Pressure mounts on Ghana, as country tries to establish beneficial ownership regime

Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu
Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu

Ghana seems to have come under some pressure to establish a beneficial ownership regime, soon after the London Anti-Corruption Summit in May.

None of the country’s laws caters for beneficial ownership, making it easier for individuals and groups to hide behind others and do business.

By existent obligations on the country and following commitments made at the summit, Ghana now needs to enact legislation that will require disclosure of beneficial ownership information of companies.

Ghana made a 12-point commitment at the London summit. The country committed to act on the following: beneficial ownership – to prevent the misuse of companies and legal arrangements to hide the proceeds of corruption; prevent the facilitation of corruption –  by strengthening measures to combat money laundering and countering finance of terrorism, corruption and other predicate offences; public procurement and fiscal transparency; improve transparency in commodity markets; report corruption – Strengthen the necessary legislative and other measures to enhance the capacity of citizens and encourage them to report corruption without fear of victimization; asset recovery; payment of compensation to victim states; International sports – be part of the wider fight to eliminate corruption in sports; Tax transparency – to lift bank secrecy, curb tax avoidance by companies registered in tax havens; Promoting integrity in institutions; and innovation – the use of innovations to fight corruption.

The country is therefore, in a race against time to establish a beneficial ownership regime through the law on companies, to enhance transparency and the fight against corruption, by September 2016, at which time Ghana will undergo an assessment by the Inter-Governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA).

GIABA which is a member of the global Financial Action Task Force (FATF), is a specialized institution of ECOWAS facilitating the adoption and implementation of policy against money laundering and terrorism financing in West Africa.

The institution is currently waiting on Ghana to pass beneficial ownership provisions in the Companies Act, currently under review, and failure to do so will result in sanctions after the review in September.

However the Minority Leader in Parliament Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu has said that the September deadline, to be blunt, is going to be extremely difficult to achieve.

“To all intents and purposes it’s going to be very difficult. It is going to be extremely difficult,” the minority leader said during a dialogue on Ghana’s commitments at the London summit and the way forward.

The dialogues was organised by the Natural Resource Governance Institute in Accra, Tuesday June 14, 2015.

His explanation was that parliament has many bills before the house including the Right to Information Bill and the Intestate Succession Bill which are very much of interest to the public.

“Last week I had a meeting with the Electoral Commission on the roadmap for the Commission to the impending elections. There are very serious rumble strips which will occasion a mid-year review of the performance of the economy, which may occasion supplementary budget to pave way for monies to be released to the Commission to be able to conduct the elections.”

“We are going to be faced with amending the constitution which is not going to be a three-day wonder. The relevant committee which is going to be the same committee that is going to deal with the companies bill is the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee. They need to go round the country to solicit for the opinions of the general public.”

“So it is going to be a tall order for parliament. It is going to be extremely difficult,” Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu said, questioning why the companies act was not brought to parliament earlier and why a certificate of urgency was now being considered by some.

The majority leader Alban Bagbin, also questioned why the house of parliament which faces criticism for enacting half-baked laws and doing things in a rush without due diligence, is now being driven to do the very thing it gets criticised for by passing the amendments to the Companies Act under a certificate of urgency.

After a review in 2012, Ghana was blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force for failure to take the necessary steps against money laundering and terrorism financing.

According to the Co-Chair of the Ghana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (GHEITI) Dr Steve Manteaw, the sanctions which then included Ghanaians having problems with their credit cards and travels, will be much tougher this time.

Meanwhile, it also emerged at the dialogue that, the provision on beneficial ownership was initially in the Petroleum Exploration and Production Bill which is currently before Parliament, but somehow, it was expunged during the process. The Bill itself has been on the table since 2011.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi & Emmanuel Odonkor

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