The Senate, on Wednesday, passed the Public Interest Disclosure and Complaints (Enactment) Bill, 2021.
Passage of the bill followed the consideration and adoption of a report by the Joint Senate Committees on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes; and Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions.
Chairman of the committee, Senator Suleiman Kwari, in his presentation, said the public interest disclosure, also known as the whistle-blower, is a critical component of the anti-corruption war which needs a streamlined framework for its implementation.
Kwari explained that the Public Interest Disclosure Bill seeks to strengthen the Public Complaints Commission and to provide a legal and institutional framework for the regulation and management of public interest disclosure and protection of the whistle-blower
The lawmaker said when it becomes law, it would encourage and facilitate disclosure of wrongful or unlawful activities which directly or indirectly impact the administration and management of Public Office or Authority.
Kwari added that the bill established an appropriate framework for rewarding and protecting whistle-blowers and their rights.
He added that the bill also harmonises all existing policies and legal framework on public interest disclosures, as well as penalises wrongful disclosures.
Also on Wednesday, the Senate passed a re-worked version of the Proceeds of Crime (Recovery and Management) Bill, 2022, after amending the provision of Clause 74.
Passage of the bill followed the consideration and adoption of a report by the Joint Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters; and Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes.
The Senate had on March 15, 2022, while relying on Orders 1(b) and 52(6), rescinded its decision on Clause 74 of the bill as passed, and re-committed the same to the joint committee.
Chairman of the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, in his presentation, said after the passage of the bill, a series of reactions trailed its passage with respect to Clause 74, which was amended in the course of deliberations.
In the original bill, clause 74 provides that, ‘Subject to the provisions of this Act, the defendant in any proceedings under this Act bears the burden of proving that he is the legitimate owner of the assets suspected to be proceeds of crime or derived from unlawful activity or that the assets is of legitimate origin and is not proceeds of unlawful activity.’
The Senate, however, amended the clause during consideration to provide that, “The burden of proof shall be on the investigating agencies and there shall be conviction before the property can be finally seized or forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
Opeyemi disclosed that the joint committee while engaging with the investigating agencies, was told that maintaining the original provision of Clause 74 was in the best interest of the country.
The chairman said the anti-graft agencies assured the committee that they would not abuse the powers conferred on them by the provision, as they (agencies) are subject to Standard Operating Procedures as well as the guiding principles of Chapter IV on Human Rights in the 1999 Constitution as amended.
He said, “The provision of the original bill, which provides that the burden of proof lies on the defendant rather than on the investigating agencies, as provided in the amendment clause, is appropriate in line with global best practices and convention.”
The lawmaker explained that making it mandatory for a criminal conviction to be established before forfeiture and seizure of proceeds of crime or assets derived from unlawful activities is against the general interest of the intendment of the bill and not in conformity with similar legislation in other jurisdictions.
“Besides, the standard of proof in civil matters is on the balance of probabilities”, he said.
Bamidele added that maintaining the provision of Clause 74 of the bill, as passed by the Senate, would undoubtedly undermine Nigeria’s commitment and obligation to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC), which Nigeria is a signatory to and has ratified.
The lawmaker emphasised that one of the salient intendments of Clause 74 was that it ensures the recovery of proceeds of crime with or without conviction. – Punch.