Figuratively speaking, I am ending May on a flying note; landed from Nairobi yesterday evening only to fly off again today, to Ivory Coast where Rwanda’s Dr. Donald Kaberuka will bring down the curtains on a glamorous decade as African Development Bank (AfDB) President.
I spent Thursday and Friday in Nairobi as a participant in a conversation about the ‘Thabo Mbeki report’ on Illicit Financial Flows’ (IFF) out of Africa, organized by the Tax Justice Network (TJN) that brought together civil society actors from within the region.
For those not familiar with the Mbeki report, I will bring you to speed. The former South African leader has been busy lately, leading a High Level Panel (HLP) to study the subject of finances that leave the continent under unclear circumstances; the panel’s report is now out.
Its key finding is that Africa currently loses over US$50 billion annually through tax fraud and other shenanigans; over 60 percent of that figure is attributed to activities of multi-national organisations that African governments are keen on attracting as foreign direct investment.
Clearly, the continent is rising, investments have doubled over the past decades but countries remain poor, infrastructure weak due to lack of resources and millions remain trapped in poverty forcing many to question the impact of fast economic growth in many countries.
Part of the answer is contained in this Mbeki report which reveals that countries are losing vital tax resources through IFF activities at the centre of which are so called ‘investors’ whose entry into Africa promised to transform lives but has turned into white elephant wishes.
But the Mbeki report doesn’t only whine; it also gives recommendations that African governments should consider at national or sub-regional level to address the IFFs issue, such as revising tax incentives that have made many countries tax-havens for investors.
In Nairobi, members of civil society organisations dedicated to tax justice in East Africa discussed the report with the view of putting its recommendations in local and regional context and help governments to address the issues.
Mr. Donal Godfrey is the deputy head of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes, an initiative of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) based in Paris, France.
The initiative, like its descriptive name, is aimed at helping African Governments fight tax related fraud especially tax evasion through information exchange and it currently has a membership of 20 African countries including Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
Godfrey was in the company of Kathryn Dovey, a Tax policy analyst at the Global Forum secretariat and, another lady, introduced to me as the head of the Forum’s finances.
During the lunch break, they informed me of their efforts to enlarge the organization’s membership and that it would be really great if Rwanda became the Global Forum’s 21st constituent.
But that’s not all. During our chitchat over lunch, I learned from Godfrey and Kathryn that OECD is looking for an influential African that can serve as the Global Forum’s Patron, to mainly promote its cause around the continent by getting more governments involved.
They have thought of many names but Donald Kaberuka stood out. The thinking at the Paris based initiative is that since the Rwandan former Finance Minister is winding up his time at AfDB, this month; they could use the opportunity to woo him in as Patron.
“He’s an exceptional man who has had a great impact at the AfDB, and he’s highly respected in Africa and beyond,” Godfrey told me.
If Kaberuka accepted to lend his experience and expertise to the Global Forum, he would give it an African face and enhance its reputation as an initiative that means quite well for African governments.
But there’s likely to be a long line of suitors waiting to offer Dr. Kaberuka a ‘job’ and OECD is just one of them. Will he accept? That depends on what ‘retirement’ plans the man himself has.
Then I mentioned to the OECD officials that I’m scheduled to interview Dr. Kaberuka, on behalf of The New Times, during the AfDB’s annual meetings that kick-off tomorrow in the Ivorian capital of Abidjan during which a new President will be elected.
At this revelation, the faces of Kaberuka’s ‘suitors’ lit up with hope and excitement. Godfrey gave me a business card to deliver to Kaberuka and Kathryn bestowed upon me the onus to pass on a message to him that OECD would like to work with him.
So in Abidjan, I have promised to deliver the message of Dr. Kaberuka’s suitors and if by natural providence the man accepts to take the Paris calling, I will delight in my small role of messenger.