Marrakech / Addis Ababa 25 March 2019 (ECA) – With a collective resolve, “Africa can raise the U$680 billion a year needed to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a decade,” Vera Songwe – Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, told African ministers and hundreds of delegates attending the Commission’s 52nd Session, Monday, in Morocco’s historic city – Marrakech.
Referring to Nelson Mandela’s maxim that ‘there is no passion to be found in playing small and settling for a life that is less than the one we are capable of living,’ Ms. Songwe contended that “to achieve those Goals, Africa needs to triple its 2018 growth rate of 3.2 per cent” which “will require an increase in investments and productivity.”
“Notwithstanding this huge financing gap, African countries have the potential to increase government revenue by between 12 and 20 per cent of GDP.”
This, she said, could be achieved by implementing the recommendations of the just released ECA 2019 Economic Report on Africa [download a copy here: www.uneca.org/era2019] which calls for the adoption of appropriate fiscal policies; the taxing of hard-to-reach sectors such as agriculture, the informal sector and the digital economy; and the leveraging of digitization in development programs, instruments and practices.
Much of the responsibility for implementing the needed reforms rests on the shoulders of the African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, to whom the annual ECA session is primarily dedicated, as indicated by Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, who also addressed the day’s plenary.
“You need to generate resources for ambitious goals, within a tight fiscal space,” Ms. Mohammed asserted, while noting that “the Secretary-General is determined to help all countries align investments and unlock funding to finance the sustainable development goals.”
She brought to the fore Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ strategy for financing the SDGS launched in September 2018, with the objectives of: 1) aligning global financial and economic policies with these SDGs, 2) enhancing financing and investment strategies at regional and country level and, 3) seizing the potential of financial innovations, new technologies and digitalization.
In this context, the merits of digitization was amply unpacked by Duvvuri Subbarao, former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, who detailed how India is achieving financial inclusion through smart platforms that have come out of careful government partnership with the private sector - notably banks.
India has successfully rolled out its Unified Payments Interface (UPI) which, he said, is a robust and secure system facilitating instant bank-to-bank transfers using mobile phones that integrate users’ biometric details.
The system, he explained, was orchestrating US$12 billion transactions monthly and has been a huge success because the Indian Government has made digital infrastructure a public good.
This is a strategy which Africa and others can tap into, to further boost their already advanced fintech systems such as M-PESSA.
“It therefore becomes crucial to have sustainable levers for enhancing efficiency, transparency and good governance in fiscal policy, particularly through the recourse to technological innovation and digitization” to marshal resources needed for Africa’s transformation, professed Mohamed Benchaaboun, Minister of Economy and Finance of Morocco, who officially opened the Conference of Ministers.
He argued that mobilizing resources to implement development plans was “not for the government to tax more and spend less but to tax more equitably and spend better,” even as he acknowledged setbacks in Africa, also raised by other speakers.
These setbacks include: Infrastructure deficiencies, the digital divide, tough business climates and inadequate judicial frameworks.
“We are duty-bound to cooperate,” to surmount these challenges as “there is no other way!” harped Hala El-Said, Egypt’s Minister of Planning, Monitoring and Administrative Reform.
She said there was urgent need “to collectively invest in infrastructure and an improved business climate” to foster intra-African trade which would be “a real catalyst for economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa.”
Omar Hilale – Vice president of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), kept a positive posture that such high-level fora convened by world bodies and their partners – notably UN regional commissions such as ECA – were very important in whipping up efforts for sustainable development.
He said “Africa is now ready to kick-start its own model of sustainable development, as exemplified by Agenda 2063.”
Like the other speakers, he saluted the leadership of ECA’s Executive Secretary – Vera Songwe – in supporting Africa to move ahead with its regional dimension of sustainable development.
The ministerial segment of the 2019 ECA Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development features high-level discussions on various components of the theme: “Fiscal policy, trade and the private sector in the digital era: a strategy for Africa.”
It also features an Adebayo Adedeji lecture themed: The digital transformation in Africa: hype or reality.”
A pictorial report headlined: “ECA – 60 Years in Step with African Development” is also being launched at the Conference.
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