Port Louis, Mauritius - Reject your "idolatrous economic model," were the words Pope Francis addressed Mauritius' political leaders with on Monday. Dubbed the "Mauritius Leaks," the island is the center of a tax avoidance scandal where companies pay a lower tax rate in Mauritius to avoid billions of dollars in taxes in the African countries where they actually do business.
"Poor African countries are losing billions of revenue needed to build infrastructure and fight poverty because of the Mauritius tax haven," stated Jubilee USA Director and United Nations finance expert, Eric LeCompte. "Pope Francis calls corruption a plague and it was the common theme for each of the three African countries he visited."
Francis is at the end of a three nation Africa tour that began on September 4th in Mozambique and continued in Madagascar before visiting Mauritius.
In Mozambique during the Catholic leader's sermon at a religious service attended by more than 60,000, Francis exclaimed, "Mozambique is a land of abundant natural and cultural riches, yet paradoxically, great numbers of its people live below the poverty level. And at times it seems that those who approach with the alleged desire to help have other interests. Sadly, this happens with brothers and sisters of the same land, who let themselves be corrupted. It is very dangerous to think that this is the price to be paid for foreign aid."
Mozambique wrestles with a $2 billion debt scandal because loans from Credit Suisse and a Russian bank intended to support the Mozambique ports and fishing industry were used to secretly outfit military boats.
"In Mozambique, the Pope is deeply concerned with corrupt officials and some global banks that benefit from and created these secret loans," said LeCompte. "The Pope is concerned by the high poverty rates, corruption and the debt crisis in Mozambique. The Holy Father asserts that debt is a tool of the rich to control poor countries."
Mozambique is recovering from two cyclones this year and data from the World Bank ranks the southeast African country as the 7th poorest in the world.
At a Catholic Mass of more than a million participants over the weekend in Madagascar, Francis took aim at allegations that more than half of Madagascar's elected leaders are involved in corrupt activities. "When 'family' becomes the decisive criterion for what we consider right and good, we end up justifying and even 'consecrating' practices that lead to...privilege and exclusion: favouritism, patronage and, as a consequence, corruption," he said.
Francis was referring to the family clan system in Madagascar and the challenge that natural resources are lost in Madagascar because of consumption of wealthy countries.
"The Pope's message for Madagascar is protect your environment and your natural resources from all forms of theft and corruption," noted LeCompte. "Madagascar's deforestation and resource theft is fueled by corruption."
In the last 6 decades nearly 45% of forests in Madagascar were lost to illicit logging and subsistence farming. In addition to corruption, Pope Francis expressed concern for climate vulnerabilities that each of the three African countries share.
“The Pope's visit to Africa spreads the message of his 2015 writings, the encyclical Laudato Si. Pope Francis in several speeches in Africa highlighted a concept from his encyclical, ecological debt or climate debt,” shared LeCompte who advises Vatican leaders on economic issues. “The rich world owes a debt to the poor world for taking their natural resources and driving climate change and poverty. Wealthy countries must return resources to poor countries so they can deal with more powerful natural disasters and extreme weather events spurred by climate change. ”