The Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) held a strategic engagement session with investigative journalists for collaboration on Illicit Financial Flows (IFF) reporting.
The meeting which was held on Thursday 06 April 2016 at Best Western Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, was described by participants as an eye-opener.
Chairman of the Committee, Professor I. E. Sagay, in his welcome remark, observed that investigative reporting and public education on IFF is very low in developing countries especially due to knowledge gap, although IFF underscores the endemic corruption linked to Nigeria’s natural resource endowment.
“The subject matter of illicit financial flows is a complex and intricate one that is only apprehended by specialists and practitioners in that area. It involves huge cross border movement of criminal money, through tax havens, secrecy jurisdictions, disguised or fake corporations, anonymous trust, accounts, trade mispricing and other money laundering techniques. It also involves bribery of state officials who then turn a blind eye to underpayment of corporate taxes and under-declaration of profits. It also involves, anonymous investments in tax free havens in which hundreds of millions of dollars are laundered through several intermediaries, leading to a total anonymity of the real or beneficial owner of the assets.” Sagay said.
According to him, the knowledge gap in IFF indicated by these varied and complex money laundering techniques which is neither fully understood nor prevented, informed the rationale for the meeting.
During the introductory session, the Executive Secretary of the Committee, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, noted that, looting by Transnational Corporations (TNCs) account for about 60 percent of stolen assets, yet it has received less attention as most public debates have focused largely on publicly looted funds. The Professor further said that, to achieve the desired development, anti-corruption efforts must not be one-sided; efforts must be made to beam the searchlight on all aspects of IFF including publicly looted funds, looting by big corporate bodies and Punitive Fines / Disgorged Profits.
Professor Bolaji aptly described IFF when he said: “A rough definition of IFFs is: money illegally earned, transferred or used. That is, any flow of money in violation of the laws in their origin or during their movement and or use.”
According to him, the illicit nature of “the money” arises from the way the money is created, transferred or used. “For instance, IFF may be a situation where money is legally earned but illegally transferred because it breaches established rules and norms and most particularly where it avoids legal obligations such as payment of taxes. Money may be legally earned or transferred but if at some stage during its utilization illegality comes in, it changes character and may become IFF” he said.
Experts at the meeting included Ambassador Yemi Dipeolu, Special Adviser to the President on Economic Matters, who led the session on “IFF as a Crime and Implications for SDG”; Professor Jonathan Aremu of Convenant University and ECOWAS Consultant who led the session on “Transfer pricing and Tax Evasion: The Role of Multinationals”; and Anas Aremeyaw Anas, the renowned Ghanaian Investigative Journalist who led the session on “Techniques of Investigative Journalism”.
During his session on Investigative Journalism, Anas who shared his experience through series of videos (available on www.pacac.gov.ng) noted among other things that, journalism in the West was defined by the People, as such, African journalists must also tailor their investigative journalism according to the problems and needs of the African people.
He noted that, in some other climes, even before an indicting story is published, people resign to avoid embarrassment. However, in Africa, even if the story is published, it often ends there. Therefore, he said, journalists must take a step further by not only engaging experts such as lawyers and accountants or investigators to help in vetting and validating their findings such that the findings can stand both the test of time and the test of courts; but also be willing to testify in courts so that culprits can be punished according to the law and investigative journalism can justify its raison d’être.