Over 8.3 Billion Dollars left Ethiopia in an illicit manner in the past 18 years since 1990, an amount comprising an average 3.6% of its GDP, a damning and first of its kind study, conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), revealed last week.
Ethiopia is one of the top 10 out of the 45 least developed countries (LDCs).
This is part of the One Trillion Dollars that is believed to have left LDCs over the years covered by the study, an amount estimated to be 10 times larger than what these countries receive from rich countries in the form of official development assistance (ODA).
Ethiopia’s loss of over eight billion dollars in the past nearly two decades represents an average of 3.6% of the amount it has received from its development partners during the same period, the study revealed.
The worst period was in 2006, when illicit funds representing 9.2% of foreign assistance for the year, amounting to 1.4 billion Birr, was believed to have left the country.
This money could be used for the countries’ development efforts,” Helen Clark, UNDP administrator, said at a panel discussion held in Istanbul, Turkey, on the side of the UN’s fourth conference on LDCs.
The 63-page report by the UNDP was released on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 11, 2011, where Abdella Hamdok, an expert on the issue from the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), was one of the panelists.
“It is an excellent report that has managed to capture the extent of the problem,” she said.
Although there are 49 countries listed as LDCs, and 45 of them were covered under the study, 70% of the illicit outflows of funds as “any money that is illegally gained, transferred, or received” originated from Africa, according to Hamdok.
Another finding of the report that raised eyebrows among panelists was the revelation that the usual suspects of African dictators and their cronies do not have as much part in the money laundering scheme as members of the private sector. A staggering 79% of money laundering out of these countries was funnelled through what the studies described as the “mispricing of trade.”
The mispricing of trade involves businesses under or over invoicing of their merchandise, according to Clark.
“When a ton of bananas is sold for a dollar, but the invoice says 50 dollar cents, the other half is slashed to be sent to an offshore account,” said Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, a former senior official from South Africa who now serves UNDP as director of Democratic Governance Group.
The source of illicit money is tax evasion and an attempt to launder the gains through the international financial system, according to the UNDP study.
“That there is a lack of adequate global tax monitoring and the absence of information sharing has contributed to the outflow,” said Moleketi.
Macroeconomic problems such as high inflation, structural characteristics of an economy including non-inclusiveness of growth, and overall governance issues such as political instability were blamed by the UNDP experts as the reasons behind money laundering from poor countries.
Ethiopia, sharing all or some of these factors, lost an annual average of 491 Million Dollars over 18 years, the study disclosed.
The highest amount to have fled the country, 2.1 Billion Dollars, was recorded in 2008.
It claims nearly 8% of the country’s GDP registered that year, according to the UNDP study.
Ethiopia’s loss of foreign currency to money laundering between 1990 and 2008 was 1.2 points below the 4.8pc average recorded for all the countries covered in the study, while 27 of these countries are above this average which bleeds their economy.
Government representatives at the discussion were advised by the UNDP officials to modernise their customs systems and undertake public administration reforms to provide expertise to fight money laundering.
No Ethiopian government delegate was present; while over 30 had arrived in Istanbul, they left the day before.
Apart from an Ethiopian working for the UN and stationed in New York, there were two other Ethiopians in the room where the discussion took place. Among them was a shareholder of a prominent importing company in Ethiopia, Garad Plc. They had also left before the recommendations of the UNDP were read out.