Knowing the real owners of companies in the oil and gas sector is critical to checking corruption, money laundering, drug and terrorism financing, tax avoidance and evasion, the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Waziri Adio, has said.
Mr. Adio, who was addressing a consultative forum on Open Government Partnership in Abuja on Tuesday, said although knowing how much companies paid, as well as how much government received in taxes, royalty, rents, etc. were important, they were not enough to check corruption.
Identifying Nigeria’s membership of Open Government Partnership as a timely platform to push for disclosure of beneficial owners of companies in the extractive industries, Mr. Adio called on government to enact a special legislation to compel companies to make public the names and identities of their real owners.
He urged the President to issue an Executive Order making beneficial ownership disclosure mandatory by extractive industries companies in Nigeria.
Such legislation, the NEITI boss explained, could be made part of the Petroleum Industry and Governance Bill and should also constitute amendments to the Companies and Allied Matters Act.
Mr. Adio announced that already nine countries, including Nigeria, have published EITI reports disclosing the beneficial owners of several companies operating in the industry.
Besides, he said 43 Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative-implementing countries have published roadmaps on beneficial ownership, with 20, including Nigeria, planning to establish public registers of beneficial owners by 2020.
The Executive Secretary said NEITI published a road map on beneficial ownership disclosure which provided clear definition of who beneficial owners were, details to be disclosed and institutional framework required for effective implementation of beneficial ownership disclosure.
The document also defined who politically exposed persons were and their reporting obligations, challenges around data collection, reliability, accessibility, timeliness, providing clear guidelines on them.
He identified the absence of specific legal framework making beneficial ownership disclosure mandatory as a major challenge to the implementation of ownership transparency in Nigeria.
Mr. Adio, however, acknowledged the existence of laws like the Companies and Allied Matters Act, Freedom of Information Act, Code of Conduct and Tribunal Act and Public Complaints Commission Act as relevant legislations for beneficial ownership.
“There are other policies of the Nigerian government that support efforts at ownership disclosures. They include the Financial Action Task Force, Bank Verification Number, Automation and Access to Corporate Affairs Commission’s register,” he said.
Some challenges confronting NEITI, Mr. Adio pointed out, included delay and refusal to provide the real information on the audit templates, confusion over ownership structure (legal), conflict with existing confidentiality agreements, negative perception of beneficial ownership by covered entities (witch hunting), inconsistencies between beneficial ownership disclosures and information in CAC, use of surrogates by politically exposed persons and government officials.
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, who also spoke reiterated government’s commitment to the implementation of beneficial ownership disclosure in Nigeria.
“More than ever before, government is determined to implement the legal basis on which beneficial ownership is founded from both an international and national perspectives,” Mr. Malami said, pointing out that some business entities exist solely on paper without the requisite obligation to list the real people who actually own or control them.
The EITI defines beneficial owner as the natural person(s) who directly or indirectly benefits from, owns or controls the corporate entity. EITI standard requires that countries must disclose their beneficial owners by January 2020 and recommends establishment of beneficial ownership register.
The roadmap developed by NEITI on beneficial ownership envisaged the need for capacity building for all stakeholders that will be involved in the implementation of ownership transparency given the complexity of the extractive industries.