– What was the event that made you further research on Illicit Trafficking Outflows in Africa?
Between 2013 and 2017, three Jesuit-sponsored institutions in Kenya, Zambia and Germany, namely the Jesuit Hakimani Centre (Kenya), the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) of Zambia and Jesuitenmission, Germany, carried out research into the link between “Tax Justice and Poverty”. One of the main goals of the research was to understand practitioners’ views on tax-dodging-related deficits via formal and informal interviews and to collect suggestions on how these could be addressed and amended. During the research we discovered that there was a lot more money flowing out of Africa illicitly than the ODA flows of financial aid coming into Africa. We concluded that Africa would not need financial aid if the illicit flows of money were stopped. In this regard, in understanding the drivers of poverty, we found that the illicit flow of money is one of the main drivers of poverty in Africa and therefore any effort to eradicate poverty must also pay attention to the illicit flow of money out of Africa through tax evasion and avoidance and other bad practices. So we decided to focus our work on this topic.
– Was it difficult to find contributors that wanted to take part in this investigation?
When we entered into this field we discovered that it was an area of investigation that was attracting a lot of attention from not only researchers but also that development practitioners and policymakers. You will recognise that around 2012 the African Union had already observed the seriousness of the matter and set up a high-level panel on illicit financial flows which in 2015 produced a report that showed that the total illicit outflows were as high as USD 50 billion annually. A year letter, the 3rd Conference of Financing for Developed held in Addis Ababa took note of the serious matter and made a number of suggestions meant curtail the IFFs in Africa and elsewhere. At the same time there was a lot of interest in the issue; academics and researchers had begun writing about the matter. So there is a wide pool of resources and contributors that we have worked with and are still working with.
– What has been his role in the process as Social Apostolate Coordinator in Africa? Has the existing network of the jesuits played a key role?
As the Social Apostolate in Africa we are engaged as a network on the issue. In. 2018, we met together in Nairobi to make our strategic plan. Before we could draw our strategic plan we undertook a joint analysis to understand the drivers of poverty and illicit financial flows were considered as one of the main drivers of poverty. So we took as one of our goals advocate for anything that raises domestic revenues for states and stems illicit financial flows. In short, advocating for domestic resource mobilisation and stemming illicit financial flows is one of our strategic goals as the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network of Africa (JENA), which forms the social apostolate.
– Representatives from EU institutions and organisations were involved. According to you, what is the response of the EU in regards to these concerns?
The concern in regard to the mismanagement of funds, both local and development assistance is not only one of the EU but also of ordinary Africans. But as you put it, the EU is very concerned about reports of financial mismanagement by public officials in Africa. And so we in our turn who are championing the cause of stemming illicit financial flows have also taken it upon ourselves to pay attention to the use of public funds. So our efforts are directed both at not only working to stop the illicit flow of money out of Africa but work at promoting accountability of public institutions
– What were your impressions/findings on the Tax Justice and Poverty?
As mentioned already, one of the key findings of our Tax Justice and Poverty research is that Africa does not need aid really if it didn’t lose the money from tax evasion and avoidance, trade misinvoicing and from other malpractices. So what is crucial is how can Africa develop robust and uptodate tax systems that are able to capture the revenue efficiently. And clearly, with the globalisation of business and the growth of multinational corporations (MNCs) many African countries are not able to keep pace. So the question of building the capacity tax administrations arises. But the globalisation of business also means that business has become transnational while tax administrations remain limited to their state boundaries. So what is required here is international tax cooperation where countries work together on these matters through initiatives like joint tax audits, tax without borders, automatic exchange of information, country by country reporting, etc.
– Can you give a simple and concrete example of what were the findings so that a wider audience can understand the situation and concern?
We found that the loss of revenue on account of illicit financial flows is huge amounting to a staggering US$ 50 billion, which has grown to almost US$ 80 billion now. This loss means African governments have limited funds to use for the provision of social services like health and education all critical to development. This huge amount of money lost would be enough to ensure that Africa reaches 100 percent primary school enrollment. Given that it has gone missing, this means African children will have limited access to education and the general population will have limited access to quality health care. So we found that there is a direct link between tax justice and poverty and so unless the injustices related to taxation are addressed, poverty in Africa cannot be fully resolved.
– How do you see/believe this will affect future outcomes in relation to Illicit Money Outflows in Africa?
In the light of the foregoing it means avoidable poverty related problems like hunger, disease, premature deaths, etc will continue to be on the rise in Africa and will not be resolved. It means the quality of life in Africa will continue to be low and the suffering of the poor will go on unabated. It is estimated that more than a third of the causes of deaths in Africa and in the world at large are poverty related; deaths arising from lack of safe drinking water, lack of access to essential medicines, or deaths on account of the spread of communicable diseases.
What is of concern is that here we are not talking about mere statistics but about human beings whose dignity and value is diminished because of selfishness and social and financial structures that favour a few at the expense of the many. What is disheartening too is that the poverty arising from tax injustice and other forms of injustice can be resolved if nations and the powers that be take responsibility and decide for life. There are enough resources to go round for everybody except only a few accumulate them to themselves encouraged by the current international architecture. The real issue is not economic but rather ethical and political. We therefore urge leaders of nations, especially rich nations to pay attention to the suffering of the masses and take decisions that promote justice, equality and well being of all.