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How EFCC’s proposed lifestyle audit will affect your finances

While enforcing lifestyle audit, the relevant agencies must take note of the fact that social media influencing has become a serious business in Nigeria.

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Access, GTBank, two others pay PWC & EY N1.5 billion as Audit fees in H1 2020 

On Wednesday, the 24th of March 2021, Lauretta Onochie, a presidential aide, took to Twitter, to announce the legality of lifestyle audit in Nigeria, with a view to tackling corruption. She also mentioned that those who flaunt lifestyles they cannot afford can now be investigated by any of the antigraft agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to give information about their source of wealth.

Some Nigerians have already expressed delight in the government’s action, hailing it as a great move, while others have heavily criticized it, adding that such lifestyle audit should be for those in public offices and those holding political positions in Nigeria.

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The implication of lifestyle auditing

Lifestyle audit basically involves an inquiry into the lifestyle of individuals for the purposes of revealing unreported cases of unjust self-enrichment and suspicious affluence that may suggest that such individual perpetrates fraud or is involved in corrupt activities. In carrying out such an audit, there is a comparison of the living standards of the said individual with his known source of income.

There is also an inquiry into the consumer index of such an individual, which includes the income of his or her spouse, the monthly expenses of the family, the declared assets of the family and related personal expenditure of such individual. It is considered a major tool in fighting corruption.

Whether such audit is conducted in the public sector, i.e. on those in public offices or employees of government, or whether it is carried out in the private sector, the major goal of a lifestyle audit is to consider whether or not an individual is living beyond his or her legal means, and whether there is a possibility that such lifestyle is funded by corruption or fraud.

If during the course of the audit, the individual is unable to prove the source of funds or income, such funds may be taxed as undisclosed income, and if it is discovered during such investigations that the individual is involved in fraud or any criminal related activity, such individual may be prosecuted.

READ: FBI ranks Nigeria 16th in its 2020 International Crime Victim Countries

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Is Nigeria the first to legalise lifestyle audit?

Countries like Kenya and South Africa have been carrying out lifestyle audits. Kenya for instance has embraced lifestyle audit as a means to reduce corruption in both the private and public sectors. Government institutions in Kenya audit their staff by comparing the lifestyle of such staff with their income, in order to reveal any inconsistencies.

In the private sector, lifestyle audits are also carried out on employees who declare their wealth, allowing for an investigation into the existence of any questionable source of income or revenue.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission of Kenya in 2008 took a financial controller who was earning Sh306, 000 a month to Court. But the EACC said he owned seven houses or plots, four vehicles, six bank accounts (one in London) and had Sh4 million in cash in his house. What the EACC wanted was for the court to agree he had “unexplained assets” and that the assets should be seized. The lower court rejected the EACC’s case on a variety of grounds based on the Constitution. However, the Court of Appeal held that the Financial Controller had not shown how he had acquired some of the assets.

READ: 6 types of pension plans: Deciding which is right for you

In 2018, the Kenyan Government intensified the war on graft by announcing that all public servants will undergo a compulsory lifestyle audit to account for their sources of wealth. In an article published by the Katiba Institute, Kenya, on 27 June 2018, it was reported that various corruption scandals have been exposed and over 40 persons have been arrested as a result of corruption scandals resulting from lifestyle audit in Kenya.

In South Africa, the government has carried out lifestyle audit for the public sector in order to curb corruption and fraud. However, lifestyle audit in South Africa is not limited to the public sector as the South African Revenue Service (SARS) since 2007 has been carrying out lifestyle audit on private individuals and using it for several criminal investigations. The SARS encourages members of the public to report people living a lifestyle beyond their known means of income. The SARS would usually ask the individual to fill a questionnaire to aid them in their inquiry.

Business Insider South Africa has stated in an article published recently, that SARS has been using lifestyle audits on private individuals since 2007 and they have used it to conduct thousands of criminal investigations.

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READ: Corruption erodes the constituency for aid programmes and humanitarian relief – IMF

Possible challenges Nigeria may face

While enforcing lifestyle audit in Nigeria, the relevant agencies may need to take note of the fact that social media influencing has become a serious business in Nigeria today. What usually happens is that these influencers present a lifestyle to the public which they may not be able to afford or which cannot be said to be at par with their income.

The reason for such presentation is to get more followers on social media and attract brands and businesses that would usually enter into an agreement with them to influence the public to patronize the products of such brands in return for a fee. The question now arises, what becomes the fate of such influencers in the face of the legalizing of lifestyle audit in Nigeria? What effect would it have on their businesses since they are not considered illegal?

In an interview with Elsie Godwin, a YouTube content creator, Lekan Bamidele, the Managing Partner of Lekan Bamidele & Co stated that there is a huge possibility that lifestyle audit may lead to an invasion of the privacy of the audited individuals which is an infringement of their fundamental human rights as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). This is because, in carrying out such audits, the private properties of such individuals such as their phones, bank statements etc. may be looked into even without their consent.

He also added that lifestyle audit may result in abuse by the authorities, as the Nigerian Police having no right to conduct lifestyle audit on Nigerians may want to usurp the powers of the relevant agencies; and that lifestyle audit should generally be restricted to public officials.

However, based on the provisions of the Nigerian constitution the right to privacy is not absolute and an invasion of privacy would not be considered as an infringement where it is for the purpose of public morality, public order, etc. The actions of the agencies carrying out such audit may be considered as falling under this exception and would not be illegal.

Moreover, since Nigeria still battles with issues such as police brutality and sometimes, unwarranted profiling which led to the recent #EndSars protest, lifestyle auditing may give unscrupulous officials the leverage to treat citizens with indignity and may also lead to the abuse of the entire auditing process. It, therefore, opens a lot of Nigerians to the risk of harassment and unnecessary profiling.

Additionally, it is a notorious fact that one of the major problems facing Nigeria is corruption. Corruption is a phenomenon that has eaten deep into the systems and permeated every level of governance in the country and even the agencies of government. It may, therefore, pose a major threat to the smooth running and enforcement of lifestyle audit in Nigeria.

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Conclusively, the relevant body or agencies should take these and more into consideration, and a formal structure should be put in place, and legislation enacted, in order to effectively carry out lifestyle audit in Nigeria. Also, there should be no overlapping of duties in the enforcement. That is, only agencies that are vested with such powers should exercise them. This would ensure that Nigerians are not faced with a situation where just any person would claim the right to investigate the source of their income.

 

Written by Nwankwo Tochukwu

Nairametrics frequently publishes articles from experts such as financial analysts, economists, researchers and investors. We also feature articles from guest writers and bloggers who wish to push their views and opinions through our platform.To get your articles on Nairametrics, kindly send an email to [email protected] and we will publish it within 24 hours of approval by our editorial team.

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    Columnists

    What FGN Free Meter Program means for the power sector

    Without effective penalties for erring DisCos and consumers, progress may still remain very slow.

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    Electricity, Buhari moves against Discos and agents that collect money for prepaid meters

    According to news reports, the Minister of Power, Mamman Saleh on Wednesday said the distribution of the four million free electricity prepaid meters pledged by the Central Bank of Nigeria would soon begin across the country.

    According to him, the government is wrapping up the distribution of its initial one million meters, which he labelled phase zero, and would soon begin the distribution of the four million sponsored by CBN, which he tagged phase two. He also noted that the Federal Executive Council approved N3bn for the execution of six major electricity projects in the country to upgrade Nigeria’s electricity facilities and improve power supply across the country.

    Ineffective metering remains a major drawback to the success of power sector reforms in Nigeria. While some consumers avoid paying for power consumed through meter bypass, some other consumers are made to pay for what they have not consumed through estimated billing by DisCos.

    DisCos have been largely unsuccessful with metering their customers.

    As far as inadequate metering is concerned, DisCos over time, have used this situation to their advantage via estimated billings. It appears that fully metering customers are currently being viewed as a disincentive, given that estimated bills can easily be manipulated.

    According to a report by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), only 4,234,759 (40.27%) of the total customer population of 10,516,090 were metered as of 30 June 2020. Clearly, this validates the widely held view that there are a wide number of customers on estimated billing which gives room for illegal connection to the networks and in turn corrupt practices. NERC further revealed that only three out of 11 Electricity Distribution Companies in the country had metered more than 50% of electricity customers under their coverage areas as of June 2020.

    Effective metering in our view is one step ahead in solving the myriad of problems embattling the Nigerian power sector. Though supposed to be unpaid for, many customers in a bid to avoid the bureaucracy associated with getting meters have paid to get their own meters. We believe the provision of meters to all end-use customers will go a long way in ameliorating the liquidity squeeze in the power sector whilst also providing cashflow to the DisCos for investment in equipment needed to evacuate unused electricity to consumers nationwide.

    We laud the FG’s efforts at distributing meters freely to end-users, but we note that without effective penalties for erring DisCos and consumers, progress may still remain very slow.

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    CSL Stockbrokers Limited, Lagos (CSLS) is a wholly owned subsidiary of FCMB Group Plc and is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Nigeria. CSLS is a member of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

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    Tasks before the AfCFTA dispute settlement body

    The success of the AfCFTA will depend largely on the willingness of the member states to adhere to the agreement.

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    The Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) held its inaugural meeting on 26 April 2021 at the AfCFTA Secretariat in Accra Ghana. The DSB is composed of the representatives of the State Parties and shall have the power to establish Dispute Settlement Panels and an Appellate Body responsible for settlement of disputes between the member States.

    The mandate of the DSB also extends to adopting the reports of the Panels and Appeal Body as well as monitoring and ensuring the implementation of the ensuing decisions. In carrying out its mandates, the DSB will work with the AfCFTA Secretariat while maintaining its independence in the area of dispute settlement.

    The inaugural meeting signals the readiness of the AfCFTA dispute settlement infrastructure to take up any disputes that may arise in the course of trading amongst the member States. Disputes are inevitable in any free trade area and when any such disputes arise under the AfCFTA, the resolution is to be in line with the Protocol on Rules and Procedures on the Settlement of Disputes which forms part of Phase I Negotiation.

    Recognizing its importance to the success of the trade deal itself, the Protocol proclaims that “the dispute settlement mechanism of the AfCFTA is a central element in providing security and predictability of the system” and “shall preserve the rights and obligations of State Parties under the Agreement and clarify the existing provisions of the Agreement in accordance with customary rules of interpretation of public international law.”

    Though inspired by the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s dispute settlement architecture, the AfCFTA framework is meant to address some of the lapses in the WTO. In an exclusive opinion piece for “The Africa Report”, Mr Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General of the AfCFTA, explained how the AfCFTA will work in order to avoid the pitfalls of other trading blocs. As noted in the report:

    The WTO’s tribunal of final instance for global trade disputes, the Appellate Body, has been reduced to irrelevance over disagreements on its composition. The paralysis of both the WTO’s negotiating and dispute settlement arms means that trade disputes between China and the United States, two of the WTO’s largest members, have flared into open hostility.”

    Drawing from the WTO experience, the African States in negotiating the free trade treaty cherry-picked the aspects of the WTO’s dispute settlement system that have worked and jettisoned the problematic parts.

    At the Virtual Press Conference held on 04 May 2021 to update the public on the status of the implementation of the AfCFTA and the progress made so far, the AfCFTA Secretary-General re-echoed the importance of the dispute settlement mechanism to the success of the AfCFTA while answering questions from journalists across Africa. Commenting on the milestone achievement recorded with the inaugural meeting of the DSB, he noted that:

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    “The dispute settlement is really the mechanism and is at the heart of the African Continental Free Trade Area. And it is at the heart of what we mean by a rule-based trading system. And at the heart of what we mean by market certainty and predictability. For the first time on the African continent, there is a dispute settlement body that will have oversight over all the disputes that arise under the agreement whether there are investments related, trade in goods, trade in services, market access related disputes. This body will have oversight over all of that.”

    All eyes are now on the AfCFTA DSB as it shoulders the task of ensuring that disputes between member States are resolved in an efficient, transparent, fair and impartial manner. The starting point is to ensure that persons appointed to be members of the Dispute Settlement Panels and Appellate Body have the expertise and experience in the subject matter of the dispute and are chosen strictly on the basis of objectivity.

    There is an even more important corresponding duty on the State Parties when nominating persons to be included on the indicative list or roster of individuals to serve as Panelists to ensure that nomination is based on merit and proven expertise on the subject matter. The member States should eschew any nepotistic or tribal considerations in nominating State representatives. The Nigerian government should resist the temptation to premise its nominations on Federal Character or other ethnic or religious considerations as we’ve seen in recent appointments.

    Recent events such as the reported discriminatory measures against Nigerian traders in Ghana, the closure of the Nigerian border with Benin Republic, the Xenophobic attacks in South Africa on African businesses and the retaliatory attack on South African-owned businesses present examples of the kind of disputes that may come up before the AfCFTA DSB assuming that similar issues arise in the future. Others may include disputes over conflicting public policies, tariffs and non-tariff barriers, rules of origin, dumping, regulatory excessiveness, standardization, trans-shipment, taxation, market access, and consumer protection etc.

    The AfCFTA dispute settlement mechanism is restricted to State-to-State disputes. The treaty is silent on the mechanism for the resolution of disputes between private individuals. Notwithstanding this limitation, the private sector participants such as the SMEs and other business entities will be able to petition their governments to implement the rights and obligations set out in the agreement establishing the AfCFTA. That way, the rights of the private sector can be enforced using the State instrument.

    For instance, in a situation where citizens of a member State are being subjected to discriminatory measures in another AfCFTA member country, the affected country may decide to refer the case to the DSB on behalf of its citizens, after exhausting the amicable settlement options such as Good Offices, Consultations, Conciliation and Mediation. It is not yet clear what yardstick will guide such referrals or to what extent such anti-free-trade measures will impact on the citizens of the member state before it decides to challenge the infractions at the DSB. Whatever the case, where a member state fails to protect the rights of its citizens, the affected traders may seek other legal remedies available under the national laws or within any bilateral and multilateral instruments applicable to the disputes.

    In relation to investment disputes, the ongoing negotiation of the AfCFTA Protocol on Investment is meant to clarify the uncertainty around the framework for resolving investor-state disputes. The member states in choosing to resolve their disputes within the AfCFTA framework should be aware of the fork-in-road provision under article 3(4) of the Protocol, which precludes a State Party who has invoked the dispute settlement procedure under the Protocol with regards to a specific matter from invoking another forum for dispute settlement on the same matter.  Another area of interest is the enforcement of decisions reached under the AfCFTA dispute settlement process.

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    The effectiveness of a dispute resolution mechanism is often measured with the 3 E’s which are efficiency, expertise, and enforceability. Challenges will likely arise in relation to compliance with decisions under the AfCFTA as we have seen under the WTO and other regional trade treaties.  It is hoped that the desire to enhance investors’ confidence and the spirit of amity will spur the AfCFTA members to comply with decisions made by the dispute settlement bodies. In the end, the success of the AfCFTA will depend largely on the willingness of the member states to adhere to the agreement and to eschew any form of self-help when they perceive any breach of the trade deal.

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