Curbing Extractive Corruption, Illicit Financial Flows

Deputy Minister Samora Wolokollie launches the Opening Extractives Program with members of the steering committee standing alongside.    

-- Liberia enters global transparency program aimed at disclosing beneficial owners of extractive companies

Like many governments across the world, the Liberia government has realized that being fully aware of the identities of people who ultimately control and benefit from companies, especially ones in the extractive industry, is crucial to fighting corruption and preventing illicit financial flows that most times engender drug trafficking and terrorist financing.

Heeding calls for a more transparency extractive sector, the government, through the Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (LEITI), in Monrovia on Monday formally launched the Opening Extractives Program — a global program to advance beneficial ownership transparency.

It is a new cross-sector partnership between the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and Open Ownership, supported by the BHP Foundation. It aims to end the use of anonymous companies linked to corruption and mismanagement in the extractive sector.

The initiative aims to make a dramatic and sustainable difference to the level of publicly available information on the individuals who own and control extractive companies, LEITI Executive Director, Jeffrey N. Yates, told the audience at the occasion.

Liberia is one of 13 resource-rich countries across three continents that are benefiting from the program. 

Mr. Yates stated that making beneficial ownership transparency the norm in the extractives sector can reduce the potential for corrupt activity in a sector that often yields significant revenues. In addition to LEITI, the Liberia Business Registry and the Liberia Revenue Authority, make up a national steering committee that is driving the initiative. 

“We are of the conviction that this program will enhance greater transparency and accountability in the management of our national resources,” the LEITI boss said, while also disclosing that Liberia’s acceptance into the program was through an invitation extended by the LEITI. “Let us commit ourselves to this program. This is an initiative that Liberia stands to benefit hugely."

The program is also an end result of the 2019 EITI standard special requirement 2.5, which deals with the Beneficial Ownership (BO) Registry and is on the verge of being established in Liberia. It is no secret that anonymous companies remain a major obstacle in the fight against money laundering and corruption. They enable corrupt and criminal actors, often with close political connections, to hide behind chains of companies registered in multiple jurisdictions.

Deputy Finance Minister Samora P. Z. Wolokollie said the government sees the program as an eye-opener in the governance, effective management of the extractive sector, and as a medium by which greater transparency can be exercised over the country’s natural resources.

“This is an essential tool aimed at mobilizing stakeholders and creating public awareness for the Opening Extractives program in the country,” Minister Wolokollie, who officially launched the program, noted. He proxied for Finance Minister Samuel Tweah who is out of the country.

The government relies strongly on the flowing of revenues from resources in the extractive sector to support the national budget every fiscal year and, as such, the Minister said the program aligns to the core of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) government national development agenda, the Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development, which deals with governance and transparency.

“The government has unequivocally demonstrated its commitment to the sector by swiftly responding to the international secretariat of EITI to be a part of the program as demonstrated here today.”  He noted that the government has instructed the steering committee to work hard and make representation at the highest level to ensure the success of the program. He also called companies and CSOs to ensure that they do the needful to make the initiative a success. 

“The government is unconditionally requesting all companies operating in the extractive sector to work with the committee to ensure that the requirements of the 2019 EITI standard are achieved without delay,”

“Government stands ready to deal with every challenge that would hamper the smooth implementation of the program.  Through the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, the government requests a regular briefing from the steering on the status of the program,” Wolokollie said. “We want you to work together, share ideas, debate substantively, to ensure that this program has a sweet ending and that Liberia benefits.”

The Regional Associate at Open Ownership, Favour Ime, said the world is at a stage where there need for transparency and accountability in the use and management of natural resources is heightened.

“We, at the Open Ownership and EITI, through the Opening Extractives program, have therefore pledged support to ensure that this global need for effective governance in the extractive sector is met,” she said.

Liberia’s beneficial ownership transparency journey dates as far back as 2007 when it first announced its first commitment to the EITI, leading to the establishment of the LEITI. It has worked collaboratively with CSOs, government, and industry operators to ensure the maximum use of the extractive resources for sustainable development.

These efforts have caused an increased publication of extractive sector information, which generated meaningful public debates and enhanced accountability, Liberia’s participation in EITI’s beneficial ownership pilot in 2015, and the beneficial ownership roadmap in 2017, among others.

“We are impressed with the progress Liberia has made in the past years,” Ime said, making specific reference to steps taken to amend the Associations Law and Business Corporation Act in April 2020 to provide the legal basis for integrating BO disclosure as part of the existing business registration, filings, and amendments process.

“Liberia’s participation in the program is evidence that the government is committed to strengthening its beneficial ownership transparency efforts,” she noted, “We are honored and humbled by Liberian’s confirmation to participate in this program and we support you on this journey. We will be glad to develop the extractive sector register.” It is anticipated that the full economy register will eventually follow.

She pledged her entity’s commitment to providing technical assistance in the next phase of the beneficial ownership implementation - through guidance to reform policies, support with establishing a regulatory and legislative framework that will support beneficial ownership transparency. She promised to help in improving the quality and accuracy of the data, through the design of robust systems of verification, as well as undertaking a risk-based approach to making more BO data public.

Meanwhile, Open Ownership has been providing beneficial ownership implementation support since 2017, working in over 40 jurisdictions to date, including Nigeria, Ghana, and Armenia, and is involved at every stage of the implementation process to make reforms work and to deliver results for citizens.