13th Commonwealth Regional Conference for Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Africa |16 May 2023
Commonwealth Africa unites in the fight against corruption
By Patsy Canaya
Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan officially opened the 13th Commonwealth Regional Conference for Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Africa yesterday morning at the Savoy Seychelles Resort & Spa in Beau Vallon, urging delegates to look back at the commitment of their last meeting in Rwanda last year to see if they have delivered on them.
The four-day meeting, organised by the Commonwealth secretariat in partnership with the Seychelles Anti-Corruption Commission, is a focal point for the Association of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Commonwealth Africa that was set up by the Commonwealth secretariat in 2013, to meet, discuss and formulate actions to tackle systemic corruption and the illicit flow of funds out of the continent.
The event is this year hosted by Seychelles as the new chairperson and is being held under the theme ‘Uniting Commonwealth Africa in the Fight Against Corruption’ and the delegates are from Botswana, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Togo, Gabon and Zambia.
The opening ceremony was in the presence of the Commonwealth’s secretary general, Baroness Patricia Scotland, Vice-President Ahmed Afif and other high government officials and Commonwealth representatives.
When addressing the delegates, President Ramkalawan said it was an honour for Seychelles to be hosting this meeting and thanked the heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Africa for their tireless work within their units to fight corruption.
“Fighting those who have all the financial means through ill-gotten assets is not easy when considering the limited resources placed at your disposal, for while those involved in corruption can recruit top international lawyers and even launch media campaigns to bring down and accuse the government of witch hunting, you can easily find yourself at a disadvantage. But fight corruption, bring out the truth and get those responsible to face the judicial finish we have to keep doing for the sake of our children,” said President Ramkalawan.
He added that because of the challenges, there needs to be a broad collaboration of agencies, stakeholders, experts and citizens, because although they do it well, it could always be better.
“I look to every individual in this room today, as well as those watching and listening at home and at work around the Commonwealth for help and support in that quest. We are all gathered for a reason: To come together as one family united through common aspirations; that is, the fight against corruption and the battle we endure when corruption tries to fight back.”
President Ramkalawan also called on the delegates to look at last year’s commitment made at the 12th regional conference in Rwanda where they agreed to tackle corruption more vigorously, and to strengthen local, regional, and international cooperation.
“You promised to collaborate to enhance the capacity-building of corruption investigators and prosecutors, and to support the speedy and unfettered repatriation of recovered assets. I challenge you over the next four days to look among yourselves and consider honestly whether you delivered on that commitment,” said President Ramkalawan.
He also called on the delegates to set themselves a challenge during this year’s conference and to look at nine key points during their deliberations and when drafting the Seychelles commitment. These include looking at the types of corruption, engaging with citizens who could help the agencies, removing red tape, ensuring sanctions are imposed to punish those responsible as well as building capacity, among others.
Also to address the delegates was Baroness Scotland who highlighted the losses incurred by the continent annually as a result of corruption.
Mrs Scotland said the current global pressure on resources means that it was more than ever important to curb the trillion-dollar cost of corruption.
She said while corruption is seen in monetary terms, “the truth is that it costs us the quality of our lives. No country, region or community is immune”.
“It damages education, health, justice, democracy, prosperity and development – and it is one of the biggest impediments to achieving the sustainable development goals.Tackling corruption brings multiple benefits; poverty is reduced, economic stability and growth are increased, and standards of living are raised,” stated Mrs Scotland.
It is estimated that each year corruption and illicit financial flows cost the global economy US $3.6 trillion, according to the United Nations. In developing countries, according to the United Nations Development Programme, funds lost to corruption are estimated at 10 times the amount of official development assistance.
It was estimated that Africa loses more than US $50 billion a year to illicit flows, although this could be as high as US $89 billion a year, or 3.7% of its gross domestic products (GDP), according to UNCTAD’s Economic Development in Africa report 2020.
Over the past 50 years, Africa has lost more than US $1 trillion equivalent to all the official development assistance received during the same period.
The secretary general called for “swift and decisive action” to curb the illicit flow of money out of Commonwealth countries and to “build confidence that our institutions and systems in the Commonwealth are corruption-free”.
She said the Covid-19 pandemic created an environment that was ripe for embezzlement, false claims, kickbacks, and other forms of corruption and the post-pandemic global downturn, rising costs and pressure on resources, has made Commonwealth countries, particularly small states and developing nations, even more vulnerable to the impact of corruption. This crime often sees aid money lost to crime, undermining social and economic development.
“Together, we can work towards an approach which allows us to examine how tax authorities, anti-money laundering authorities and anti-corruption agencies can collaborate to solve this monumental challenge.
“And an approach which can enable international collaboration to track ill-gotten money and following through more opaque jurisdictions,” noted Mrs Scotland.
The meeting is being hosted by the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles and according to its chief executive, May De Silva, it will involve three days of technical sessions, and Seychelles was bringing two themes to the table, namely cyber security, to discuss how to protect information and secondly the digital forensics lab that Seychelles wants to share with other partners in the region. This is a facility provided by the United Kingdom that Ms De Silva said should be shared with other regional countries.
Ms De Silva has also commended the work being done so far on the continent to fight corruption, stating that although the procedure to hold those accountable was a long one, it was taking place and in Seychelles this was no exception.
“It is a long procedure and we do not have any control but it is a procedure that works and we will go through it to ensure ill-gotten gains are returned to the country,” said Ms De Silva.
She has also urged all countries to come together and not work in isolation as corruption was everybody’s business.
“During this meeting we hope to reinforce our partnership because we cannot work in isolation, they are all experienced in fighting financial crimes and we are small and need their expertise. We are already working with some countries and want to increase that number,” added Ms De Silva.
The three-day technical session will be followed by the annual general meeting of the heads of anti-corruption agencies in Africa.
The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 56 independent and equal sovereign states with a combined population of 2.5 billion.
Photos by Joena Meme