Subject to resource availability
The Platform for Collaboration on Tax held its inaugural conference in New York last week (14-16 February, 2018). With the backdrop of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) this collaborative initiative choreographed by Platform Partners – International Monetary Fund (IMF), Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), United Nations (UN) and the World Bank (WB) – reminded us that “an era of unprecedented international cooperation on tax is underway with the implementation of Automatic Exchange of Information, the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Project, and the strengthening of the United Nations Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters—all creating new opportunities for the enhanced participation of developing countries in international tax policy discussions and institutions” (Conference Statement, 16 February).
With the IMF, World Bank, OECD and UN holding the power and influence needed for achieving success in the SDGs, you would hope to see a sense of determination or a set of discussions which invited meaningful debate and robust critique. Cue dampened expectations.
The conference had three fundamental problems:
Civil Society, private sector, governments and academia – all present, but not lost on many was the relative absence of developing countries on plenary panels, or worse still a platform given to the Panamanian Minister of Finance lauding progress made to the benefit of the poorest.
Among other things a snapshot review of those with a voice shows that there were 4 CSO speakers out of a total of 74 platform slots (including moderators)
…that of those 74, just 26 (35%) were women….
…that of the 35 plenary speakers, just 10 were women…
…that of the 14 panels, 4 were all male panels (manels)…
…that of the 74 platform slots, 48 were taken by people based in the OECD (although only 37 of OECD nationality)…
SDGs – from A to B:
Most befuddling and disappointing of all was the absence of any substantive analysis of the ambition, potential and challenges presented by the SDGs – the ‘scope of the problems facing developing countries as they try to achieve sustainable development’. As the Platform outcome statement says “Achieving these goals requires enormous financial resources” but no glimmer of hope through a recalibrating of the international tax and financing system, how we could get from A (now) to B (2030). Had developing country representatives and civil society been given a ‘platform’ (excuse the pun) and had there been a political openness and frankness which many in civil society felt was missing, a real collaboration might have enthusiastically begun.
This was experienced as a carefully choreographed set of discussions frequently out of step with its stated purpose. It gave us an outcome statement with three areas of work on which to go forward “subject to resource availability”:
· Strengthening international tax cooperation
· Building Institutions through Medium Term Revenue Strategies
· Promoting partnerships and stakeholder engagement
And a route map of 14 points of action including a welcome commitment to:
“analyze and report on the spillovers and opportunities from changes in the international tax environment on and for developing countries”.
We would expect that the Platform partners will, as part of the spillover analysis and ensuring important policy alignment, use the opportunity disaggregate data which illuminates the gender impact of taxation policy and law in one jurisdiction on another.
Overall the conference reminded us all of one of the fundamental problems facing tax cooperation. We can have all the technical platforms we like. But unless there is a high level political commitment to taking the difficult steps to a fairer tax system, ending the race to the bottom, and the full inclusion of developing countries in discussions of how international tax policy is crafted, the ruminations of technocrats will have little hope in achieving the ambition of the SDGs