In December 2017, the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) developed and adopted ten principles for disposition and transfer of confiscated stolen assets. These are known as “the GFAR Principles” and they are an interesting move in the right direction: as grand corruption cases are increasingly being investigated in a variety of regions, it is crucial to start designing global principles and standards.
However, they need to be reviewed so as to incorporate lessons learned.
Experience teaches us that compensating for social damages caused by grand corruption is far more challenging that it might appear. Reaching an international consensus on standards for managing returned funds will increase transparency and improve the process of confiscation, as it will make the destination of recovered assets predictable.
Corruption has a painful impact on society and the lives of ordinary citizens — compensating for these damages will not only benefit them, but also the credibility of the fight for more integrity and stronger democratic institutions. The right management and disposition of returned assets is a vital step in that direction.
*Fabiano Angélico is a senior consultant at Transparência Internacional - Brasil
Extortion for electricity
Sadly, it’s a scenario familiar across Nigeria. Many citizens’ lives and finances get disrupted by illegal connection fees and estimated bills.
According to the latest Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) — Africa, which surveyed more than 47,000 people in 35 African nations about their day-to-day experiences of corruption, 23 per cent of citizens who used public services had paid bribes to utilities officials in the last year. In Nigeria, the bribery rate for utilities is even higher, with 34 per cent of users having paid a bribe in the previous 12 months.
Demanding action against corruption
So when Transparency International Nigeria (TI Nigeria) received a complaint detailing cases of corruption in Bwari’s electricity supply, staff recognised the problem as part of a wider picture.
Its Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) wrote to the managing director of the Abuja Electricity Regulatory Commission, asking the commission to investigate the matter and giving details of affected residents and AEDC staff involved.
The letter asked for the perpetrators to be disciplined and sought redress for affected residents. It also requested that all staff be made to comply with regulations entitling residents to free prepaid meters and banning estimated billing.
The ALAC sent the same letter to the complaint unit of the National Electricity Regulatory Commission and the director general of the Consumer Protection Council. Despite follow-up letters, of the three organisations, only the Consumer Protection Council responded. Apologising for the abuses, the council said it had contacted the AEDC and promised the situation would be addressed.
Power company response
The AEDC provided the prepaid meters to residents free of charge, and announced that estimated billing had ceased. It also began investigating staff accused of extortion, promising to discipline them appropriately.
Resolving these complaints has improved the lives and finances of Bwari’s electricity users, making their power consumption dependable and more affordable.
Since the ALAC’s intervention, no new complaints from Bwari residents have been brought to TI Nigeria — although bribery, extortion and abuse of office remain common across Nigeria’s power sector.
Speaking out for people’s rights
The case — which had been ignored by the police as well the two commissions — highlights the lack of opportunity for people to voice complaints about corruption and achieve redress. In response, TI Nigeria runs radio advertisements and holds events for communities, women’s groups and students across the country to raise awareness about the ALAC and encourage people to report corruption when they encounter it.
Our research shows that 54 per cent of Nigerians think that ordinary citizens can make a difference in the fight against corruption. With business flowing once again at her salon, Mrs. Owolano is proof that they’re right.
This article was written as part of the Global Corruption Barometer 2019 — Africa, the largest, most detailed survey of citizens’ views on corruption and their direct experiences of bribery in Africa.
Transparency International’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) provide free and confidential legal advice to witnesses and victims of corruption. With more than 100 offices in over 60 countries, ALACs provide an accessible, effective way for people to report corruption and demand action. Learn more: www.transparency.org/reportcorruption