Marrakesh — The 52nd session of the Economic Commission for Africa Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (COM2019) ended here on Tuesday with governments being urged to move with speed to embrace digital transformation to spur economic growth on the continent.
The Ministers said if Africa does not move with speed to adapt modern technologies and ensure everyone has broadband internet access at least by 2022, then the continent will not be able to leapfrog development challenges in the near future.
Leapfrogging in technology will change the lives of millions of Africans, they agreed, hence the clarion call on the continent's leaders to embrace technology to improve governance systems, including revenue collection and efficient, transparent use, and ensure its growing youthful population is reskilled to compete in an increasingly digital world.
African economies face major financing gaps and challenges in the mobilization of domestic resources, despite the implementation of several fiscal and budgetary reforms, the Ministers noted, adding digitization may enhance fiscal policy performance and development finance by increasing domestic revenue generation and allocation.
The Ministers also discussed threats and challenges posed by digitization and the need to have measures in place to protect citizens and governments.
"Limited Internet access in Africa continues to impede the development of digitization in economic and social sectors, including e-commerce, e-health and e-government, which are constrained by high transaction costs, the spatial distribution of information exchanges, and limited access to international markets," the Ministers said in their statement.
Governments, they said, need to design and improve innovative digital mechanisms that facilitate revenue collection and increase the efficiency of tax administration by promoting the use of online platforms for self-reporting by taxpayers and the use of digital mechanisms to record relevant data on transactions and the identity of taxpayers.
They acknowledged the need to increase significantly the availability of high-quality and timely data to support fiscal policy, trade and private sector development in the digital era and strengthening the implementation of national development plans, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union's Agenda 2063.
Member States were urged to undertake the 2020 round of population and housing censuses in Africa with the Ministers noting how they are 'indispensable tools for promoting development in Africa and providing robust data to support the implementation and monitoring of national development plans, the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063'.
They also urged governments to develop and strengthen civil registration and vital statistics information systems and infrastructure as a foundation for legal identity, including effective digital identity systems.
Progress was noted in regional integration efforts on the continent with the ministers committing to taking measures and steps to enhance the incorporation of regional integration agreements and treaties, including the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), into domestic law and implementation.
The Ministers said it was worrying that Africa continued to lag behind other regions in terms of infrastructure development.
"We acknowledge the need to strengthen resource mobilization in order to close the infrastructure gap and also to build the technical capacity necessary for the preparation of bankable cross-border infrastructure projects and, in this respect, commit ourselves to strengthening cooperation, in particular among landlocked developing countries and transit countries, in the development and management of cross-border infrastructure," they agreed.
In her closing remarks, ECA Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, said it was clear from discussions during the conference that Africa can do more and better if it worked closely together and speak with one voice.
She said Africa should tap into the ever-growing digital economy which has disrupted age old industries while giving rise to completely new ones.
"We can do well if we work together and move from theory to action," said Ms. Songwe, adding discussions had proved that fiscal policy was important if the continent is to increase revenue collection to finance its development, in particular it's desire to achieve Agendas 2030 and 2063.
She said with the advent of the AfCFTA, Africa was well and truly on the path to economic diversification and inclusion with the digital era bringing in efficient and effective ways of collecting, allocating and use of revenues, among many other benefits.
Morocco's Economic and Finance Minister, Mohamed Benchaaboun, said it was important for Africa to realize that it needs to rely on itself more than outsiders for its progress and development.
"South South cooperation is also important for us as a continent. We need to take it to a higher level," the Minister said, adding the conference had been a huge success.
COM2019 was held under the theme; Fiscal policy, trade and the private sector in a digital era: A strategy for Africa.