruments, noting that some fundamental technical issues remain unresolved.
“These revolve around the formulation of policy and regulatory frameworks that cut across different jurisdictions. We must not lose sight of the role played by secret companies, banks and law firms, all too often based in developed economies and their related offshore centres.
“Recent studies reveal that flaws in the global financial system enable corrupt individuals to hide details of their financial dealings under the noses of governments and law enforcement agencies. This underscores the need to urgently address the issue of Mutual Legal Assistance, as well as continental legal frameworks, in the context of safe havens for illicit transfers,’’ he said.
He disclosed that the Whistle-Blowing policy had facilitated recovery of billions of naira from corrupt persons, which, he said, had been redirected to the development of critical infrastructure and programmes that will benefit all Nigerians and realisation of the SDGs.
At the continental level, the President said the African Union had bestowed on him the honour to champion the fight against corruption, which would be focused on strengthening international cooperation on asset tracing, recovery and repatriation, and enhancing cooperation between the African Union and the United Nations’ anti-corruption monitoring mechanisms.