On September 30, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a world renowned economist recently named one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders by Fortune, delivered the 2015 Leon C. & June W. Holt Lecture in International Law at Penn Law. Okonjo-Iweala is the former Minister of Finance of Nigeria and Coordinating Minister for the Economy. She has also served as Managing Director of the World Bank.
Dean of Penn Law Ted Ruger introduced Okonjo-Iweala to a nearly full audience of both students and faculty alike. “The goal of this Holt Lecture series is to bring in distinguished speakers who broaden our own understanding of the world,” said Ruger. “We could have no better speaker today than our eminent visitor Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.”
To begin her lecture, “Licit and Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries: Are Lawyers Heroes or Villains?” Okonjo-Iweala talked about the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As the Millennium Development Goals are expiring in 2015, SDGs will be the new framework for international development, beginning in 2016.
“With 17 proposed goals, the Sustainable Development Goals this time are universal,” declared Okonjo-Iweala. “We all have problems. There is no country today that can say that they don’t have a problem with gender parity. There is no country today that can say that they have no poor people.”
The former Finance Minister of Nigeria went on to address the current problems developing countries faced in achieving the new SDGs.
“Studies by multilateral development banks and global consulting firms have shown that significant resources can be mobilized by developing countries for Sustainable Development Goals,” she said. According to Okonjo-Iweala, however, significant obstacles still stood in the way.
“Illicit flows are curtailing natural resources available to infrastructure investment, are preventing the establishment of schools and hospitals, are causing fewer jobs to be created, and ultimately preventing poverty eradication,” she said. “Under these circumstances, illicit flows are a great injustice.”
Not only that, but according to Okonjo-Iweala, lawyers played a key role as well — mainly in helping clients find opportune loopholes in developing countries’ weaker economic institutions or even by facilitating or defending clients engaged in illicit financial flows.
“Are the lawyers just doing their professional job? Or has something gone awry? Is there a moral dilemma here? Or is this just the worries of ignorant economists and financial analysts?” she asked. “I don’t have the answers. But I won’t pass on the opportunity to share with you this that has really been worrying me throughout both the years I served in the World Bank and the time I spent as Finance Minister.”
Okonjo-Iweala ended her lecture with an emphasis on the importance of lawyers in helping to attain the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in developing countries.
By Kathy Zhang C’17