Virtual Launch Of Publication By UNCTAD On Impact Of Illicit Financial Flows

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It gives me great pleasure to participate in this virtual press launch of the publication by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on the impact of illicit financial flows (IFFs) on African Development, and the imperative to address the scourge in the era of COVID-19 and beyond.

I commend the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, for dedicating this year’s Economic Development in Africa Report (EDAR) to the menace of illicit financial flows, which weakens the ability of countries on the African continent to mobilise and retain domestic resources for the achievement of their development priorities, especially those related to the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Certainly, there is no better moment to broaden the awareness of the scale, scope and cost of illicit financial flows than now that the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic threaten to reverse the progress made in achieving the 2030 Agenda world over, and especially on the African continent. Many countries in Africa continue to make spirited efforts to recover from the impacts of the pandemic, even as they deal with multiple conditions, including vulnerabilities in their public health systems, conflicts and Climate Change-induced emergencies. However, illicit financial flows continue to impede these efforts and undermine continental and global actions for the sustenance of SDG gains and the acceleration of the achievement of Sustainable Development in this Decade of Action and delivery. They undermine the foundations of democracy and provide the financial incentives for terrorist activities and fuel conflicts on the continent.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the enormity of efforts required to tackle illicit financial flows is evident in the many dimensions the scourge presents itself. It manifests through harmful tax policies and practices, abusive transfer pricing, trade mis-pricing and mis-invoicing illegal exploitation of natural resources as well as official corruption, and organized crimes. These practices divert money from public priorities and reduce fiscal expenditure on public services, where women and youths should be the major beneficiaries. In the context of COVID-19 such lack of resources and limited fiscal space gives an impulse to austerity which is the last thing that our economies need at a time of deep recessions.

As several studies have shown, including the Report of the High-Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, the commercial form of illicit financial flows especially tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance accounts for up to 65% of illicit financial flows. This means that we must pay particular attention to these issues which are aided by things such as tax treaties, tax havens and financial secrecy jurisdictions and indeed tax competition which leads to a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of tax rates amongst developing countries.

This means that we have to pay particular attention to efforts to reform the international tax system including the G20/OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting project which has the stated purpose of closing gaps in existing international rules that allow corporate tax bases to be eroded or artificially shifted to low or no tax jurisdictions. This is certainly a step in the right direction but we must agree that the reform effort still has a number of drawbacks. To start with while the Inclusive Framework which was intended to bring developing countries into the BEPS process it might disadvantage them because they are expected to sign up to things agreed upon before they joined. Equally important if we want to enable taxation where economic activity is generated then the on-going work must bring about effective solutions to address the taxation of the digital economy.

Another important issue that we must pay attention to is the identification and return of proceeds of illicit financial flows back to countries of origin as an effective deterrent to the scourge of illicit financial flows. Certainly, exposing those involved in practices that facilitate illicit financial flows, and retrieving proceeds of illicit funds are efficacious in deterring perpetrators, rebuilding the confidence of the citizenry, and compensating for the damage caused by such crimes.

It is in this regard that I encourage all leaders, whose countries are considered absolute outliers for illicit financial flows, to join forces and take the responsibility of combating the scourge by insisting on the repatriation of illicit funds and their proceeds. Let me also avail myself of this opportunity to call on leaders, whose countries are the main destinations for illicit financial flows, to take concrete steps to prevent and stop the receipt of illicit funds into their countries, and to assist in freezing, seizing and returning such funds and its proceeds already in their countries.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, like many other countries, Nigeria has continued to lose so much to illicit financial flows. However, we have continued to address loopholes and weaknesses in our legal and regulatory regimes that made it easy for criminals to undercut our national efforts. We have signed bilateral agreements and Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with a number of strategic partners, as well as strengthened our ability to investigate, track, stop and secure the return of stolen assets. We have also reviewed Instruments that established our financial intelligence agencies and put in place policies to guide the management of recovered proceeds from illicit financial flows. Our whistle-blower policy and commitment to recover looted public funds and prosecute corrupt public officials are reflected at all levels and sectors.

We call on the private sector, civil society, trade unions and professional groups to work with governments in tackling illicit financial flows. The private sector must support our efforts by adhering to international best practices in their operations and by ensuring that their tax and trade practices comply with local laws while professional bodies, including those for lawyers, accountants, auditors and bankers must observe ethical professional standards and hold their members to account if they abet tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.

While appreciating the immediate past Presidents of the General Assembly and the ECOSOC for taking the initiative to establish the first global Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity Panel (FACTI Panel), I call on the United Nations system to facilitate the establishment of clear rules and enforcement mechanisms on all aspects of illicit financial flows. These should address issues such as the elimination of secrecy jurisdictions that provide an incentive for money laundering and official corruption, as well as allow confiscation and repatriation of stolen assets to countries of origin.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me conclude by underscoring that in order for the international community to live up to its pledge that no one and country would be left behind in the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, we must pay closer attention to the nexus between illicit financial flows and the inability of most developing countries to mobilize sufficient domestic resources to finance their development priorities. Therefore, I am confident that tackling illicit financial flows would assist African countries with much-needed development finance, as well as prevent the exploitation and abuse of financial systems on the continent through criminal activities.

As the Economic Development in Africa Report on ‘Tackling Illicit Financial Flows for Sustainable Development in Africa’ is launched today, I am confident that we would be encouraged to assess the extent to which we have tackled illicit financial flows, and further strengthen our resolve to defeat the scourge. It is my desire to see us all encouraged to challenge policies that assist in harbouring proceeds of illicit financial flows, letting State actors realise that their inactions in tackling the scourge affect the lives of millions of people in Africa and deprive our governments of resources required to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

I thank you.