Wednesday, October 27, 2010

National Assembly, stop toying with anti money laundering and anti terrorism bills

The reluctance of the Nigerian parliamentarians to pass the anti-money laundering (AML) and anti-terrorism (AT) bills is worrisome. Although, if history will be our guide, it rings true to the character of Nigeria’s members of the national assembly to hold anti-corruption bills in disdain. Similar fate as befalling the AML Bill has been the lot of Freedom of Information (FoI) Bill, Whistle Blowers Bill and several other bills aimed at promoting transparency and accountability in government.
Background to the Bill
President Goodluck Jonathan had written twice this year to appeal to the Senators and House of Reps members to pass the bill, all to no avail. News report has it that the new anti-money laundering bill was meant to replace the 2004 version of same bill which was said to lack the relevant provisions that will make it fully compliant with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task force (FATF), established by the G7 Summit held in Paris in 1989. Nigeria, at its last meeting with the FATF in Bahrain in February had promised to pass both the Anti-money laundering and Anti- terrorism bills before 30 June.
What the bill seeks to do
The new bill seeks to replace the Money Laundering Act of 2004, and make more comprehensive provisions to prohibit terrorism financing. It also makes provision for appropriate penalties for offenders and expands the scope of supervisory and regulatory authorities. It equally places a duty on bankers and other financial institutions to report international transfers of funds exceeding $10,000 to the Central Bank from where the records can be accessed by security operatives.
Both casinos and jewellers are also placed under duty to properly identify its customers and report transactions exceeding the stated amounts. The new bill makes provisions for the prohibition of the establishment of anonymous accounts in Nigerian banks and places a legal requirement for the reporting of suspicious transaction or transactions relating to terrorism financing on bankers.
According to Alhaji Ahmadu Giade, the chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) “The bills (Anti Money Laundering and the Anti Terrorism bills) are very crucial because they seek to fight against financial crimes, promote security and boost the rating of Nigeria in crime control. No doubt, the proposed bills are a threat to criminals. If they come into effect, drug barons and other criminals will in addition to prosecution and possible conviction, forfeit their ill-gotten wealth.
Lawmakers Grouses
Senators called the bill a complex piece of legislation while the House of Representatives members voted against the provision that any transaction by individuals to the tune of N5 million and N10 million by corporate entities with any bank must be reported to the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU). They also expressed stiff opposition to penalties, fines and other financial charges in the bill which were all stipulated in the United States dollars instead of the national currency, Naira, arguing that it would be unpatriotic to pass such a bill as it came from the executive.
My thoughts
No matter the ostensible reasons given by the two chambers of the National Assembly for non-passage of the bills, to my mind, the real reasons are as follows:
1. The Nigerian lawmakers are trying to tread softly so that they do not shoot themselves in the foot. They either will not pass the AML bill at all or may decide to pass it after the 2011 elections just like they did with the Freedom of Information bill in 2007. This is because preparation for the 2011 General Elections is in top gear. The lawmakers are likely going to be contesting in the election for various positions. They therefore don’t want to leave any trail of their sources of election funding which they know will be above the approved political finance ceiling as stated in section 91 of Electoral Act 2010.
2. Even if the NASS will pass the bill eventually, it will be a watered down version which will be full of loopholes. This is again due to the lawmakers’ fixation about self preservation. They know full well that some of them indulge in many of the excesses the AML bill seeks to prohibit or curtail, hence the filibustering. It would be recalled that there have been speculations in the media about the humongous remunerations being collected by the members of the national assembly. If this AML bill gets passed into the law, many illegal and illegitimate incomes of the members of the National Assembly will be exposed to the anticorruption agencies both locally and internationally. This they do not want.
3. We need to also look beyond the lawmakers’ reactionary disposition to this anti- money laundering and indeed anti-terrorism bills. I strongly believe that members of the executives have a hand in the non-passage of the bill. With the Governors being the latest cabal in the country, I would not be surprised if the States Chief Executives are the one stage-managing the current lackadaisical disposition of national assembly to the two vital bills. Recent history reminds us that some of the governors, local government chairpersons and indeed past presidents and heads of state have been indicted and convicted for money laundering in and outside the country. It is not in the interest of many of these politically exposed persons who have been named in the Halliburton, Siemens, Wilbros and indeed Daimler bribe scandals to allow the free passage of the anti-money laundering bill. To the corrupt in the society, this is a booby trap, a landmine which they will want to avoid at all cost.
If all the above postulations are not true, how could the Nigerian parliamentarian show so much contempt for the President who have twice passionately appealed to them to pass the bill? Nigeria promised the international Financial Action Task Force to pass the bill by 30 June 2010. It is 4 months past the deadline, yet the national lawmakers have not deemed it fit to pass the anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism bills.
Any Consequence for non-passage?
The consequence of our National Assembly not passing these all important bills is unpleasant. Nigeria risks being blacklisted by the international Financial Action Task Force (FAFT). Legitimate international transactions risk being frustrated while foreign investment could be driven away.
The Way Forward
There must be sustained pressure from all well-meaning Nigerians on the National Assembly for them to pass the Anti Money Laundering and Anti Terrorism bills. These two bills must not be allowed to go the way of FOI and Petroleum Industry Bills on which the Nigerian federal lawmakers were long on promises but short on delivery.