Many African leaders may be affected as Biden redefines entire agenda, making fight against corruption at home and abroad core U.S. national security interest

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday redefined his entire agenda, making the fight against corruption at home and abroad a core U.S. national security interest, a new agenda that may likely affect many African leaders believed to be corrupt.

The Biden administration promised to tackle corruption “as an economic and national security priority,” and pledged to lead “international efforts to bring transparency to the global financial system” while closing “loopholes that undermine democracy.”

“We will take special aim at confronting corruption, which rots democracy from the inside and is increasingly weaponized by authoritarian states to undermine democratic institutions. We will crack down on tax havens and illicit financing that contribute to income inequality, fund terrorism, and generate pernicious foreign influence,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

The President released a National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM) that establishes the fight against corruption as a core national security interest of the United States. The NSSM directs a 200-day interagency review that will culminate in a report and recommendations on how the U.S. government and its partners can fight corruption.

President Biden intends to curb illicit finance, hold corrupt actors accountable, build international partnerships and improve foreign assistance to better fight corruption, the White House said.

According to the White House, the United States will partner with foreign governments and civil society “to enhance the capacity of their domestic institutions to implement transparency, oversight, and accountability measures.”

“The NSSM therefore directs departments and agencies to focus on anticorruption best practices and improve enforcement measures in the implementation of foreign assistance programs and security cooperation,” added the White House.

Speaking in New York, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield noted that President Biden has called corruption “an insidious pandemic,” and Secretary Blinken has said, it “threatens security and stability.”

“That’s because corruption isn’t just a threat to the pocketbooks of ordinary citizens. It prevents economic growth, extinguishes trust in public institutions, and threatens democracy itself. Corruption takes away from public and private resources, and at its worst, funds transnational crimes and human rights abusers,” Thomas-Greenfield said at a Special Session of the UN General Assembly on Challenges and Measures to Prevent and Combat Corruption and Strengthen International Cooperation.

Thomas-Greenfield explained that the fight against corruption starts with building on the U.S. government’s existing anti-corruption tools, obligations, and commitments.

“That includes steps like vigorously enforcing the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which strengthens business environments around the world by prohibiting U.S. persons from bribing foreign officials. It also means strengthening the U.S. Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.  Since 2019 alone, U.S. asset recovery efforts have led to the transfer of more than $1.5 billion to countries harmed by corruption,” she added.

She added that the United States “strongly believes that we must defend, uphold, and revitalize the international anti-corruption framework.”

“This Political Declaration is an important first step in the revitalization process. The fight against corruption begins with every country fulfilling its existing obligations, especially those enshrined in the UN Convention Against Corruption, or “UNCAC”, a treaty that enjoys near-universal ratification.

“Now, the challenge for all of us is to turn these commitments into real, demonstrable actions. Our Political Declaration is rooted in this existing anti-corruption framework and reflects its well-established priorities. It pushes us all to acknowledge our strengths – and weaknesses – to better fulfill our obligations and commitments under the convention,” The US Ambassador to the UN added.  

Below are the key points in President Biden’s National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM) as detailed in a fact sheet released by the White House.

Modernize, Coordinate, and Resource Efforts to Better Fight Corruption. Corruption threatens U.S. national security by eroding citizens’ faith in government, distorting economies, and enabling authoritarians to weaken democratic institutions. The NSSM therefore directs departments and agencies to identify and where appropriate establish new structures and staffing, improve intelligence collection and analysis, and increase resources aimed at confronting corruption at home and abroad.

Curb Illicit Finance. The Biden-Harris Administration has pledged to lead efforts internationally to bring transparency to the U.S. and international financial systems, including by reducing offshore financial secrecy, seizing stolen assets, and making it more difficult for those who steal to hide behind anonymity. The NSSM therefore directs departments and agencies to combat all forms of illicit finance, including through accelerating ongoing efforts to establish a “beneficial ownership” registry, so that illicit actors can’t hide the proceeds of corruption behind anonymous shell companies; limiting the ability of illicit actors to hide behind anonymity to buy residential real estate; and closing loopholes in existing regulatory regimes.   

Hold Corrupt Actors Accountable. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to taking new steps to hold accountable corrupt individuals, transnational criminal organizations, and other actors engaged in illicit activity. This includes strengthening and building upon targeted anticorruption sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act and similar authorities; and bolstering criminal or civil enforcement actions, such as under the Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. It also means increasing support to grow the capacity of civil society, the media, state and local bodies, international partners, and other oversight and accountability actors.

Build International Partnerships. As part of its commitment to strengthening America’s alliances and partnerships, the NSSM directs departments and agencies to work with like-minded international partners through the UN, G7, Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and similar bodies to counteract strategic corruption emanating from autocratic and kleptocratic governments, foreign state-owned or affiliated enterprises, and transnational criminal organizations. This work will include closing loopholes exploited by those actors in order to mask the proceeds of corruption or interfere in democratic processes. 

Improve Foreign Assistance. The United States partners with foreign governments and civil society to enhance the capacity of their domestic institutions to implement transparency, oversight, and accountability measures. The NSSM therefore directs departments and agencies to focus on anticorruption best practices and improve enforcement measures in the implementation of foreign assistance programs and security cooperation.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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