Global Politically Exposed Persons (PEP) list, asset
recovery and the  international legal provisions

Corruption has a direct and very tangible impact on developing countries like Guyana. The World Bank estimates that the lunch money you leave with the traffic officer, or the private mansion built from the misuse of public funds adds up annually to US$20 billion-US$40 billion worldwide. In turn, the reduction in resources directly affects allocations to key sectors such as health and education. Countries like ours can hardly afford to mismanage our limited public funds and to neglect the needs of the poor, our students and the sick. It is for this reason that we entrust the management of the nation’s assets to public officials to do so on our behalf. As hard as it may be to believe, public servants are not always honest.

In Guyana, the full extent of this dishonesty and the total cost to the public is unknown. There have been numerous red flags in recent times that provide some insight to the scale. Then, there is the country’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index  in 2011, at 134 out of 183 countries surveyed. Unlike many other countries, Guyana has neither an anti-corruption legislation nor any anti-corruption oversight institution. It also does not conduct research on corruption, and the prosecution rates are abysmally low. Which high-profile public official has been brought to justice in recent times?

The risk is that the public sector will degenerate into a culture of corruption and will attract persons who view public office as a fast track to becoming wealthy. They will sit at their desks and actively seek out opportunities to embezzle funds and garner favours for family members and friends. Currently, many public officials seem to be above the law with no fear of reprimand – they are too big to fall. They hide behind the cloak of the party, broker backroom deals, forge alliances and avoid sanction.

Guyana has traditionally relied on national framework for identifying corrupt practices in public office – the Auditor General’s office, Parliament, the Police, a weak Integrity Commission and an absent Ombudsman. We live in a world that is increasingly intolerant of corruption. Various countries and international and local agencies are now working together to ensure that corrupt officials are brought to justice. As a result, international anti-corruption enforcement is at an all-time high.

Although there is no globally accepted definition, the term Politically Exposed Persons (PEP) can be explained as persons “entrusted to perform public functions for a government or administrative body…that have a sphere of influence over political, military or judicial matters.” Significantly the PEP also extends to senior political party officials as well as their immediate families and any other known associates because, “relatives and close associates are also very often key facilitators in corrupt activities and are rightly included in the majority of PEP definitions globally.”

The Global PEP list is largely maintained within financial institutions to monitor high-risk clients especially when those persons are involved in private banking and attempt to launder corrupt funds. The PEP mechanism put the onus on the bank and requires them to ‘Know Your Customer’ and to ensure that the funds they manage do not emanate from a corrupt source. The mechanism is not without weaknesses, as the wealth seized from Libya, Egypt and Tunisia in 2011 kept in Swiss banks, suggests.

In addition to the PEP list there is also a Global Sanctions List, which is a consolidated list of persons blacklisted by various agencies, including the World Bank’s Debarred Parties List, Office of Foreign Assets Control Sanctions, the FBI’s and Interpol’s most wanted.

Another great advance in the war against global corruption is asset recovery, which is guided by the United Nations Convention against Corruption to which Guyana is a signatory. Asset recovery is the process by which countries can retrieve a wide array of stolen assets including money, property, vehicles, precious metals and art, obtained through corrupt practices. There is also a number of actors and initiatives focused on asset recovery including the Interpol supported Global Focal Point Initiative, and the World Bank’s Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative (STAR) launched in 2007 in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

There is now a wide and complex network of agencies, laws and initiatives, which collectively have made strides towards a comprehensive approach to addressing corruption. This has been reinforced and prioritized following several high-profile incidents of corruption. In addition to such incidents, in the wake of 9/11 more than 100 countries have reportedly tightened their anti-money laundering laws. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention are all playing a role.

There are a number of civil society organizations and networks including Transparency International, UNICORN, the Open Society Institute and Global Witness that are working diligently to reduce corruption worldwide. Supported by the multilateral financial institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, several countries have also followed suit in creating oversight bodies, legislation and even anti-corruption ministries.

There is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that corruption is a problem that is having a debilitating effect on many aspects of our society. The onus is on the government to institute measures that protect public resources and the integrity of public institutions and personnel. The failure to do so does not mean that corrupt public servants will go unpunished indefinitely.

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