Speech by High Commissioner James Thornton on the UK’s priorities for its presidency of the G8
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The High Commissioner delivered this speech on the G8 agenda in front of a group of government officials, CSOs and students on 19 March, 2013.
Thank you all for coming today.
This is the speech that we had expected the UK Minister for Africa Mark Simmonds to make during a visit here today. Sadly, business in the UK Parliament led to all Ministers to be called back to London and for a visit to Zambia and to Namibia to be postponed. Mr Simmonds was very disappointed not to be able to come, and hopes to be able to reinstate his visit at some stage.
By coincidence, 19 March 2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of David Livingstone. Zambia and the UK already have close ties, but I’m pleased that the David Livingstone Bicentenary and Livingstone 2013 initiative is seeking to strengthen the links between the UK and Zambia, and that a series of events are planned in both our countries to celebrate the explorer’s life and in particular his commitment to medicine and education. I know that the organisers of the events are seeking to ensure that there is a lasting legacy and partnership moving forward, which will benefit the community and the local economy;
I want to do two things here today. Both relate to the fact that it is once again the UK’s turn to chair the G8 group of leading world economies. The first is to say something about what we hope to achieve through this chairmanship and how we want it to benefit Africa. The second is to hear the views of you here on what we should be doing.
The G8 – Africa partnership has a long history. Over the past decade we have taken determined action together to create jobs, increase prosperity and help millions escape from poverty.
When the UK last held the G8 Presidency in 2005, we also focussed the agenda on Africa. We secured agreement on a substantial increase in the money that G8 countries spent on developing the continent. Not all the pledges made there have been honoured, but many have.
The UK has since gone still further. The UN has long set a target for the giving by rich countries of money for development assistance. None of the big developed economies have come close to reaching that target. But a few years ago the UK decided that it would do so. Already our aid budget increased 48% between 2007/8 and 2011/12. It will rise still further this year, and will hit the target for the first time. This is despite having to make difficult budget cuts in other areas, because of the economic and financial problems that we are facing.
As you know, part of that aid budget is spent here in Zambia. The amount comes to approaching half a billion Kwacha rebased a year. This is spent through a broad range of programmes aimed at improving the lot of the poor and supporting good governance and wealth creation.
But the world feels a very different in 2013 to 2005. Africa is demonstrating global leadership – politically and economically. Seven of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa – and that includes Zambia. New African entrepreneurs, new African businesses, and new African leaders are creating opportunities across the continent which the rest of the world should learn from.
In Zambia e.g. a decade of growth has seen income per head grow to almost $1500 and Zambia regain lower middle income status. This growth has been built on sound macro-economic management, debt relief, good harvests and increasing foreign investment. The prospects for future growth are good.
This means that many African countries no longer need money in the same way. Other sorts of support are equally if not more appropriate. We are adjusting our agenda for the G8 in the light of that. There are three key areas where we will concentrate our efforts: TRADE, TAX and TRANSPARENCY
For a decade the UK was at the forefront of efforts to agree a global deal to reduce tariff barriers. Unfortunately the Doha Round, as this was known, did not succeed. But there are other things that we can do. One problem with trying to buy and sell goods abroad is the sheer amount of paperwork involved in doing so. We want to use the Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation this December to secure agreement to get rid of this bureaucracy. Such a deal alone could be worth seventy billion dollars to the global economy and help trade flow freely across the world.
We also want to use the G8 to unblock trade corridors across Africa specifically and reduce the transport costs that slow down the movement of goods. As a landlocked country which is also a transit hub for the region this is especially important for Zambia. We want to support more programmes to boost regional trade and integration.
In Zambia this programme has helped to speed up the time it takes to move goods across the border and helped improve tax revenue. Our work on the Chirundu One Stop Border Post is a good example. And, through our Department for International Development, known to you all as DFID, we are funding the upgrading of part of the road between Lusaka and Chirundu, along which are transported so many of the goods imported by Zambia.
We need a serious debate on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. This is a problem that affects both the developed and developing worlds. We want to look at how to better exchange tax information between different countries, so that multinationals can’t play cat and mouse with revenue authorities.
Here in Zambia, effective taxation will be critical if the nation’s riches are to fully benefit its people. Zambia is endowed with abundant natural resources. DFID is looking at ways in which it can support the Zambia Revenue Authority.
And thirdly, transparency. We want to raise global standards so that more information is available - be it on land deals or mining contracts – helping to ensure that countries’ natural resources benefit their citizens.
So in the G8 we will look at how we can make all government data more open and transparent, and how we can use new technology to make it accessible to citizens – so that information is clearly published on the internet, and we can all see how much governments are being paid for their natural resources, and how much of that money is being invested in the economy
Zambia is to be congratulated for joining and complying with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. This involves governments and industry jointly publishing a document indicating what tax is paid in the mining sector. Doing so helps ensure that the industry remains free of corruption.
The UK would also welcome Zambia’s candidature of the Open Government Partnership, which aims to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. I hope the Access to Information Bill can be passed soon. This would bring Zambia closer to qualifying for membership of the OGP.
I would also say that transparency is important in keeping the confidence of donors. Zambians have a right to be sure that money levied from them in taxes is being properly and effectively spent. UK taxpayers have the same right with regard to their assistance to countries such as Zambia.
Our agenda in all these areas is closely related to many of the initiatives that are being developed by African organisations. The African Union has developed what it calls the African Mining Vision, a plan to help its members use mining to maximise their development. There is a similar plan for land use. And the former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, is leading a panel looking at illicit financial flows. We want to work with all of these. We are committed to making a success of the Africa Partnership Forum, a body that brings together donors and African governments.
When seeking to invest, businesses also of course look carefully at the wider picture, including politics and human rights, and fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of association and assembly. Zambia has a strong tradition of parliamentary democracy and we are encouraged by the work of the Human Rights Commission and of many NGOs. The Commonwealth Charter, adopted in December, commits all the organisation’s members to respect democratic governance and freedom of expression. We call on all in Zambia – government, opposition and civil society, to uphold the highest standards in these areas. All have a right to express themselves and to congregate peacefully; but all should recognise that others have that right too.
On Women’s rights specifically, we were encouraged that Zambia and other African countries agreed a strong declaration on Violence Against Women (VAWG) at Addis Ababa in January. We commend the Zambian Government’s work to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. The British Government’s commitment is demonstrated by the Prevention of Sexual Violence Initiative being championed by the UK Foreign Secretary.
As part of our G8 commitments, the UK will be hosting a Global Food and Nutrition Event on 8 June, at which we are seeking to drive global action to reduce hunger and malnutrition. This follows on from a similar event hosted by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, last year. We hope that Zambia will be able to send a high-level representative. DFID will be scaling up its work in this area in support of the Zambian Government’s own programme for babies and young children.
Finally, I know the G8 has made pledges before. We won’t forget those. The UK will prepare a Comprehensive Accountability Report, looking at all the G8’s previous commitments and holding ourselves to account on delivery of past commitments. We will make sure that African countries are consulted on that report and can feed in their views.