Mr Edwin Harris, the Director-General of the ECOWAS Inter-Governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering In West Africa (GIABA), Senegal, has urged African leaders to step up efforts in the fight against Illicit Financial Flows (IFF) in the region.
Harris made the call while delivering a lecture at the 11th anniversary annual lecture of Realnews and investiture into the Realnews Hall of Fame on Tuesday in Lagos.
The theme of the lecture is :” The Threats of Illicit Financial Flow to the African Economy”.
He stated that IFFs are a systemic problem requiring a systemic solution and as such, African leaders cannot afford to relax in the fight against a cankerworm that threatens their sustainable development.
The director-general noted that IFFs as money illegally earned, transferred or used in violation of laws in their origin, or during their movement or use, and are therefore considered illicit.
”IFFs from Africa typically originates from three sources, which are : corruption, including money acquired through bribery and abuse of office by public sector and private sector officials.
”Others are criminal activities, ranging from trafficking in people and drugs, arms smuggling, fraud in the financial sector, such as unauthorised or unsecured loans, money laundering, stock market manipulation and outright forgery,” he said.
Harris also mentioned commercial activities, arising from business-related activities, and having several purposes, including hiding wealth, evading or aggressively avoiding tax, and dodging customs duties and domestic levies.
The GIABA director-general said that the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) High Level Panel (HLP) on IFFs had stated that Africa is estimated to have lost one trilliondollars or more over the past 50 years to IFFs.
The commission, he said also revelealed that the continent is estimated to lose more than 50 billion annually in IFFs .
Harris stressed that this was corroborated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which estimated that Africa loses as much as $60 billion each year in IFFs.
He stated that in 2020, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in its report on Economic Development in Africa, estimated that Africa loses about US$88.6 billion, 3.7 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), annually in IFF.
Harris said, at a regional level, the scale of criminal proceeds in the West Africa has been estimated at 3.6.per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) .
“IFF are a global phenomenon and do not respect borders. They undermine global social, political and economic security and have become a serious threat to the attainment of development agenda, particularly in Africa.
“Africa’s efforts to ensure the reduction of IFFs must be pro-active, firm and unwavering while activities that give rise to IFFs must be vigorously fought without compromise.
“The key task is to take bold steps, cooperate and coordinate efforts, and unit to dismantle the system extracting wealth from Africa, ” he said.
According to him, this requires collective actions by all critical stakeholders, including national authorities, the private sector and civil society organisations to press for change in their countries and the continent at large.
Harris commended Realnews and other media houses in Africa for their effort in fighting against IFFs.
In her welcome address, Ms Maureen Chigbo, the Publisher of Realnews said that the anniversary lecture series is one way the medium contributes to nation-building and development.
Chigbo said Realnews does this by providing a forum for policy change-oriented discussions by professionals, scholars, technocrats and decision-makers on the way forward for our great nation and Africa in general.
“The lecture series since 2014 have focused elections, economy, security, challenges of leadership in Africa, Africa’s political transitions oil and gas, unfolding integration of the African Market, and drug abuse among youths in Africa.
“This year, we zeroed in on “Threats of Illicit funds flow to the African Economy”, because of our deep concern about the nefarious effect of illicit funds flow on the economy, resulting in dwindling revenue for Africa governments,” she said.
According to her, the theme of the lecture was borne out of a revelation by Mr Auwal Rafsanjani, Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) on Oct. 22, that Nigeria lost $18 billion yearly to IFFs through the banking sector.
Chigbo stated that Rafsanjani, also Head, Transparency International (TI) Nigeria, had disclosed that Nigeria is one of the 23 countries ranked as non-co-operative in the combined efforts to fight money laundering globally, since its establishment in 2003.
She said to address this burning issue, the medium searched for Harris and other selected panel of discussants with relevant expertise, knowledge and experience to shed more lights on the topic.
The publisher appreciated the speakers and sponsors of the event in various capacities for their unwavering support to the medium.
In a panel discussion, Mr Kayode Adedayo, Director of Proceeds of Crime Department, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) said African countries must prioties the prevention of the movement of illicit funds from their territories.
Adedayo noted that this was imperative because once the funds are moved, particularly to the Western countries and discovered, and effort is made for its repatriation, they are returned after several years without interest.
Also, Mr Felix Obiamalu, Associate Director of Legal and Sanctions, Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) urged the Federal Government to establish a clear and up-to-date policy and guidelines on how to combat IFF in Nigeria.
Obiamalu stated that while IFF is a menace that has eaten deepen into the Nigerian system, government at all level should lead by showing a political will to destroy it and promote the whistle blower mentality among the citizens.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the highlight of the event was induction of new members into the Realnews Hall of Fame.
The new members are : Harris, Adedayo, Obiamalu, Mr Mohammed Bello-Koko, Managing Director, Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Mr Aminu Maida, Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission and Mr Ahmed Karu, Managing Director, Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria.