The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, on Tuesday gave a difference between looting the nation treasury and repatriation of the proceeds of corrupt acts stashed in foreign countries.
She said while it was so easy to loot the public treasury, discovering and repatriating the stolen funds remained a difficult task that usually took years.
The minister spoke in Abuja on Tuesday, the second day of a three-day conference on ‘Promoting International Cooperation in Combating Illicit Financial Flows and Enhancing Asset Recovery to Foster Sustainable Development.’
The event, which held at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja, was co-organised by the Prof. Itse Sagay-led Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Adeosun, was on Tuesday the chairman of a “showcase” session with the theme, ‘Practical steps to stopping illicit financial flows.’
She noted that looting of public funds had been too easy in Nigeria, adding that the Federal Government was working to block avenues of theft and make it harder to hide stolen funds abroad.
She said, “We are taking steps to improve tax administration, to improve compliance and just 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.”
She said the process of recovery could take many years, even as she said that Nigeria was still battling with the recovery of funds stolen from the nation as far back as two decades ago.
She said, “A lot has been done about speaking about the problem. We need to move to how to solve the problem. From the Ministry of Finance’s 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 from 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.”
The minister said Nigeria would have been able to achieve most of its development goals if public funds had been well utilised.
She said, “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.”
The guest speaker, who is also the President, Global Financial Integrity, Washington DC, Raymond Baker, said to stop illicit financial flows, all agencies should collaborate and share information about identifying beneficial ownership of stolen funds, effective use of legislation and developing better monitoring systems.
He said assets recovery should be a diplomatic issue so that countries would realise that relations could be adversely affected due to refusal to return stolen funds, and use of global information exchange among others.
A professor of International Law and Jurisprudence, Akin Oyebode, who also headed another discussion panel, noted that foreign countries holding the illicit funds from other nations lacked any obligation to impose conditionalities for the repatriation of the loot to the victim country.
The Executive Secretary of PACAC, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, also said corruption took place through suspense accounts which banks opened without names and numbers yet people lodged money in them.
“We want to see bankers go to jail for it,” he said.