Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and thank you Mark, Kate and Chi, for giving me the opportunity to speak today on such an important subject. I would also like to thank you all for your tireless work on Africa, conflict and the anti-corruption agenda.
This is a critical moment in the global fight against corruption. On Thursday, the Prime Minister will host a ground-breaking Anti-Corruption Summit here in London. Leaders and ministers from more than 40 countries will come together to agree action to expose, punish and drive out corruption. This international Summit shows that corruption is a global problem, one that requires us to take collective responsibility and concerted action.
Africa is a huge and diverse continent, and while we should take care not to generalise, it is clear that corruption is a serious problem for many of its countries and societies. A problem that stifles their immense potential and is all too often linked with the devastating legacy of conflict and human suffering.
Why? Because societies weakened by conflict offer fertile ground for corruption to grow. Corruption, in turn, undermines good governance and reduces the prospects for post-conflict recovery. Corruption reduces a state’s revenue, sometimes by billions of dollars, leaving less to spend on economic development, healthcare, education and security. It eats into both the short term and the long term prosperity of nations and their citizens’ well being.
South Sudan and Nigeria offer us two examples of this problem. These are two African countries that are at very different stages of their development with very different political leadership, but both face serious challenges in addressing corruption. In both countries, anti-corruption is hard-wired in to the UK’s policy approach.
South Sudan could be a case study for the damage corruption can do when it pervades a country’s politics. Corruption, poor financial management, weak transparency and a lack of accountability enabled power politics to gain control of the state’s resources. When power politics turned violent, the civil war that ensued had a huge cost - in human lives and in the nation’s development. A peace agreement has now been signed, but the country remains mired in a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. Only last month, humanitarian organisations reported being asked for around a thousand dollars in bribes for every truck they were driving from Juba to deliver aid to the people in the conflict-ravaged areas of Unity State.
By contrast to South Sudan, Nigeria is one of the continent’s fastest growing and most developed economies. But it faces its own challenges of endemic corruption, which has for too long held back stable growth and restricted government revenues. The Vice President recently estimated that almost 15 billion dollars had been lost under the previous administration through fraudulent spending on security equipment alone. And the Nigerian Auditor General reported that in 2014, Nigeria’s state-owned oil company had failed to hand over 16 billion dollars in revenue to the state.
Stopping corruption is not just about preventing government funds from being stolen. It is also an opportunity to boost revenue. As Carlos Lopes of the UN Economic Commission argues, people are already paying a form of tax through bribery and corruption. Stamping out this corruption and improving tax collection systems could release enormous untapped sources of revenue for African governments.
This money could be put to good use. Nigeria could use it to support its front-line troops fighting Boko Haram, to improve education, to build critical infrastructure. Corruption is affecting every area of Nigerian life.
As Minister for Africa, and someone who has been fortunate enough to have spent many years living and working on the continent, addressing corruption matters to me. It also matters to the UK Government. The scale of the challenge is not new. In the past, some may have thought that the problem was simply too big to solve - but if we are serious about supporting international security and prosperity, then ignoring the causes and costs of corruption is not an option.
This Government has repeatedly shown that the UK will step up to provide aid in humanitarian disasters, support the poorest countries on the path to prosperity, and help to keep the peace and protect the most vulnerable in troubled regions of the world. Whether it is ending the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, leading the campaign against sexual violence in conflict, or tackling the evils of Daesh and Boko Haram, we can be proud of our role.
Without continued action on corruption, we risk seeing all that good undone, and I am committed to ensuring that tackling corruption continues to be hardwired into our efforts across Africa, including in Nigeria and South Sudan.
In the negotiations for the South Sudan peace agreement last year, we pressed for themes of transparency, accountability and oversight to run throughout the document. The final agreement provides for important commitments, including reviewing key institutions such as the National Audit Chamber, Parliament and the Anti-Corruption Commission to strengthen them and guarantee their independence, the closure of loopholes around petroleum oil and non-oil revenue accounts and a review of all loans using oil as collateral. All this will be overseen by the Economic and Financial Management Authority, with international financial institutions, regional partners and major donors represented on its board.
The formation of the transitional government on 29 April is a big step forward. But the real work of rebuilding the country is yet to begin. We are being clear with the South Sudanese leaders that they need to make a decisive break from the past, implement the peace agreement in full and address the economic crisis. To secure the international community’s support they must make their public financial management systems more transparent and more accountable and they must allocate resources in the interests of all, not just the few.
In Nigeria, the different situation requires a different response. Here, we are increasing our capacity building and investigative support. This reduces the incentives for corruption, improves the Nigerian authorities’ ability to tackle it, and strengthens the accountability of the Nigerian public sector.
President Buhari has made it a personal priority to - in his words - ‘kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria’, and he is making progress. He is driving efforts to reform the oil and gas sector. Nigeria is establishing a single treasury account and removing tens of thousands of ‘ghost workers’ from the payroll, saving around 8 million pounds a month.
In pursuing serious corruption investigations, the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is also sending an important signal about ending impunity.
I am delighted that President Buhari will be playing a key role in the London Summit.
It is clear that deep-rooted problems like corruption will not be solved overnight. But we are determined in our efforts to tackle it. I have shared with you a few examples of our work in Nigeria and South Sudan. Efforts like this across the continent and the London Anti-Corruption Summit are vital steps towards a world in which the corrupt will find it ever more difficult to profit from public funds, conceal their ill-gotten gains and evade punishment.
The Africa I know and love is a vibrant, dynamic, entrepreneurial continent brimming with potential. The UK Government, working with our international partners will continue to do all we can to ensure that corruption and conflict cannot choke off that potential.