How the Media have promoted Compliance with Anti-Money Laundering Framework 

by Business Times
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By Jossy Muhangi

The prominence that Uganda media have given to the country’s initiatives against financial crimes, particularly money laundering and terrorist financing in recent times, reminds me of the Agenda Setting Theory of communication by McCombs and Donald Shaw.

The theory posits that the media’s choice of which issues to cover and how to cover them can shape the public’s perception of what is important and what is not. Simply put, the theory highlights the power of the media to shape public opinion and influence the public’s perception of what is important. 

A simple content analysis that both traditional and social media have prioritised matters of Money laundering(ML), Terrorist financing(TF), and Proliferation Financing (PF) as topics of national and international concerns owing to the level of risks and threats they pose to the financial systems and social safety.

The fourth estate has raised the levels of awareness about the country’s Anti Money Laundering/Countering of Financing of Terrorism (AML/CTF) framework which comprises the laws, policies, strategies and mechanisms put in place to combat financial crimes. 

Through paid, earned, social and owned media, the Anti-money laundering issues covered significant space and airtime in the print and electronic media respectively. Expert opinion columns(Op-Eds), editorial pieces, and segments on TV stations such as Business Review, The Link, and Talk of the Nation have elicited constructive discourse about Uganda’s commitment to detecting and preventing illicit financial flows and the unique role of the Financial Intelligence Authority  (FIA) to execute its mandate in partnership with competent authorities, supervisory institutions and Law Enforcement Agencies. 

Besides prioritising the financial crime issues in their editorial agenda, the media have played a more critical role of a watchdog for both the state agencies charged with combating the crimes as well as the largely private sector institutions (accountable persons) to meet their obligations reminding them of the implications of for instance not registering, reporting suspicious activities or developing and implementing sectoral and institutional risk plans.

During the period Uganda was under close monitoring by the International Cooperation Review Group(ICRG) of the Financial Action Task Force(FATF)2020-February 2024,the media kept the respective government agencies in check  by identifying the gaps advocating  for urgent legal and regulatory reforms  for the country to conform to the international financial standards.

A lot was published about the deregistration of companies that did not comply with the requirements of Beneficial Ownership disclosure, URA  established a specialized Anti Money Laundering Investigation unit under the Tax Investigations Department with competent, qualified, and equipped personnel to investigate and prosecute tax evasion and money laundering related cases to curb illicit financial flows. 

While the FIA through its directorate of Training and Compliance identified and deliberately pitched the capacity of several journalists to specialise in the subject matter, the media gatekeepers gracefully allocated reasonably adequate column spaces for analytical content thus going beyond raising awareness to positively influencing perceptions and attitudes of the citizens to demand stringent sanctions against the perpetrators. Indeed the innovative online reporting platforms run by the FIA indicate rising levels of reporting by both the accountable persons through the goAML and the Public Reporting Portal respectively.

One of the most media-profiled processes in the country’s efforts to combat illicit financial flows was Uganda’s first Money Laundering/Terrorist Financing (ML/TF) National Risk Assessment (NRA) launched in 2016 and completed in 2017. The media widely shared the findings of the assessment which indicated that at the domestic level, the most proceeds-generating predicate offences are corruption, fraud, tax crimes and counterfeiting of goods. At the transnational level, the most proceeds generating predicate offences are smuggling, wildlife crimes, drug trafficking and human trafficking whose proceeds are laundered in or through Uganda.

Last year in 2023, the media unpacked and shared the findings of the updated Money laundering/terrorism financing national risk assessment covering a period between 2017-2023 which analysed the overall exposure of Uganda to ML/TF. The assessment examined the vulnerabilities of the different sectors of the economy let alone exploring how criminals utilise the proceeds of crime including the methods they use to launder the proceeds of crime and how the terrorists or terrorist organisations raise and move funds.

The mission of Uganda’s National Task Force on Combating Money Laundering,(ML)Terrorism Financing(TF), and Proliferation Financing(PF) is “to adopt and implement a multi-stakeholder approach that incorporates the widest range of domestic and international cooperation for the protection of Uganda and her financial system against ML, TF, and PF.” It goes without saying that the mass media is among the targeted key stakeholders as the country commits to sustaining the reforms that have seen her exit the FATF Grey list and avoid a low compliance rating in the 2028 Mutual Evaluation. 

At the inauguration of the current Executive Director of FIA,Mr.Samuel Were Wandera in August 2023,the Minister of Finance tasked him(ED) to ensure removal of the country from the FATF grey list and when it was achieved,the Task force has been tasked to ensure Uganda never slides back  due to significant deficiencies identified in the previous assessments.

The ED has prioritized Public awareness, stakeholder engagement and compliance, thus the mass media will be his agency’s formidable partners. It is evident that with an overall improvement in the understanding of relevant ML/TF risks and AML/CFT obligations by all stakeholders including the media, the financial integrity of the country will be guaranteed in a secure market.

The writer  is a chartered Communications and PR practitioner 

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