Seychelles is hosting the 13th Regional Conference of Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in the Commonwealth of Africa.
The three-day event opened officially on Monday by the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Baroness Patricia Scotland.
Scotland also met with Seychelles’ President, Wavel Ramkalawan later on Monday at State House.
SNA met with the Secretary-General to learn more about the discussions at State House and the importance of the regional conference.
SNA: Can you tell us about what was discussed during the meeting with the President at State House?
PS: We were talking about the Commonwealth and the way in which we want to create a digital, smart Commonwealth, an opportunity to really deliver for the 2.5 billion Commonwealth citizens, 60 percent of whom are under the age of 30.
We are living in very challenging and difficult times. If you think about the threats, the exogenous shocks we’ve been subject to, not least climate change, and understanding the reality of what climate change means to all of us.
We talked about trade, the opportunities that there are to develop the African continental free trade area, the fact that the Commonwealth has a 21 percent trading advantage and how are we going to maximize those trading advantages to the best interests of all our people.
We also talked about our young people, how fabulous they are, and the opportunities we need to give them. We talked about AI (artificial intelligence) and the fact that we have just launched two programmes, one of which is called Simply Learn and is about giving 10,000 certificates to Commonwealth young people to grapple with this AI machine learning technological revolution. We want our young people to have jobs, so these 10,000 certificates will enhance job opportunities.
We also talked about what we’re doing with Intel, the fact that Intel and the Commonwealth secretariat have put together a fantastic training course for senior officials so they can better understand the threats and the opportunities that are coming from AI and from machine learning and from things like blockchain and how we can all collectively take advantage of them.
We also talked about the fact that Seychelles is now number one in Africa in relation to anti-corruption and how we develop and promote these good things.
We discussed the opportunity there is as a result of the generally accepted performance management principles for good governance which was agreed last year by all our heads including the president and how we are going to implement all those things.
It was a very rich conversation where I was able to congratulate Seychelles for being number one and really say thank you so much for inviting me back and being the hosts for the anti-corruption Africa conference, which is taking place right now in the Savoy Hotel.
Scotland addressing participants of the 13th Regional Conference of Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in the Commonwealth of Africa in Seychelles. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY
SNA: In your address, you mentioned $50 billion lost per year in Sub-Saharan Africa to illicit financial flows. How do you think such conferences will help in bringing back the funds to the countries that need it the most?
PS: What is critical is that we understand that unfortunately, corruption is global. We are no longer only dealing with local actors. Most of those who strip us of our money through bribery and corruption are international players working with local players.
This is why it’s critically important that all the anti-corruption heads from the whole of Africa come together because it’s likely that each jurisdiction and Seychelles regrettably is no different, will be having to fight those corrupt persons both within their country and outside.
If we look at most of our countries we’re unfortunately dealing with similar people and similar entities so the more we can come together, we can find out what works, how we interdict it, how we stop them, but also what has not worked well so that we can share knowledge and expertise and we couldn’t build a real consensus between us. We must hone our legislation and our regulation because these crooks don’t obey any rules and they duck them, they dive, and they use our rules against us if they can.
SNA: Can you give a tangible example of how these funds can be brought back to the countries that most need them?
PS: What we are doing now is understanding by coming together. How do we synthesise those rules? How do we make sure that we interact in the most coherent quick and effective way? How do we make sure that no jurisdiction is left behind and how do we raise all our efforts in a way that makes us better able to compete against them?
I said you know they have their conspiracy we need to have our conspiracies just that our conspiracy is of the just and we must outfox them, outbid them, and outwork them. The great thing is we can, we are doing so and we’re succeeding.
The anti-corruption agencies are talking about all the assets they’ve recovered and how we can use those assets for the benefit of our people. So many people think that anti-corruption is not worth doing, that corruption is a victimless crime. It’s not. If these people didn’t steal our money, we would have enough money to meet the sustainable development goals, we’d be able to raise billions of people out of poverty.
I’m proud of what Seychelles is doing. I’m proud of what the Commonwealth Secretariat is doing. I’m proud of what we’re doing with the anti-corruption agencies in Africa. This is our fight back and we’re saying to the crooks you are not going to win because we are going to fight you with everything we have and we’re going to do that to save our people from your bad efforts. We’re also going to save our children so that they will have a better future than they have without it. The fight back is here and I’m so proud that Seychelles is leading the way.
SNA: How would you describe the relationship between Seychelles and the Commonwealth?
PS: It is incredibly warm and tight. Seychelles is a much-loved member of our Commonwealth. We’re very proud that Seychelles is number one in terms of anti-corruption in the whole of Africa and she’s ours.
Scotland with the participants of the Regional Conference of Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in the Commonwealth of Africa. (Seychelles Nation) Photo License: CC-BY
SNA: During the 8 years that you have been leading the Commonwealth, what is the best example of a Commonwealth project that has had the most impact on its members?
PS: I think all the work we’ve done on climate change in particular. For the 33 small states and the 25 island development states, climate change has posed and still poses an existential threat. The fight against climate change is hugely important.
This is our opportunity to come together, as we did way back in 1989 to say to the rest of the world wake up many of our countries are going to drown either as a result of rising sea levels or the debt that’s created because we have had all the damage caused by climate change. So, climate change is hugely important to us.
The fact that we’re now pushing for the universal vulnerability index, the fact that we’re saying that GDP should not be the final arbiter as to whether we get loans at a preferential rate because so many of our so-called higher-income countries are small and innately vulnerable and have suffered very acutely.
The work we’ve done on the Blue Charter, the work we’ve done on the Living Lands Charter but also the creation of the climate finance access hub. With just a tiny bit of money, we have already delivered $250 million worth of assistance to our member states. We’re enormously proud of that. We’ve got 800 million in the pipeline, but we know we must do more.
I’m glad we’ve been able to place in Seychelles a climate finance adviser and we are hoping that that adviser will be able to make even better applications on behalf of Seychelles to try and help us to adapt and mitigate.
We’ve said that we need a regenerative approach to climate change, and it needs to be one which will enable us not just to adapt and mitigate but actually, one which will reverse climate change. If we don’t reverse it, the whole world is in trouble. We must save our planet.
SNA: The Commonwealth is often criticised for being an inefficient organisation that does not have relevance for its member countries today. What is your response to this?
PS: I think that is so inaccurate. If you look at what’s happened – every single member state that has ever left the Commonwealth, has applied to return and has either come back or wants to come back. Zimbabwe is the only one so far who has left and has not yet come back, however, they are applying to come back.
Look at what just happened last year. Gabon and Togo, two countries who’ve always been part of the Francophonie – never had anything to do with the anglophone Commonwealth, both have asked to join and were permitted to join the anglophone Commonwealth. Why? You asked them and they say, ‘Who would not do this?’ ‘You’ve got a $768 billion trade between you. You have this 21 percent advantage. You are doing great things on climate change. You are doing brilliantly for your young people.’
The countries in Africa are at the top of the Mo Ibrahim Good Governance Index. All our countries are saying the Commonwealth has never been more relevant. I know that our members love each other and that’s the most powerful thing.
Look at what happened to us all during COVID. COVID was a terrible time when a number of us lost people we loved, and a number of us had family members and friends who were devastated by COVID. Our economies were really crushed, but what did you see in our Commonwealth? The very first set of ministers who met virtually were our health ministers.
When everybody else was running away from each other, our family ran towards each other. People were asking ‘What can I do? How can I help?’ All our accredited organisations, our doctors, our nurses, our pharmacists, our people, our young people. I was never prouder of our family than when I watched what the family of the Commonwealth did to help each other during those times.
The (British) Prime Minister said to me ‘You know, the Commonwealth is your bad weather friend – you know who your friends are when times are rough.’ When times are good everybody wants to be your friend but when times are tough that’s when you know they are your family. The Commonwealth is your family.
We needed that love, affection, and warmth, we needed the friendship, solidarity, and care. In the last three years, I think we saw why so many people said the Commonwealth was a beacon of hope and peace and provided so much loving support. That’s irreplaceable. It’s not about just how many guns and tanks you have. It’s about when times get tough, who do you see and I’m proud to say our member states saw the Commonwealth Secretariat shoulder to shoulder with them and saw each other.
This Commonwealth of Nations is a family built on values, respect, and the rule of law. I think this family has never been stronger. We’re growing day by day. When I leave as Secretary General, I know that the Commonwealth will be stronger, and it will go on to the next millennium. I think someone said, ‘Those who have counted the Commonwealth out, they better look out because they’re the ones who are going to be hit for six.’