Africa: Capital Flight Punctures Economies, Bleeding Africa Out of U.S.$89 Billion Annually

Minerals and extractives are the major contributors to illicit financial flows (IFFs) in Africa, robbing the continent of almost $88.6 billion annually in outflows.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in its report released this week estimates the total illicit capital flight has surpassed what the continent receives in developing aid annually.

Cumulatively, the total IFFs reached $836 billion in the first 15 years of this century representing a major drain on capital revenue in Africa which is derailing its efforts of achieving Sustainable Development Goals.

"Illicit financial flows rob Africa of prospects, undermining transparency and accountability and eroding trust in African institutions," said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi during the launch of the report on Monday.

UNCTAD defined these outflows to include illicit capital flight, tax and commercial practices like mis-invoicing of trade shipments, illegal markets, corruption, or theft.

The largest component of illicit capital flights from Africa, $40 billion in 2015, was related to extractive commodities with more than three-fourths of it being from gold diamonds and platinum.

The report on Tackling Illicit Financial Flows (IFF) for Sustainable Developments in Africa said movements of high-value extractive commodities are mostly prone to smuggling compared with agricultural products with gold leading at 77 per cent followed by diamonds and platinum at 12 and 6 per cent respectively.

The report notes increased smuggling cases of rare earth minerals in the past five years which can only be curbed through improved minerals governance and sharing of vital information regarding mineral deposits which requires comprehensive geological surveys.

Partners in crime

"The scarcity of available geological information in Africa and the resulting information asymmetry between mining companies that have the means to acquire private information about reserves and governments makes the extractive sector prone to illicit outflows."

The survey raised concern over increasing uncertainty with regard to the quality of African trade statistics, especially for intra-African trade with 45 out of 54 African countries willing to report trade data in a continuous manner.

According to UNCTAD estimates, Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa accounted for more than four-fifths of the total illegal capital outflows annually with Nigeria alone making up nearly half of that.

Loopholes in many tax treaties in Africa has been identified as the main global enabler of illicit financial flows which is leaving countries vulnerable to tax avoidance with inadequate standards for investment treaties continuing to risk a race to the bottom to attract FDI.

Secrecy-based tax havens and non-cooperative jurisdictions provide critical services that enable abusive tax avoidance and tax evasion.

TThe tax havens are particularly attractive to high-net-worth individuals which estimates loss amounting to 2.5 per cent of total tax revenue in Africa.

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