Peter Tosh, a musician of great repute once sang that,
‘If you are living in a glass house, don’t throw stones’.
So it comes as a surprise to me that David Cameron, the British Prime Minister has decided to hold an anti-corruption summit, only a few weeks after the Panama Papers revealed that he had profited from owning shares in a tax haven fund. Maybe, in his mind, corruption and tax evasion are mutually exclusive. Not so. So let me introduce him to some facts:
Fact: Across the African continent, only 3 percent of all the monies of illicit financial flows are derived from government corruption, while 33 percent comes from organized criminal activity and 64 percent from trade manipulations. For example, a 2011 World Bank Research in Malawi estimated corruption at 5% of GDP whilst tax evasion made up a whopping 8-12% of GDP. The Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimates that a record US$991.2 billion in illicit capital flowed out of developing and emerging economies in 2012—facilitating crime, corruption, and tax evasion. Thus corruption is only ONE, and actually the LEAST, of the factors to be taken into consideration in fighting a much deeper evil – the bleeding of Africa’s financial resources.
If this is the case, why is David Cameron focusing on the 3% of illicit financial flows from corruption and not on the other 97% from organized crime and trade manipulations? I am not in any way, shape or form holding brief for any corrupt African leader. All I am saying is that the scope of David Cameron’s meeting could be far wider and do much more than is currently being done.
Fact: The City of London the seat of government of the British Empire, is itself a tax haven. Since the times of William the Conqueror in 1067, the City of London has had its own system of debt financing that overrides local laws and makes it possible for monies (plural) to be laundered on a massive scale.
Typically monies that leave Africa to end up in developed countries and in tax havens, such as the City of London. In my opinion, I respectfully believe that the British Prime Minister should be looking closer to home.
Fact: Her Majesty’s British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies make up around 25 per cent of the world’s tax havens, which are now blacklisted by the European Commission and now ranked as the most important player in the financial secrecy world. British Tax havens featured on the EC’s blacklist of June last year include Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands to name just a few and each is inextricably linked to the City of London.
Fact: Tax havens provide the optimum environment for hiding monies from illicit flows. A tax haven is defined by Investopia as ‘a country that offers foreign individuals and businesses little or no tax liability in a politically and economically stable environment. Tax havens also provide little or no financial information to foreign tax authorities’. Tax havens therefore are sovereign jurisdictions that provide financial havens for persons at reduced tax rates (lower than their own countries) and also keep the identities of the owners and facilitators of the transactions secret. . Recent numbers by the Center for Global Development indicate that developing countries lose between $8 billion to $100 billion a year in illicit flows to Switzerland alone. A tax activist friend of mine used to say that the Global anti-corruption index should rather be turned upside down. Switzerland, on the contrary, should be ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. I agree.
So back to the Anti-Corruption Summit. I have perused through all the African countries statements and that of the developed countries and a few issues interest me.
Firstly, I find it strange that, with the exception of Switzerland, none of the other countries (specifically the UK and the USA) made any commitments to returning stolen assets. Stolen financial assets of developing countries, I must add, that are comfortably stashed in their banks and used to buy real estate in their countries. I wonder why they focus more on the ‘supply side’ of corruption and not on the enabling part which exists in their own jurisdictions. No laws were proposed, no mechanisms recommended and no sanctions proffered to regulate the international arena where all the shady illicit deals take place. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. In my opinion, the statements are just made up of a whole lot of rhetoric rendering them potentially futuristically ineffective. In effect, just another tea drinking talk shop. But that’s my opinion.
On the other hand, most of the African countries were represented in the conference mention asset recovery as one of their key requests. Each country statement go into details as to how assets should be recovered and returned back to their rightful owners. Tunisia goes further than most to call on the international community to ‘effectively cooperate to help developing countries recover stolen assets’. It is therefore not out of context for President Buhari not to take affront at the ‘fantastically corrupt’ statement from Cameron and rather to insist of the return of stolen assets. As he said, ‘wwhat would I do with an apology? I need something tangible'. Well, President Buhari, good luck (no pun intended) in getting anything tangible. Keep pushing, anyway.
I wonder whether there were two separate meetings going on in one venue.
Secondly, I do not think the both the conference communiqué and the purported ‘Global Declaration on Corruption’ go far enough in ensuring a return of stolen monies and illicit financial resources currently held in tax havens such as the City of London and the State of Delaware. In my opinion, it is imperative that global world leaders see corruption as two sides of the same coin. The first side focused on the actual corruption, corrupt practices and illicit financial flows and the other part focused on tax havens, the global arena of secrecy, financial mystery and the maze of international laws, banking and accounting practices that make it easy to steal and hide illegally gotten wealth.
The communiqué as well as the Global Declaration on anti-corruption from this workshop focuses more on the first part and seriously glosses over the second part. Exposure of corruption, punishing the corrupt and driving out corruption are important components in stopping corruption globally. However these measures will not be enough if banks in Switzerland, United Kingdom, the State of Delaware and other tax havens are not willing to share information on whose monies are kept in their banks, are not willing to stop the transfer of laundered funds from Africa into their coffers, do not respond to African government requests for information, do not put in mechanisms for the return of stolen assets and so on.
As Richard Murphy (a vocal tax justice campaigner)would say, these are ‘incredibly weak plans’ to tackle global corruption and that looking at the scale of the problem, the current systems put in place at this meeting will ‘make the whole effort meaningless’.
In conclusion, I think Africa is well on its way to tackle the bleeding of its financial resources at a pan African level. For the past few years, The High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows chaired by Thabo Mbeki has been working on understanding the scale and scope of the problem.
The recently held Third International Conference On Financing For Development in Addis Ababa which resulted in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda agreed on, inter alia, a new global framework for financing sustainable development that aligns all financing flows and policies with economic, social and environmental priorities and a comprehensive set of policy actions by Member States, with a package of over 100 concrete measures that draw upon all sources of finance, technology, innovation, trade and data in order to support mobilization of the means for a global transformation to sustainable development and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Addis Tax Initiative is also another avenue aimed at strengthening local tax administrations and increase local tax collection.
In addition to this, as far back as 2003, the AU signed a Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption in Maputo. This convention is assessed under the APRM country assessment. Also, each Regional Economic Body has set up Financial Action Task Force (FATF) styled regional bodies to support member countries and provide the capacity to identify and stop money laundering. These are the GIABA (Intergovernmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa) in ECOWAS, ESAAMLG (Intergovernmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa East and Southern Africa), MENAFATF (Middle East and North Africa Region Financial Action Task Force) and GABAC (Central African Action Group against Money Laundering) in Central Africa.
May I respectfully suggest to Prime Minister Cameron to, if he so wishes, direct his efforts (coupled with technical and financial assistance) to helping Africa achieve all these laudable, and already in existence goals, rather than setting new goals.
Tags: tax havens, anti corruption, illicit financial flows, Africa, African Union, David Cameron
About the author:
Teiko Sabah is the 2013 Mo Ibrahim African Leaders Fellow with the UNECA. She is interested in Africa and pan Africanism. She writes a monthly blog on pan Africanism on https://teikosabah.blogspot.com