Juliet Akoje in Abuja.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) have said it would not be feasible for workers in the banking sector to declare their assets.
The committee of bank chief executive officers (CEOs) also held same position.
They spoke at a public hearing on a bill seeking to amend the Bank Employees (declaration of assets) Act 2004 conducted by the House of Representatives Committee on Financial Crimes.
Represented by its Head of Research, Dr.Onoho’Omhen Ebhohimhen at the hearing, the NLC said workers in the banks were not public officers.
He added: “Employees in the banking and other financial institutions are not public officers. It is important to say that workers do not own banks and are not directors of banks. Workers in the bank labour and in return, they are paid wages.
“Therefore, we say that Clause 3 that seeks to bring workers in the financial institutions including banks as if they are public officers need to be corrected because those workers are not public officers and cannot be classified as pubic officers. They are not elected; they are not appointed.
“From the explanatory note, it appears that what you are targeting is acts of money laundering, corruption and others. If that is the intent, we suggest that the bill is made categorically clear on who this piece of legislation is directed at and not an omnibus legislation.
“We are concerned about that because most of our members in the banks don’t even have the money to put in the bank.
“Therefore, we are asking this committee to use the instrumentality of the law to protect the workers in the banking sector who are subject to all manner of exploitation.
“They are not the people who should be captured as money launderers and people who should be prevented from owning bank accounts abroad. Therefore, we submit that only Directors and owners of banks can be captured in the law while workers need to be saved from that malfeasance in the banking industry.
“They are victims of such practices in the banking sector and victims should not be denied their rights.”
Also, the CBN which was represented by its Acting Director, Banking Supervisions, Abubakar Shebe, agreed that while those in the public sector were affected by the provision, those in the private sector cannot be compelled to declare their assets.
“While the bill seeks to remove Customs officers from the definition of bank employee, Section 14 of the Act has not been amended to remove the management and employees of the CBN from such classification.
“We believe such amendment is necessary considering the fact that the management and employees of the CBN are public officers in the meaning of the constitution and therefore bound by the Code of Conduct Act which places a duty on them to declare their assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau.
“The provision that prevents bank employees from owning personal foreign bank account is not expedient since they are private and not a public sector institution.
“The provision will also discourage Nigerians in the diaspora and foreigners from participating in the management of financial institutions.
“So, we recommend that the provision should be deleted because bank employees are not public officers, but private sector workers,” the CBN representative said.
In their own presentation, the chairman of the Legal Advisers in the Banking Industry; representatives of the Body of Banks’ CEOs, Chartered Institute of Bankers in Nigeria; and Head, Legal Services, Union Bank Plc, Sesan Sobowale said it may not be easy for bank staff to identify whether their spouse owned assets or not.
“Our view is that the amendment should restricted to those bank employees alone as it may not be feasible to them to know his or her spouse’s assets for various reasons.
“He or she may not even know that the spouse has acquired an asset.
“We are also aware that spouses can have investment that are not known to their better half and since these declarations are going to be made on oath, it means that it is be made at the risk of criminal sanction.
“We acknowledge the rationale for this provisions which is that it is possible that bank employees transfer assets to their spouses. But there is already a provision in the principal act which confers power on the appropriate authority to investigate the assets of such spouse, parents and associates.
“In view of this, the new provision may not be necessary after all because existing provision allow for the investigation of assets of those spouses,” they added.
In his contribution, Chief of Staff to Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Abdulrasheed Bawa, who was represented by Hadiza Gamawa Zubairu, said, “we do adopt part of the submissions made by the central bank where it highlighted the area of changing the title of the bill from ‘bank employees’ to ‘financial institutions employees.’
“We are also seeking extension of the application of this bill to cover the designated non-financial institutions, in addition to the financial institutions. As it relates to the appropriate authority, the EFCC is seeking to be the appropriate authority to receive these declarations.”
Declaring the hearing open, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila who was represented by the House leader, Hon. Ado Doguwa said since the passage of the principal Act, “the banking sector has changed and will continue to change from what it was at that time.”
The Acting Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Babangida Ibrahim in his remarks decried the absence of several government agencies at the hearing.