Edwin Ikhuoria is the Senior Advisor for Policy and Advocacy to the Africa Executive Director, ONE Campaign
Corruption does not respect borders. Transparency and collaboration between countries are therefore essential to fight it, and that is why the Open Government Partnership Global Summit taking place this week in Ottawa is a key global moment to push the agenda for openness in governance. As the Senior Advisor for Policy and Advocacy to ONE’s Africa Executive Director, I am participating to give my perspective on how the Open Government Partnership (OGP) has been implemented in Africa, and examine new considerations to deepen openness in the governance ecosystem in Africa. I also hope to develop new partnerships to improve transparency in governance that puts African citizens at the center.
During almost 5 years at ONE, a good deal of my focus has been to work with various partners in Nigeria and the rest of Africa to advocate for governance policy reforms and for greater transparency. In 2016, we organized an Anti-Corruption Summit in Abuja, where partners framed Nigeria’s agenda and commitments in preparation for the London Anti-Corruption Summit convened by David Cameron, the former British Prime Minister.
During that summit, Nigeria committed to joining the OGP and implementing beneficial ownership transparency by publishing a registry of companies with the identities of their real (or ‘beneficial’) owners. Anonymous companies constitute potential and real dangers to the economy and security of the countries where they operate. They deny valuable revenue through tax avoidance, mask their links to corruption, money laundering, drug trafficking and terrorism financing. People use proxies and fronts to register companies and the legal owners are often not those who actually control and benefit from the companies. Politically exposed people also use their influence to confer advantages to themselves through such companies, thereby enabling grand corruption and illicit financial flows.
In Canada, a campaign led by Transparency International, Publish What You Pay and Canadians for Tax Fairness has been pushing for Canada to make a similar commitment and create a public registry of the real owners of companies and real estate. This is following concerns that Canada is increasingly used as a place for ‘snowwashing’, i.e. using secret companies to launder money into the Canadian economy. There is evidence that money-laundering is driving up the price of properties in Toronto, Vancouver and potentially other Canadian cities. But because the real buyers of these properties are not currently required to reveal their identity, it is very difficult for law enforcement officials to track potential criminal activities. Corrupt individuals from Nigeria and elsewhere could be hiding their money in Canada, taking funds away from the crucial fight against extreme poverty in a country where it is still widespread.
In 2018, ONE in Africa mobilized a petition to the African Union to entrench transparency and accountability as the foundation for fighting corruption, a commitment which was included in the Heads of State’s Declaration. These political declarations are a good sign that African governments are taking the fight against corruption more seriously, which is key to development. The OGP provides the right partnership for citizens and states to co-create and implement the needed reforms and shows that greater transparency in one country fuels more openness in another. While developing countries in Africa struggle to implement the level of openness expected to deter illicit financial flows, developed economies like Canada can help by implementing a regime that stimulates reforms globally. This week’s Summit is a great opportunity to highlight our common challenges, and for Canada to show the world it is ready to fight money-laundering, at home and abroad.