African accounting conference hears stirring calls to fight corruption

14 May 15

Africans must reclaim their dignity and stand up to corruption, the Africa Congress of Accountants heard today.

In an emotional address on the final day of ACOA 2015, Ignatius Sehoole, deputy chief executive of PwC Southern Africa, said the number of Africans living on less than $1.25 a day has doubled in the last 20 years.

‘That is not statistics to me. When I walk in Mogadishu, in Joburg, in Maputo and I see the faces, those are not statistics. They are my brothers and sisters. That’s why I’m in pain.’

He said there was a need to ‘declare war’ on corruption and illicit financial flows that take wealth out of Africa and keep its people in poverty.

But he warned that there is ‘no safe space’ in the battle against corruption and accountants risk losing their jobs and possibly their lives if they speak up.

‘Do you think the corruptors in the western world are going to give it back? If you want it, you must go get it. You must go and fight for your motherland,’ Sehoole said.

‘If we declare war there will be casualties. It might be you or it might be me. The choice is yours. Are you going to hand over your continent? Or are you going to reclaim it?’

He said Africa’s biggest problem was its people. ‘We come up with all kinds of schemes to defeat justice and bypass the rules. Why? Because there’s a promise of a suitcase at the end that you haven’t earned but that you are quite happy to take, disadvantaging your brothers and sisters down the road.

‘We forget who we are stealing from … right now we are slaves of greed. Nobody needs a billion.’

However, another speaker, Afsar Ebrahim, deputy group managing partner of BDO in Mauritius, gave a slightly different view. He said the issue of corruption in Africa had been over-stated.

To applause from delegates, he said: ‘The perception that the whole of Africa is for sale is wrong and we need to fight that.’

Ebrahim highlighted Africa’s banking sector, which he called the ‘weakest link’. Tougher rules and regulations for African banks would be an important step in ridding the continent of corruption, he added.

Compliance with regulations is also important, he said, arguing that authorities should not be frightened to revoke a bank’s licence if it was found to have breached it.

‘You’ve got the rules, enforce them,’ Ebrahim said. ‘No investor is going to complain if the rules are clear and consistently applied.’

Aziz Dieye of Senegal and a founding member of the Pan African Federation of Accountants told the session that the profession needs to act as ‘moral guides’.

He said: ‘Africa is a poor continent that is exporting wealth. What can we do to stop that? The line of defence is in each and every one of us.’

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