West and Donors Promote Graft in Africa
The Herald (Harare)
August 25, 2006
Posted to the web August 25, 2006
By Sifelani Tsiko
STRENGTHENING effective strategies to fight corruption and money laundering in order to improve economic development was a key theme at the sixth annual meeting of the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (Esaamlg) held in Harare recently.
Participants from the 14 member countries from the East African region to the entire southern African region, two Indian Ocean countries and others from the multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund noted with concern the depressing levels of economic crimes and money laundering encountered by member states.
"It is important for governments to look at crime as a fundamental vice that ought to be crushed out completely," said Mr Nicholas Ncube, the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, opening the annual meeting.
"This meeting also comes at a time when Zimbabwe has launched Project Sunrise, where tackling corruption is a top issue. We hope the delegates would be able to come up with workable strategies that contain crime."
Zimbabwe assumed the chairmanship of Esaamlg from Zambia and the chairman of the senior officials of the grouping, Finance Secretary Mr Willard Manungo pledged to continue fighting money laundering and the financing of terrorism by sharing experiences and developing strategies to "address this menace."
He said technological advancement in the communication field had widened the scope and extent of money laundering leaving no region unaffected.
"This makes it critical that we strengthen our pre-emptive capacity by ensuring that perpetrators of criminal activities, that ultimately undermine economic development are quickly made accountable for any ill-gotten gains," Mr Manungo said.
"The complexities of the challenges before us warrant greater co-ordination of the different participating agencies at the national as well as regional level."
Esaamlg is part of a global anti-corruption group which aims broadly to put an end to all crimes that have eroded social economic gains recorded in member states.
The participants discussed many issues related to the surveillance of banking and finance institutions, judicial systems, anti-corruption and policing strategies, the strengthening of systems and structures for co-operation with international agencies, evaluation and monitoring of individual member compliance.
"The presence of so many delegations at the meeting is a clear demonstration of our collective commitment to ensuring that our countries and the region are equipped with an effective framework that prevents money laundering and the financing of terrorism," said Dr Mbikusita Lewanika of Zambia, the outgoing chairman.
During Zambia's tenure, he said, Esaamlg had managed to conduct training workshops, evaluate progress made by member countries in terms of compliance to grouping's protocols and plans of action.
Participants at the Harare meeting proposed a plan to conduct research and document trends in corruption and the links with money laundering in the region in the next three years.
Other issues which were discussed at length included the growing problem of cross-border money laundering, mutual evaluation procedures, the Esaamlg secretariat programmes, co-ordination mechanisms for the group and IMF, World Bank and other multilateral institutions, reports of the development of national strategies and reviewing the work of the grouping.
Patterns of corruption vary from society to society and over time and anti-money laundering experts say there is need to understand its origins, forms and effects across developing countries, the role of both international stakeholders such as politicians, business cliques and civil servants as well as external actors including Western multinationals and international financial institutions.
Critics say skewed colonial policies, donor pressure, donor-prescribed economic reforms, greed and weak anti-corruption strategies have all contributed to the fostering of a culture of corruption and money laundering in Africa.
They say effective anti-corruption strategies need to be tailored to the social environment in which corruption occurs and not to meet the donor criteria which is advocating a single universal strategy to fight corruption.
Corruption in Africa is not a unique phenomenon as portrayed in the mainstream international media.
The Mafia and the soccer match fixing scandal in Italy, the Enron scandal in the United States and many others in rich and powerful countries show how corruption is widespread and fostered.
Critics accuse donors of promoting corruption in Africa by prioritising distant issues of electoral democracy, transparency, "good governance", and promoting economic reforms that refuse support to honest populations who need education, water, electricity, food and other essential services for survival.
Corruption, they say, has compounded the injustices of the colonial legacy, severely impoverished the average African, left infrastructure in ruins and robbed people of the benefits of their natural resources.
Corruption in Africa is abetted by the banking and economic policies of the Western powers.
This has compounded the effects of corruption on the continent as these Western countries allow corrupt individuals to launder their stolen proceeds while turning a blind eye to the "terrible effects" of corruption in African societies.
A study commissioned by the Dutch finance ministry estimates the amount of money laundered in the Netherlands at euro 18,5 billion and that money laundering accounted for approximately five percent of Dutch GDP.
Of this amount, it is estimated that euro 17,7 billion emanates from crimes committed abroad through laundering in real estate investments, export under-invoicing and import over pricing and the use of "special purpose" entities.
Some corrupt African rulers, most of whom were Western stooges, have in the past stashed their loot in Switzerland and other financial institutions in Europe.
Critics say Western countries are the main culprits when it comes to corruption and continue to harbour the stolen loot worsening poverty among the poor in Africa.
Some analysts estimate that Africa has lost US$140 billion through corruption in the decades after independence. This money was spirited away by some corrupt leaders and the close friends.
Billions of dollars looted by Mobutu Sese Seko of the then Zaire are still stashed in Western banks while the Congolese people continue to live under miserable conditions. Despite Mobutu's corrupt 30-year rule, he continued to receive US and World Bank support.
DRC today is burdened by a debt of more than US$16 billion in foreign debt much of which is the legacy of the Mobutu regime. In 1997, Switzerland froze Mobutu's US$2 million villa and other assets which were estimated to total US$4 billion.
Swiss banks have in recent years returned money looted by former Nigerian rulers to the West African country after intense pressure while the UK is still to return money looted by former strongman Sani Abacha.
Abacha stashed away US$1 billion in Swiss banks and much more remains unaccounted for in UK banks and others in Europe.
"The Western world must demonstrate practical commitment to assist us by repatriating monies that have been stolen from our treasuries and stashed away in their financial institutions," Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2002 at a meeting.
Donors and Western countries are largely to blame for the billions of dollars the continent has lost.
In Zimbabwe, massive fraud in the banking sector facilitated by poor regulations and weak monitoring saw some bank executives speculating with depositors' funds to acquire foreign currency to establish business concerns outside the country or to procure high value commodities abroad for importation and re-sale in Zimbabwe.
A number of these bank executives fled the country following the unearthing of the scandals and are running businesses in South Africa, Botswana, UK and the US using proceeds from the ill-gotten money.
"These economic saboteurs and enemies of our economic turnaround strategies should take heed that we are determined to fight the scourge of corruption and do honour to the integrity and dignity of our nation," President Mugabe said recently.
Challenges facing most countries within the Esaamlg include the need to upgrade the inadequate and weak legal frameworks in order to effectively fight corruption and the need to reinforce weak institutions that are at the forefront of the fight against corruption.
By August 2006, 38 African countries had not ratified the Anti-Corruption Convention which aims to improve transparency and good governance.
Only 15 countries have ratified the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and Related Offences (AU Convention).
African leaders adopted this convention in July 2003 at the AU Summit held in Maputo, Mozambique.
Among other things, the convention requires officials of the African governments to declare their assets, adhere to ethical codes of conduct, provide people's access to government spending and to protect whistle blowers on abuse of state funds.
The convention also set the procurement standards, accounting standards, and transparency in the funding of political parties and recognises the need for civil society participation.
The debate on corruption and anti-money laundering points to the need for Western nations to play their part in tackling the scourge and to support poor countries' ability to fight corruption and money laundering.
These crimes are complex issues and high unemployment and poverty levels in most African countries tend to mask any strategies to fight against these social vices.
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