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GIABA Ends 33rd Plenary Meetings

The Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) has concluded its 33rd Technical Commission and Plenary Meeting, as it highlights the challenges posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to its efforts aimed at entrenching global anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) standards in West Africa.

The Plenary and meetings of the Technical Commission, which is the highest decision making body of GIABA, were held from 24 to 28 August, 2020 via video conferencing due to restrictions on physical gatherings occasioned by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his opening remarks, the Director General (DG) of GIABA, Justice Kimelabalou Aba, highlighted the constraints posed by the Covid-19 pandemic to GIABA’s programmes, including the postponement of scheduled on-site mutual evaluations (ME) and discussion of follow-up reports, reduction in capacity building programmes, among others. He also highlighted the measures taken to mitigate the constraints, including the holding of virtual meetings. The DG emphasised the need to review the Calendar for mutual evaluations to ensure fair treatment for all members. He announced GIABA’s impending 20th Anniversary Celebrations scheduled for December 2020 and that a formal invitation would be extended to delegates to celebrate the milestone with GIABA. The DG hoped that GIABA could celebrate the anniversary physically and with all delegates at the Plenary.

While speaking on behalf of the President of the ECOWAS Commission, the Vice President of the Commission, Mrs Finda Koroma, in a special address expressed pride in GIABA’s efforts in ensuring collective, cooperative and collaborative resolve at fighting transnational organised crimes in our region, particularly money laundering and terrorist financing.

She highlighted the adverse effects of transnational organised crime on the socio-economic development, peace and security of our member States, particularly terrorism, radicalisation and violent extremism and the security shocks in the Central Sahel area and North-Eastern Nigeria. She also underscored the challenges of COVID-19 pandemic, including disruptions to health systems, economies, and local communities around the world and providing new opportunities for several criminal activities such as fraud, cybercrime, bribery and corruption.

Against this background, the Vice-President expressed the commitment of the ECOWAS Commission to provide the required leadership, resources and space for GIABA and member States to accelerate compliance with international AML/CFT measures. She also called on member States to improve their strategic responses to the multi-faceted challenges posed by organised crimes in the region. Madam Koroma emphasised the need to ensure that responses are comprehensive and adequate to address the underlying global, regional and national factors that trigger, enable and facilitate organised crimes. She congratulated GIABA for its impending aaniversary and hoped to be part of the celebrations. The Vice-President wished the meeting fruitful deliberations.

Also in his welcoming remarks, the GIABA National Correspondent (NC) for Niger and President of the Technical Commission/Plenary, Mr. Hassane Taher, underscored the effects of ML/TF on global economies and the initiatives taken to combat them. The NC also highlighted the efforts made by Niger to combat ML/TF, including national coordination and international cooperation led by the FIU. Mr. Taher decried the challenges faced by the FIU in performing its functions to empower AML/CFT stakeholders amid the restrictions occasioned by Covid-19 and urged FIUs to own the FATF Report on Covid-19. He also thanked the Egmont Group for organising programmes, including the sharing of experiences to ensure continuity of effective functioning of member FIUs.

In his Opening Address, the Minister of Budget, Niger, Dr. Ahmad Jidoud, who represented the Minister of Finance, the Republic of Niger, Hon. Mr Marou AMADOU, conveyed the greetings of the President of Niger and Chairperson of ECOWAS, His Excellency Mahamadou Issoufou, to delegations. He also expressed disappointment of the authorities of Niger for their inability to host the 33rd GIABA Technical Commission/Plenary meeting due to the prevailing pandemic. Dr. Jidoud expressed his country’s political will to combat ML/TF and highlighted efforts made by the country to live up to its international obligations in that direction. He commended GIABA for its support to Niger and committed to ensuring the effective implementation of the outcomes of the country’s mutual evaluation in line with the set priorities.

Some of the key decisions of the Plenary had been the consideration and adoption of the Fifth Follow Up Report, the Seventh Follow-Up Report and the Eleventh Follow Up Report of the Union of Comoros, Sao Tome and Principe and Liberia, respectively. While noting the progress made and existing deficiencies in the AML/CFT regimes of the affected countries, the Plenary maintained both Comoros and Liberia on the Enhanced Follow-Up Process while it maintained Sao Tome and Principe on the Expedited Regular Follow-Up Process, in accordance with the GIABA Mutual Evaluation Processes and Procedures. It further directed Comoros and Liberia to submit their Sixth Follow-Up Report and Twelfth Follow-Up Report, respectively, to Plenary in December 2020, while Sao Tome and Principe was directed to submit its Eighth Follow-Up Report to the Plenary in May 2021.

Furthermore, the Plenary considered and adopted the Revised Mutual Evaluation Process and Procedures (P&P). The Plenary also considered the revised P&P addresses, amongst other things, issues related to the periodic review and update of the P&P, endorsement of changes to the ME Calendar by the FATF, prioritisation of work on MERs and follow-up reports amid resource constraints, scoping of lower-risk areas for on-site visits, targeted review of draft MERs following substantial revisions after face-to-face, the designation of a national coordinator with a good understanding of the ME process, the adoption and publication of MERs on receipt of comments through a written process.

The Plenary acknowledged the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on MEs of member States, particularly Togo and Guinea Bissau, as well as the Calendar on mutual evaluations. Based on this, the Plenary decided to reschedule the on-site visits of member States.

The Plenary also noted that the IMF had offered to conduct the mutual evaluation of Cote d’Iovire, subject to approval by the authorities of the country. The Plenary noted that the rescheduling of the MEs of Cote d’Ivoire and The Gambia have implications for the Follow-Up process under the first round, and therefore advised member States and the Secretariat to adhere to the timelines for the evaluations.

The Plenary and Technical Commission meetings were attended by representatives of ECOWAS Member States (except Mali), non-ECOWAS GIABA members, central banks of ECOWAS, development and financial partners as well as several observer organisations, countries and entities.

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