West Africa is losing millions of dollars that could be spent tackling poverty and inequality because governments are bending the rules to favour the rich and powerful, said Oxfam today in the wake of #WestAfricaLeaks.
#WestAfricaLeaks shows an elaborate collusion between some of the region's most powerful politicians and business leaders. From Senegal and Nigeria to Mali and Ghana, high ranking public officials and businesses are using shell companies domiciled in tax havens to hide their wealth and avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
"The use of tax havens undermines West African countries' ability to raise the taxes they need to tackle appalling levels of poverty and inequality, including investing in health, education and sanitation," said Adama Coulibaly, West Africa regional director, Oxfam International.
"Tax dodging by the rich is a global scandal, and especially so in West Africa, which is home to many of the world's poorest countries. The people of West Africa are paying with their lives because the rich control politics and policy making and avoid paying their fair share,' Coulibaly added.
Notes to editors:
The #WestAfricaLeaks is a collaborative work between ICIJ and Norbert Zongo Cell for Investigative Journalism (Cenozo) and 15 journalists from 11 West African countries. It sheds light on one of West Africa's best kept secrets: its offshore practices.
According to the UNDP, of the 20 countries with the lowest human development in the world in 2016, half are in West Africa, namely Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Gambia, Cote d'Ivoire. HDI measures the three dimensions of human development - health, education and standard of living.
Nearly 57 million Nigerians do not have access to safe water, over 130 million lack adequate sanitation and the country has more than 10 million children out of school (Nigeria DHS, 2013). Yet, between 1960 and 2015, about US$20 trillion was stolen from the Nigerian treasury by public officials. This amount outstripped the GDP of the United States in 2012 which stood at about US$18 trillion. (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission)
West African countries offer formal corporate tax incentives as well as discretionary incentives in special deals with companies. Research shows that three countries alone - Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal - are losing up to $5.8 billion a year. If the rest of ECOWAS lost revenues at similar percentages of their GDP, total revenue losses among the 15 ECOWAS states would amount to $9.6 billion a year (Action Aid, The West African Give Away)
The income of the richest Nigerian man earns from his wealth each year can lift two million of his compatriots out of poverty annually. While more than 112 million Nigerians were living in poverty in 2010, the richest Nigerian man will take 42 years to spend all his wealth at US$1 million per day (Inequality in Nigeria, Oxfam 2017)