The 52nd session of the Economic Commission for Africa Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (COM2019) ended in Morocco on Tuesday with governments being urged to move with speed to embrace digital transformation to spur economic growth on the continent.
The Ministers, including a delegation of economists from Malawi said if Africa does not move with speed to adapt modern technologies and ensure everyone has broadband Internet access at least by 2022, then the continent will not be able to leapfrog development challenges in the near future.
Experts at the meeting appealed to continent’s leaders to embrace technology to improve governance systems, including revenue collection and efficient, transparent use, and ensure its growing youthful population is re-skilled to compete in an increasingly digital world.
Speaking at the end of the meeting, ECA executive secretary, Vera Songwe, said it was clear from discussions during the conference that Africa can do more and better if it worked closely together and speak with one voice.
She said Africa should tap into the ever-growing digital economy which has disrupted age old industries while giving rise to completely new ones.
“We can do well if we work together and move from theory to action,” said Songwe, adding discussions had proved that fiscal policy was important if the continent is to increase revenue collection to finance its development, in particular it’s desire to achieve Agendas 2030 and 2063.
She said with the advent of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), Africa was on the path to economic diversification and inclusion with the digital era bringing in efficient and effective ways of collecting, allocating and use of revenues, among many other benefits.
Morocco’s Economic and Finance Minister, Mohamed Benchaaboun, said it was important for Africa to realise that it needs to rely on itself more than outsiders for its progress and development.
“South-South cooperation is also important for us as a continent. We need to take it to a higher level,” the Minister said, adding the conference had been a huge success.
Currently, African economies face major financing gaps and challenges in the mobilisation of domestic resources, despite the implementation of several fiscal and budgetary reforms.
The Ministers noted, adding digitisation can, therefore, enhance fiscal policy performance and development finance by increasing domestic revenue generation and allocation.
The Ministers also discussed threats and challenges posed by digitisation and the need to have measures in place to protect citizens and governments.
“Limited Internet access in Africa continues to impede the development of digitization in economic and social sectors, including e-commerce, e-health and e-government, which are constrained by high transaction costs, the spatial distribution of information exchanges, and limited access to international markets,” the Ministers said in their statement.
The highlight of the meeting was the launch of a new report by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) which makes a case for the need to broaden and deepen tax and revenue collection bases on the continent while leveraging digital technologies to boost collection and compliance, to achieve pressing development goals.
Governments, the report says, need to design and improve innovative digital mechanisms that facilitate revenue collection and increase the efficiency of tax administration by promoting the use of online platforms for self-reporting by taxpayers and the use of digital mechanisms to record relevant data on transactions and the identity of taxpayers.
COM2019 was held under the theme; Fiscal policy, trade and the private sector in a digital era: A strategy for Africa.