In the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, the focus has been squarely on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the impending 2030 agenda deadline. With just seven years remaining, the world is grappling with the challenge of financing the SDGs, especially for developing countries where progress has been slow, with only 15% of the targets met so far. A significant concern looms over the issue of financing, which has led to discussions on the illicit flows of capital from Africa.
One of the notable interventions in this discourse came from former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who currently chairs the High-Level African Union Panel on Illicit Financial Flows. President Mbeki underscored the pivotal role of finance in implementing the SDGs, particularly Goal 1, which focuses on poverty eradication. He emphasized the alarming trend of an estimated $88 billion leaving the African continent illicitly each year and how this poses a substantial obstacle to the continent’s development.
President Mbeki highlighted the origins of this crucial discussion, tracing it back to the International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa. At this conference, the imperative of domestic resource mobilization was recognized as fundamental to achieving the SDGs. It was within this context that African leaders began to investigate the issue of illicit financial outflows from the continent. Their findings revealed the significant amounts of money leaving Africa illicitly which could otherwise be harnessed for the SDGs.
The matter of combating illicit financial flows was subsequently brought to the United Nations General Assembly, firmly establishing it as part of Agenda 2030. As the General Assembly revisited progress toward the SDGs, the issue of resources naturally resurfaced. Besides dealing with illicit financial flows, the debate also encompassed the reform of international financial institutions like the Bretton Woods organizations, highlighting the broader scope of generating resources for achieving the SDGs.
President Mbeki stressed the importance of international tax cooperation, advocating for a system of taxation decided upon by the United Nations. He pointed out that the UN, as a truly inclusive multilateral body, is uniquely positioned to ensure the involvement of all member states’ interests. While acknowledging the differing views regarding the authority to address these issues, he firmly endorsed the UN’s role in establishing a binding international convention on tax matters.
One critical challenge is the possibility of repatriating the funds that have already left the continent illicitly. President Mbeki expressed doubt about the feasibility of this endeavor but emphasized the need to address ongoing illicit flows systematically and fairly. The proposed binding international convention on taxation, endorsed by the majority of UN member states, offers a promising path forward to curb these outflows.
Shifting focus to South Africa, President Mbeki acknowledged concerns about the current state of the nation. He highlighted issues like unemployment, crime, and service delivery at the local level as critical challenges. He called for unity among South Africans to address these pressing issues, emphasizing that the upcoming elections should not overshadow the immediate concerns facing the population.
Regarding the recent disputed election in Zimbabwe, President Mbeki emphasized the importance of leaders prioritizing the best interests of their countries. He cited the 2008 Zimbabwean election crisis as an example of leaders coming together for the greater good, ultimately forming a government of national unity. He emphasized the need for leaders to act in the best interests of their nations, even if it means making difficult decisions.
Lastly, President Mbeki shared his confidence in the South African rugby team, the Springboks, ahead of the Rugby World Cup. He expressed optimism about their chances and reminisced about their 2007 victory in France. He urged everyone to support the team and believed they could achieve success once more.
Former President Thabo Mbeki’s address at the UN General Assembly shed light on the critical issue of illicit financial flows and its implications for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. His call for international tax cooperation and a binding UN-led convention offers a hopeful path to curb these illicit flows. Additionally, his insights into leadership and South Africa’s domestic challenges serve as a reminder that addressing immediate concerns should take precedence, even in the midst of political campaigns and elections.