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Natural Resources

Africa “Net Creditor” to Rest of World, New Data Shows

Artisanal diamond miners at work in the alluvial diamond mines around the eastern town of Koidu, Sierra Leone. In resource-rich countries, the natural resource sector is usually the main source of illicit financial flows. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

WASHINGTON, May 28 2013 (IPS) - Over the past three decades, Africa has functioned as a “net creditor” to the rest of the world, the result of a cumulative outflow of nearly a trillion and a half dollars from the continent.

The new data, to be formally released Wednesday by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based watchdog group, stands in stark contrast to widely held images of Africa receiving massive amounts of foreign aid.

"While these figures are amazing, we have to recognise that they’re being directly facilitated by Western banks and tax havens." -- GFI's Clark Gascoigne

Foreign assistance levels are indeed high for Africa – following on a 2005 pledge among the Group of Eight (G8) rich countries, the continent receives more than 50 billion dollars a year, making it the world’s most aid-dependent region. Yet according to the new joint report, the interplay of corruption, tax evasion, criminal activities and other factors resulted in a net outflow of some 1.4 billion dollars between 1980 and 2009.

“In development circles we talk a lot about how much aid is going to Africa, and there’s this feeling among some in the West that after we’ve been giving this money for decades, it’s Africa’s fault if the continent’s countries still haven’t developed,” Clark Gascoigne, communications director at Global Financial Integrity (GFI), told IPS.

“In fact, our research shows that while the West has been giving money to Africa, far more is flowing out illicitly. Further, you can assume that illicit outflows from other regions would likely lead to high net resource transfers from other developing regions, as well.”

In Africa, this trend appears to have particularly strengthened over the past decade, during which time some 30.4 billion dollars every year are thought to have illegally leaked from the continent. Of that, around 83 percent is thought to have come from North African countries alone.

Over the full three decades, perhaps counter-intuitively, dark-money outflows appear to have originated particularly in resource-rich countries, those most prominently engaged in oil, gas and other natural resource extraction. Some of the most notable include Nigeria, Libya, South Africa and Angola.

Such findings are bolstered by a new index, released last week by the Revenue Watch Institute (RWI), another watchdog group, that for the first time systematically correlated governments’ economic dependency on natural resources and low human development indicators.

The RWI index looked at 58 countries responsible for the vast majority of the world’s petroleum, copper and diamond extraction, and reported that the profits of their extractive sectors added up to more than 2.6 trillion dollars in 2010, far outweighing Western aid flows. Yet more than 80 percent of those countries had also failed to put in place satisfactory standards for openness in these sectors – and half hadn’t even taken basic steps in this regard.

“In resource-rich countries, the natural resource sector is usually the main source of illicit financial flows,” the AfDB-GFI study states, noting a finding by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that Angola’s oil sector in 2002 failed to report around four billion dollars.

“These countries generally lack the good governance structures that would enable citizens to monitor the amount and use of revenues from the natural resource sector. Often, rents and royalties derived from resource management are not used to support the social and economic development of resource-rich countries but instead are embezzled or expended in unproductive ways through corruption and cronyism.”

The impacts of this mass leakage on both African public coffers and foreign development-focused aid are clear.

“The resource drain from Africa over the last 30 years – almost equivalent to Africa’s current gross domestic product – is holding back Africa’s lift-off,” Mthuli Ncube, chief economist and vice-president of the African Development Bank, said Tuesday.

“[But] the African continent is resource-rich. With good resource husbandry, Africa could be in a position to finance much of its own development.”

Halting “absorption”

The new report, which is being released Wednesday at the African Development Bank annual meetings in Morocco, does not look into country-specific drivers of these outflows.

Yet while it is clear that differing levels of strengthening of country-level regulatory mechanisms will be required to ensure that natural resource development in Africa benefits public sector aims, it is impossible to ignore the role of Western countries in this ongoing situation.

“While these figures are amazing, we have to recognise that they’re being directly facilitated by Western banks and tax havens that allow for the creation of anonymous shell companies, by Western governments that don’t share tax information and continue to lack adequate money-laundering enforcement,” GFI’s Gascoigne says.

“While the onus for change is on both national and international players alike, the Western countries can control the international component of this dynamic – the international financial structure.”

The AfDB and GFI analysts are encouraging strengthened alignment of financial policies between African countries and those countries that are “absorbing” these illicit flows. The United States, for instance, continues to be the largest incorporator of shell companies in the world, while Gascoigne says there is also far more that Washington and other Western capitals can do on swapping tax information and refusing to tolerate bank and tax haven secrecy.

In this regard, many observers are eagerly awaiting the G8 summit slated to be held in the United Kingdom in mid-June. The first part of this year has seen unique international momentum build around issues of tax evasion and tax havens, energised particularly by depleted government coffers in the aftermath of the global economic crisis.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is hosting the upcoming summit, has taken on the issue of tax evasion as a key priority for his government’s G8 presidency this coming year. He has been widely praised for his recent leadership on the issue, particularly for pushing a new global standard under which governments would automatically share tax information.

European Union countries have now largely aligned themselves with the U.K. stance. But key to watch at the June summit will be whether the United States, Canada, Japan and Russia agree to sign on to a robust new initiative – or choose instead to stand in the way of greater reform.

“Curtailing these outflows should be paramount to policymakers in Africa and in the West because they drive and are, in turn, driven by a poor business climate and poor overall governance, both of which hamper economic growth,” GFI chief economist Dev Kar, formerly with the IMF, said Tuesday.

“The slower growth rate results in more aid dependency, with foreign taxpayer funds filling the shortfall in domestic revenue – to the extent that tax evasion is a part of illicit flows.”

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