BEVERLY HILLS, CA, November 20, (THEWILL) -The House of Representatives Wednesday moved to grant the president, governors and other public officers the legal right to own and operate foreign accounts as it passed for second reading a bill to amend the Code of Conduct Act and Tribunal Act of 2004.
If this bill is finally passed and signed into law, it will no longer be an offence for elected officials and other public officers to operate foreign accounts.
The bill, sponsored by Hon. Bamidele Faparusi (APC, Ekiti), is titled: “ An act to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act Cap, C15 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004 to provide for the leave of the Bureau to be obtained for any public officer to maintain or operate a bank account outside Nigeria, and for other matters connected therewith.”
The bill was consolidated with other bills to read: “A bill for an act to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Cap. 15 LFN, 2004 so as to make the leave of the bureau necessary for a public officer to maintain or operate a bank account outside Nigeria and other related matters; a bill for an act to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act by deleting proviso to Section 3, deleting Section 18(1) and enacting an amended Section 81(2); and a bill for an act to amend the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Cap. C15 Laws of the federation of Nigeria 2004 so as to make accessible assets and liabilities declared by public office holders and other matters connected therein.
The two other consolidated Bills were sponsored by Hon. Oluchi Ibeji(PDP-Abia) and Hon. Emmanuel Jime(PDP-Benue).
The principal bill seeks amongst other things to amend paragraph 3, part 1 of the Fifth schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which is impair material with the section which this bill seeks to amend.
In his lead debate, Faparusi stated that the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act is meant to ensure that public servants comply with the public morality and accountability and to discourage them from the “culture of graft, greed, materialism, ill-gotten wealth and conflict of interest in the performance of public duty.”
He however maintained that the provisions of the law as it relates to the prohibition of foreign accounts by public officers in Nigeria as provided in section 7 has only been observed in breach owing to the obvious implacability of the law.
According to him, “the purport of the law is to discourage the laundering of money and fraud by public officers. But it is public knowledge that nobody would use his bank account to launder money, instead proxies and cronies have become ready instruments for such purpose.”
He explained that the law as it is today does not contemplate this development and to tackle it, there is need to make for such public officer, who hitherto maintains and operate a foreign account and has cause to hold same, to get leave of the Bureau to continue to use such accounts, adding that “this would be an improvement from the practice of requiring a public office holder to close any foreign account so held by reason of the office now occupied.”
He stated that: “The instant law, as it is today, does not contemplate this development and to tackle it, there is need to make for such public officer, who hitherto maintains and operate a foreign account and has cause to hold same, to get leave of the Bureau to continue to use such accounts. This would be an improvement from the practice of requiring a public office holder to close any foreign account so held by reason of the office now occupied.”
He argued further that “this development would give the Bureau some teeth to bite, based on the fact that it would be able to prosecute any defaulter and seek the imposition of sanctions in line with section 23 of the Act relying on the said public office holder’s decline to make proper declaration to the Bureau.”
In his contribution to his Bill, which seeks to make assets of public officers open to the citizenry, Hon. Jime argued that the said assets be made public in two weeks. He said that would encourage trust and promote transparency in governance.
“The Principal aim of asset declaration/disclosure by public officials is tailored towards combating corruption; enhancing and building public confidence and legitimacy in government processes; and engineering transparency in its dealings, in the eyes of the public and the international community at large”, he stated.
The intention of the piece of legislation, according to him, is to amend section 3(c) of the Code of Conduct Act, 2004 to :Retain and make accessible to any Nigerian citizen within 14 days, the assets and liabilities declared by any serving or past public office holder, via any medium as he or she may wish upon agreement with the Bureau and to bear the charges thereof.”
According to him: “The importance of making more accessible assets and liabilities of public office holders to make governance more open has found expression in many countries of the world, a better example through public disclosure of assets as exemplified in Latin American countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile etc.”
Saint Mugaga, Abuja