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21.03.2006 General News

War On Money Laundering

A Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to combat money laundering, corruption and cross-border crimes is to be established in Ghana.

The Finance and Economic Planning Minister, Mr Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu, said the proposal for establishing the unit, as well as its legislative framework, will be put before Parliament at its next sitting in May this year.

He painted a disturbing picture of corruption in the country and announced that a report from the Auditor-General's Office indicated that about ¢10 trillion was embezzled in various forms between 1992 and 2000.

He further announced that between 2001 and 2002, $52 million was transferred abroad to a construction company without any documentation at the Bank of Ghana.

The Finance Minister said the unit was also intended to alert the nation to the immense social damage caused by fraud, with its attendant huge loss of revenue to the state, as part of the government's fight against corruption.

Speaking at the opening of a three-day workshop to establish a legislative framework for the FIU in Ghana, the minister said at a time when the country was in dire need of funds to accelerate its development agenda, there was the need for pragmatic measures to block all the loopholes in the system that led to capital flight, cross-border crimes and corruption.

The workshop is being attended by representatives from financial institutions, including the banks, the Ministries of Finance and Economic Planning and Attorney General and Justice, the Bank of Ghana, the Revenue Agencies Governing Board (RAGB) and the office of the National Security Co-ordinator.

Representatives of the G-8 countries, which have shown a lot of interest in the process, are also part of the workshop, with the UK moving a step further to provide direct support by making available a financial crime expert to guide the drafting process.

Mr Baah-Wiredu said “an FIU law shall be the first step towards evolving proposals for the reform of the law and public policy on fraud, including money laundering and corruption”.

According to him, the FIU would develop recommendations that would enhance the investigation and prosecution of fraud, adding that “the FIU will also be responsible for advising business as a whole on fraud prevention, detection and reporting”.

The Finance Minister noted that another important thing the FIU would do was assist in improving fraud-related education in business and other professions.

Mr Baah-Wiredu said what the state lost through financial fraud set the progress of its agenda backward.

He said it was not easy mobilising revenue, both within and from the donors, to carry out projects, adding that it would not be prudent to over tax the people to meet the targets.

He said illegal money transfers were becoming rampant and, therefore, described the move by the government as pragmatic and a legacy the nation would forever cherish.

Mr Baah-Wiredu expressed gratitude to the British government for its support for the process. The Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Mr Ayikoi Otoo, who chaired the workshop, said his ministry was prepared to expedite action on approving the draft and prepare it for Parliament.

He said the government remained resolute to fight any form of financial crime and warned those in the practice to desist from it.

Mr Gordon Wetherell, the British High Commissioner to Ghana, said the merits in setting up the FIU were laudable, saying that it was for that reason that the British government was supporting it.

He said financial fraud was becoming more alarming worldwide and noted that it was, therefore, commendable for the government to have taken the initiative to work on modalities to check the canker in the country.

The Canadian High Commissioner to Ghana, Mr Donald Bobiash, on his part, said it was important for every country to have systems that would help track any form of financial fraud.

Expressing his opinion about the move by the government, he said it was not late for the government to have started the process now because “it is always good to start from somewhere and that is what the government has done”.

Story By Charles Benoni Okine