CAPAR: Africa Need Its Stolen Assets Returned – Phiri, Zambian Director Of Public Prosecutions

Gilbert A. Phiri is the Director of Public Prosecutions of Zambia. Phiri, a former Director-General of the Zambian Anti-Corruption Commission, also chairs the country’s Inter-Agency Task Force comprising all law enforcement agencies and regulatory authorities. In an interview with our correspondent on the sidelines of the 10th Conference of States Parties (COSP) in Atlanta, Georgia in United States, Phiri spoke on various issues from the just concluded 10th Conference of States Parties, Common African Position on Asset Recovery (CAPAR), and mutual cooperation between the foreign jurisdiction and African jurisdiction on asset recovery.


Can we know you and your background?

My name is Gilbert Phiri. I am the Director of Public Prosecution, National Prosecution Authority in Zambia. Before then, I was the Director-General of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Zambia. I have been involved in the fight against graft. On top of my role as the Director of Public Prosecution, I chaired the Inter-Agency Task Force which comprises all law enforcement agencies and regulatory authorities that have come together with regards to asset recovery and generally to fight crime. So, I preside over the Task Force of heads of institutions.

What will you describe as your takeaway from the 10th Conference of States Parties meeting in Atlanta?

The biggest takeaway for me is international cooperation. In recovering stolen assets that cannot be done in a vacuum. We need each other as nations and we have, from the perspective of Zambia, participated in a lot of bilateral meetings because the funds that are supposed to be used in Zambia are sitting in jurisdictions in Europe, Asia, Middle East, and North America, among others. So we have to meet with these jurisdictions so that we can work out a way of repatriation of what we rightfully believe belongs to Zambia. Clearly, we need that cooperation. But also in the continent of Africa, we need closer cooperation. We have worked too much in silos. We need to come together and add a voice to what we are doing in terms of asset recovery. So that when we meet at an international forum such as COSP, we have a united voice. That voice in unity will be respected because we have the benefit of numbers. We are the most resourced continent in the world. When we speak with one voice, there will be more respect in jurisdictions where our resources or assets are being kept than working as individual nations or in silos. This is why we subscribe to the Common African Position on Asset Recovery and we need to work together in that regard for asset recovery.*Talking about Africa speaking with one voice through the CAPAR, what has been the impact of the policy instrument so far?* What the CAPAR espouses is critical. It espouses the fact that we must come up with bodies that will assist in recovering and managing the returned assets of African countries. In Zambia, we have just started doing that. We are now legislating and coming up with a body that will assist in the recovery and management of the assets. This is where we have dropped the ball. We recover but these assets are wasted or stolen again. The CAPAR advocates that we come up with asset management bodies and also for us to work together and speak with one voice. The African nations need to come together and fulfil these aspirations of CAPAR. We are not yet there but if we can work together and fulfill the aspirations of CAPAR, we will go a long way.

Gilbert A. Phiri, Director of Public Prosecutions of Zambia

The issue of asset recovery has been a challenge for many African countries. With the coming of CAPAR, what will be your suggestion to overcome this challenge?

We need to sit at the table where there is mutual respect. I see a movement or situation where the European and Western countries which I will refer to as the foreign jurisdiction need to sit on the same table with the African countries under the banner of mutual respect. Recognition should be given that those assets are African assets and in addition that African countries have the capacity to manage those assets and to put them into good use without being dictated to about what we should do. One of the challenges that we have is that there is a disconnect. Africa is viewed as not capable of managing the assets once they are returned to create an avenue for the involvement of the same recipients of the stolen assets to come and dictate what should happen or how the assets should be utilized. If we are to relate on the basis of mutual respect, then Africa needs to be respected. It must be stated that we subscribe to the CAPAR. While we are undertaking this mutual cooperation, we need those stolen assets to be returned to Africa. The assets can be held in an escrow account with a regional financial institution so that they add value to the African jurisdiction. It is agreed that the assets are African resources. If it takes 10 years to negotiate the repatriation of the assets and those resources are sitting in European countries, they don’t benefit the African countries. The position of CAPAR is that those resources must be repatriated at least to a regional or financial institution so that during the period of negotiation, they can benefit the African region. I think that is very critical in the interim. The people that are sitting on these assets have the benefit of the funds adding value to their jurisdiction. We need that interim measure but we need to speak with one voice at an international forum.

How do we get more African countries to key into CAPAR to enable the continent to speak with one voice?

It is very important that African countries need to come together and take a cue from how countries like Nigeria and Angola have been able to recover their assets. And also to learn from these countries on how the returned assets are benefiting the ordinary man on the street. I advise that all African countries must rally behind the Common African Position on Asset Recovery and ensure that practically in this jurisdiction, we legislate and mainstream this position in our laws and in our policies. I come from prosecution and the African Prosecution Association is trying to rally to a common position. Also in Southern Africa, we are getting together as heads of prosecution service so that we can work together on asset recovery and other themes. We cooperate, exchange information informally. We need North Africa to do that. We also need West Africa to do that as well as East and Central Africa. And then when we come together, we speak with one voice.

How do you respond to the foreign jurisdiction dictating how the returned assets should be utilized?

That is the problem. That is disrespect to the African countries. If they recognize that those assets are African resources, they cannot dictate on how they should be utilized. One of the assets that need to be returned to the continent are African artworks and artifacts. How then can you start dictating to what use Africa should put those returned assets? They are our resources. I think with time the other side is going to come around to see the importance of mutual respect. Our political leaders and leaders in anti-corruption and prosecution service must not be subservient. We must push this agenda because we know what is good for our people. In the past, some leaders may have been disappointed. Some funds may have been returned, and then they loot again. But if democracy is that you are governing with the concept of the people, the assumption is that you know what is good for your people. Then for someone to come and be dictating and saying do this, do that, then there is no mutual respect. It means we still have the colonial mentality of master and servant. With the greatest respect, Africa should not accept that.

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