Minister of Finance Kemi Adeosun yesterday said high level corruption was endemic in Nigeria because it was too easy for people to loot public funds.
He said the Federal Government was working to block avenues for looting and make it harder to hide stolen funds abroad.
Adesoun spoke when she chaired a showcase session on the second day of the conference on “Promoting International Cooperation in Combating Illicit Financial Flows and Enhancing Asset Recovery to Foster Sustainable Development.”
The session had the theme: “Practical steps to stopping illicit financial flows.”
It was organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) in collaboration with the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs.
The minister said: “We are taking steps to improve tax administration, to improve compliance and to generally make it a little more difficult for people to loot the treasury.
“My experience from the little time I’ve spent as a minister is that it’s far too easy to do these things in Nigeria, and we’ve got to make it much more difficult.”
The minister said it was better to prevent looting than to recover stolen funds, which she described as difficult.
“From the Ministry of Finance perspective, our view is that prevention is better than cure. Recovering money is exciting but it’s difficult. It takes years
“We’re still battling to recover money that was looted from Nigeria 20 years ago. So my perspective as Minister of Finance and as an accountant is: how do we block the money getting out in the first place?
“How do we strengthen our controls? How do we create the early warning systems that tell us to flag certain transactions? Let’s stop the money going out; let’s stop the loss, and then we can work on recovery,” she said.
According to Adeosun, Nigeria could have achieved most of its development goals if public finds had been better channeled.
“There’s a saying that you can’t miss what you’ve never had. But when we see our crumbling infrastructure, we are missing what we never had.
“We are missing the road, the power, the capital projects that could have been funded with money that has left our shores illegally, or money that is concealed within the country equally illegally,” Adeosun said.
The guest speaker, President, Global Financial Integrity, Washington DC, Raymond Baker, suggested ways to stop illicit financial flows, including whole government approach, in which all agencies collaborate and share information; indentifying beneficial ownership of stolen funds, effective use of legislation and developing better monitoring systems.
He said assets recovery should be a diplomatic issue to make countries realise that relations can be adversely affected due to refusal to return stolen funds.
Baker also recommended the use of global information exchange systems, among others.
PACAC Executive Secretary Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, said looting takes place through “suspence accounts” in which banks open accounts without names and numbers, yet people lodge money in them.
“We want to see bankers go to jail for it,” he said, adding that better use should be made of the Bank Verification System (BVN) in tracking stolen funds.
The professor of law said bank chief executive officers and customs officials, among others, should be made to declare their assets.
“Many CEOs get richer than their organisaions. It’s time to use the legislation on assets declaration against banks and customs officials,” he said.
Owasanoye said there were delays in recovering stolen funds because “the person holding money hardly ever wants to leave it”.
He urged countries holding unto Nigeria’s looted funds to return them because there was no longer fears they could be re-looted.
Acting Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Addis Ababa, Dr Abdalla Hamdok, represented by Mr Adeyinka Adeyemi, called for an end to secrecy in money transfers.
“We have to undercut secrecy,” he said, adding that if $100million, for instance, moves from Nigeria to another country, it should not be shrouded in secrecy as is presently the case.