The decision of the African Union (AU) to set up a high-level panel to investigate illicit financial outflows from Africa into the vaults and economies of well-developed nations is a welcome initiative. The plan has become even more crucial against the backdrop of recent disconcerting reports which indicate that revenue fleeced from the continent amounts to about $50 billion annually. The institution of this investigative panel, which is chaired by former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, followed its recommendation by the Civil Society Forum on the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), after its meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, few months ago.
The panel has already started its fact-finding assignment with a visit to Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It has also scheduled a seven-nation case study trip, with Nigeria listed among the countries to be visited. The terms of reference of the panel include the determination of the seriousness and complexity of the problem of illicit financial outflow in the countries earmarked for the case study, the key drivers of the outflows and the efforts that the governments of the countries are making to check the menace. The panel will also look into the obstacles confronting the institutions set up to address the problem in the selected nations.
Undoubtedly, illicit transfer of public funds by corrupt African leaders and other public officers has stymied development on the continent to the benefit of the recipient developed nations and the individuals involved. In that connection, we unequivocally support any genuine effort to stop the trend.
It will be recalled that the idea of the Mbeki-led panel was first mooted two years ago, in Addis Ababa, during the 4th Joint Annual Meeting of the Africa Union Conference of African Ministers of Economy and Planning and Economic Development. Now that the panel has been constituted and has commenced its assignment, we expect it to be properly guided on the task before it. Its onerous assignment requires courage and sincerity of purpose. We expect the panel to be thorough in its work and proffer clear and far-reaching recommendations that can discourage the mindless pillaging of Africa’s resources. The $50 billion annual loss to these outflows is reported to exceed the Official Development Assistance (ODA) that Africa receives through the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) every year.
The current assignment of the Mbeki-led team comes three years after a damning report by the America-based Global Financial Integrity (GFI), which claimed that Foreign Investment Inflow to Africa has dropped sharply due to illegal capital outflow from the continent which was put at $854 billion (N28.277 trillion) between 1971 and 2009. The amount is not only scandalous, it shows the level of greed, graft and misgovernance in Africa, in recent years.
A breakdown of the illicit cash outflow reported by Global Financial Integrity shows that of the amount, 12 percent was as a result of bribery, oil theft and illegal oil bunkering, human trafficking, illicit drug trade and tax evasion by oil majors and corporate organisations, in collusion with key government institutions in Africa.
Worse still, Nigeria tops the list of the countries having the highest illicit financial outflows on the continent, with oil theft accounting for at least $10 billion annually. Incidence of this crime, the report stated, is increasing at a disturbing rate every year.
We find this very worrisome, especially amidst the growing poverty, unemployment, insecurity, infrastructural decay and debt overhang in Africa. The problem is also fueling political instability on the continent.
For Africa to make any headway on this problem, however, its leaders must look inwards. The starting point should be to develop a new sense of leadership that places the interest of the countries and the people above selfish personal considerations. At the moment, both the written and unwritten immunity of some top public officers from prosecution while in office in some African countries embolden them to loot their national treasuries and salt away public funds in foreign banks.
The task before Mbeki’s team is certainly not an easy one. But, we expect the panel to come up with findings that will help solve the problem. The handling of the findings and recommendations of the investigative body may be problematic, but the objective of the exercise, which is to determine the scope of the looting with a view to recovering it, should kept firmly in view.
The illegal transfer of public funds has impoverished Africa and Africans. To recover these sums, the AU will ultimately need to obtain garnishee orders from the relevant courts in the recipient countries to freeze the accounts of African leaders who are proved to have corruptly stashed stolen funds in these countries.
The message should be made clear that illicit cash outflow is the bane of Africa’s development and will no longer be tolerated. Let the Mbeki panel do a good and convincing job that cannot be swept under the carpet by the continent’s leaders. There should be no room for excuses to discredit or discountenance the outcome of this investigation. The task of stopping the unbridled looting of the continent should not be trifled with.