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CSOs write open letter to President Mahama on beneficial ownership

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Mahama-state-of-the-nationa-addressDear Mr. President,

We, the under-signed civil society organizations in Ghana understand your attendance to the upcoming Anti-Corruption Summit in the UK this week will mark yet another important opportunity to demonstrate your government’s commitment to the fight against corruption in Ghana. We write to respectfully request you to make concrete commitments to a central register of beneficial owners accessible by law enforcement agencies, competent authorities and the public, backed by:

  1. an explicit public beneficial ownership provision in the draft Companies Bill;
  2.  changes to the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Bill to include beneficial ownership disclosure;
  3. the speedy passage of the Right to Information Bill with the amendments proposed by the Select Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs
  4. strengthen other relevant areas, including public procurement and fiscal transparency; transparency in commodity trading and markets; reporting corruption; and asset recovery in order to fight corruption in Ghana

Discussions on beneficial ownership disclosure have gained unparalleled global and national traction in the last few weeks, more so since the release of the Panama Papers. The ability of individuals to hide their identities, control company decisions, or receive substantial economic gains by using opaque company structures present serious risks of corruption, tax avoidance, tax fraud, money laundering and terrorist financing, among others. The potential impacts are profound. For instance, the Africa Progress Panel revealed that Africa loses $50 billion a year in illicit financial out-flows mainly through commercial transactions, corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, bribery, drugs, arms and human trafficking. Public officials, and their family members and close associates can also benefit from corporate secrecy and opacity by influencing decision making for their personal economic gains, rather than the public benefit. Maintaining a publicly accessible beneficial ownership register is vital to guard our country against these risks.

In addition to the ensuing risks enumerated, our country may plunge into further international reputational damage if we do not take urgent actions towards beneficial ownership disclosure. Ghana has signed up to various international protocols that requires beneficial ownership transparency. As you may know, Ghana faces yet another peer review in September 2016 under the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA). During the last review in 2012, Ghana was adjudged partially compliant due to the lack of explicit provisions on beneficial ownership disclosure in the Companies Code (1963). Without any effort towards beneficial ownership disclosure, Ghana could be blacklisted and be subjected to the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) monitoring and compliance process– an impact which could be detrimental to Ghana’s foreign direct investment and general business environment.

In addition, the Ghana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (GHEITI) is required under the international EITI Standard (2016) to develop a roadmap for beneficial ownership disclosure by January 1, 2017 and publicly disclose beneficial ownership information no later than January 1, 2020. Furthermore, under the Open Government Partnership Initiative, Ghana has made concrete commitments to disclose beneficial ownership information by January 2017. These international commitments and obligations do not only present further momentum for beneficial ownership disclosure in Ghana but also offers opportunities for Ghana to demonstrate leadership on the fight against corruption in the region and in the world. Notwithstanding our involvement, the burgeoning global concerns on beneficial ownership will generate a global consensus to crack down on corruption and tax avoidance, and hence Ghana needs to show leadership now to enjoy future gains.

We request that any commitments made on beneficial ownership at the summit include the appropriate legislative and institutional reforms required to achieve a long term positive outcome. Based on the group’s initial meetings, we have identified three main important windows of opportunity to integrate beneficial ownership transparency provisions into the laws and systems of Ghana. The draft Companies Bill, draft Right to Information Bill, and the draft Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Bill are real opportunities in this regard. These Bills have advanced through the necessary processes for passage but there are still possibilities to make changes.

Whiles we understand that the draft Companies and draft Petroleum Bills already include important provisions that may guard against the risk of corruption, they are inadequate to deter corrupt and illegal practices enabled by secretive and complex company structures; the draft Right to Information Bill however has seen substantive proposals for amendments which will make it a very robust anti-corruption tool if passed with those amendments. We have confidence that your mediation will enable the necessary changes to be made to the aforementioned bills before passage and ensure that the Right to information Bill is passed with the proposed amendments.

It is time for Ghana to maintain a public register for beneficial owners that would allow us to continue our fight against corruption, money laundering and tax fraud and we believe the government of Ghana on behalf of the people will muster all the necessary political and diplomatic ingenuity to lead this cause.

Respectfully,

Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas (CSPOG), Coalition on the Right to Information, 
Ghana Open Government Partnership (OGP-Ghana), Integrated Social Development Center (ISODEC) The Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) The Africa Center for Energy Policy (ACEP), WACAM (Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining)
, Publish What You Pay (PWYP- Ghana)
, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) – Africa Regional Office, Ghana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (GHEITI).

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