This newly published report is the outcome of a Tax and Transparency Fact-finding Mission carried out by a delegation of independent experts from Asia, Africa and Latin America in October and November 2013, based on visits to Switzerland, France, Norway, United Nations, The OECD, and the European Commission. See a Spanish version here.The aims of the project are:
- Strengthening the evidence base, deepening understanding of some of the main drivers and impacts of capital flight on developing countries, and addressing them through specific proposals on responsible financing standards;
- Creating a broader and better coordinated civil society organisation (CSO) coalition on tax and capital flight issues, mainstreaming key demands in CSO advocacy and campaigning on aid, debt, budget monitoring, trade and investment, and national resources; and
- Leading a coordinated advocacy strategy at national, regional and global levels that links tax and capital flight into other areas of development finance, and particularly ensures its inclusion in responsible financing standards.
Funded by Norway’s Norad and facilitated by our good friends at Eurodad, Afrodad, Latindadd, the report’s most important conclusion – which cannot be repeated often enough:
“Some changes are afoot within the area of tax and transparency, but regrettably the ongoing changes seem to be driven by a narrow focus on the problems faced by tax collectors in the US and Europe, not bearing in mind the needs and interests of developing countries. Therefore, there is a high risk that the problems faced by the global south, and in particular the least developed countries, will not be solved.”
That fits exactly with our way of seeing the situation.
The report also has detailed sections on the three focus countries, whose short conclusions can be summarised:
Although there are changes afoot in Switzerland, the current developments serve mainly to benefit European and North American interests. The progress seen so far in terms of developing countries has been limited, and there is still a very long way to go before the significant negative impacts caused by Swiss banking secrecy and low corporate tax rate are avoided.
[TJN adds: it is important that this message is spread far and wide; Switzerland has been quite effective in adopting a public relations strategy and a theatre of probity to persuade large numbers of people, particularly inside the country, that they have ‘cleaned up.’ As we have demonstrated on many occasions, this is far from the case, and the populations of developing countries are increasingly being victimised by Swiss-based financial practices.]
France is working actively for increased transparency and against tax avoidance and evasion in several ways. Some of these efforts will benefit developing countries. However, it seems clear that France primarily does so to promote its own financial interests rather than with the aim of finding global solutions and supporting development. By strengthening the engagement and cooperation with developing countries, the awareness of developing country perspectives could be increased and global solutions could be developed.
In terms of ambition on tax and transparency issues, it is clear that Norway is a global leader. It is also clear that Norway is paying close attention to the interests of developing countries and links the issues of tax and transparency strongly to the development agenda. Norway’s involvement has been and remains very important for the state of the international tax and transparency debate, especially given the fact that other developed country governments are failing to engage properly on these issues. By integrating strong policies on tax and transparency into the management of its sovereign wealth fund, as well as strengthening the political cooperation with key developing countries, Norway’s positive impact could increase substantially.
In addition to the focus on these three key countries, there is an important section on key international initiatives. Here, again, are the concise summaries of the longer report sections.
European Commission (EC)
The EC plays an important role on tax and transparency issues, but more could be done to ensure that solutions promoted by the Commission take into account the perspectives of developing countries and creates policy coherence for development. The Commission could also play an important role in coordinating different tax and transparency donor initiatives.
There are strong arguments in favour of the UN hosting an international process on tax and transparency, including the fact that the UN is currently the only institution that operates on the basis of equality among nations. However, while the existing UNTC can provide very valuable expert analysis and recommendations, it is not designed to host intergovernmental negotiations on tax and transparency, and thus an additional process must be established for this purpose. Furthermore, additional resources must be mobilised to support the work of the UNTC as well as the broader work on the UN on tax and transparency issues.
The OECD can play an important role as the provider of technical information and analysis, but it is important for the OECD and its member states to be clear about the limitations in its mandate and legitimacy. While the OECD processes should seek a strong integration of developing country perspectives, it should also be acknowledged that the outcomes will not be global. Ultimately, the OECD and its member states should focus on supporting a global process, rather than replacing it.
The G20 has played and can continue to play an important role in the international processes on tax and transparency. However, like the OECD, it is important for the G20 and its members to seek to support, rather than replace, a global process on these issues.
The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is an important initiative that has succeeded in increasing transparency in the extractive industry. By strengthening the communication around the EITI reports, the positive impact could become even greater. However, it must always be ensured that voluntary standards are a first step on the way towards more ambitious solutions and binding decisions to ensure transparency and tax justice. Therefore, the EITI secretariat and members must promote initiatives going beyond the EITI standard.
With thanks to Jorge Gaggero.