Blair targets corruption in Africa plan

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will demand a radical shake-up of the West’s approach to the world’s poorest continent when his year-long Africa Commission calls for a doubling of aid, the dismantling of trade barriers, the writing off of debts and immediate action to stamp out corruption.

The launch of the report on Friday will be used to urge a new partnership between developed and developing countries.

The report’s recommendations —likely to be the subject of bargaining between Britain and its G8 allies in the run-up to the Gleneagles summit in July — include tough measures to tackle bribery by Western multinationals in addition to huge injections of cash to fund health, education and improvements to Africa’s rudimentary infrastructure. Among the proposals are demands that banks in the developed world repatriate money pilfered by corrupt leaders and inform on suspicious accounts.

The report concludes that corruption has been the single most important factor holding Africa back, but adds: “Fighting corruption involves tackling those who offer bribes as well as those who take them.’‘

The 400-page report says the West should write off the debts owed by poor countries to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank, increase aid by $25-billion immediately and by a further $25-billion from 2010, and eliminate the trade practices that damage poor nations.

Originally suggested by the singer and activist Bob Geldof, the commission was launched by Blair a year ago.

It has 17 members, including Benjamin Mkapa, the President of Tanzania, Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia and South Africa’s Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel.

While not absolving Africa of the need to reform, it says governments, companies and banks in rich countries must all act to help clean up governance. “African governments must crack down on corruption,’’ the report says.
“Developed nations can help in this. Money and assets stolen from the people of Africa must be repatriated. Western banks must be obliged by law to inform on suspicious accounts.

“Those who give bribes should be tackled too: foreign companies involved in oil, minerals and other extractive industries must make their payments much more open to public scrutiny. Firms who bribe should be refused export credits.’‘

The report, which was obtained by the magazine Africa Confidential, contains a detailed list of recommendations that Blair and his Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown will urge on other Western nations in 2005, while Britain has the presidency of the G8 and the European Union.

The report says extra aid and debt relief should be used to fund:

  • $20-billion a year investment in infrastructure;

  • between $10-billion and $20-billion a year on health systems;

  • between $7-billion and $8-billion a year to fund basic education;

  • $5-billion over 10 years for higher education;

  • $3-billion over 10 years to help bridge Africa’s technology gap; and

  • $10-billion a year to tackle Aids within five years.

    With conflict seen as a prime cause of poverty, the report says that the West should fund half of the Africa Union’s peacekeeping budget and that the global community should start work on an international arms trade treaty.

    Blair and Brown believe that 2005 is a “make or break’’ year for Africa, but are prepared for a tough fight to get the recommendations of the report accepted, particularly by the United States.

    In a challenge to the EU and the US ahead of this December’s meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Hong Kong, the report says rich countries “must agree to immediately eliminate trade-distorting support to cotton and sugar and commit by 2010 to end all export subsidies and all trade-distorting support in agriculture.”

    It also endorses Brown’s aid proposal for an international financing facility, which was rejected by the US and Canada at the February G7 summit. — Â

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