By David Pegg
The European parliament has voted to launch an inquiry into financial crime, tax evasion and tax avoidance, saying the Paradise Papers had revealed the “unfinished work” needed to secure fair taxation.
A special committee of 45 MEPs, provisionally entitled Taxe 3 in its terms of reference, will spend a year investigating issues including those raised in the leak of data from the offshore law firm Appleby.
A key focus for the inquiry will be the use of offshore tax havens to save on VAT. The leak exposed how the Isle of Man had issued £790m in VAT refunds to the owners of 231 private jets.
The Taxe 3 inquiry marks a further threat from the EU to the UK’s network of offshore tax havens following the EU referendum. The terms of reference specifically promise that “particular attention shall be given to the crown dependencies and overseas territories”.
The committee could also investigate the UK’s “non-dom” loophole, which allows wealthy individuals to avoid tax by claiming that their true home is outside the UK. The terms of reference say it will “assess national schemes providing tax privileges for new residents or foreign income”.
Tax advantages involved in the sale of residency or citizenship in so-called “golden visa” schemes are also identified as a particular focus in the terms of reference. The impact of tax avoidance and evasion on the digital economy will also be assessed.
“The Paradise Papers showed that there is clearly unfinished work to do if we are to secure tax justice in Europe,” said Philippe Lamberts, the co-president of the Greens–European Free Alliance political group, which lobbied for the committee. “We want to make sure that national treasuries are able to collect the money that is needed to build shared prosperity across Europe.”
The inquiry will need to be approved by a plenary vote. However, because it has already been approved by the conference of presidents, which represents the various political groups in the European parliament, this is likely to be a formality.
The Taxe 3 committee will follow up the work of the Pana committee, which was set up to investigate money laundering and tax evasion in the aftermath of the Panama Papers, and which reported in December.
“The pressure of the parliament for tax justice in Europe will be intensified,” said Sven Giegold, a German MEP who also participated in the Pana committee. He said the parliament would “investigate for the first time tax privileges for new residents or foreign income such as citizenship programmes or non-dom regimes”, adding: “Such distorting privileges are offered by Portugal, Italy, Malta, the United Kingdom and Cyprus.”
Last year the Guardian reported how EU member states, including Cyprus and Portugal, had raised billions of euros by selling citizenship and residency, in some cases to foreign politically exposed persons.
Giegold also said it was unacceptable that an EU blacklist of tax havens launched at the end of last year had failed to include “the most important places in the world of shadow finance”.
“In the context of Brexit, the committee will give particular attention to the British crown dependencies and overseas territories,” he said.
Udo Bullmann, the acting director of the Socialists and Democrats group, which pushed for the new inquiry, saidit was “paramount” to maintain pressure on EU governments to build a fairer tax system. “It is crucial to complete the work carried out in the successive committees, Taxe 1, Taxe 2 and the Panama Papers inquiry that were launched four years ago. The work to crack down on tax dodging must continue,” he said.
Aurore Chardonnet, a policy adviser on tax and inequality at Oxfam, applaudedthe establishment of the inquiry. “With this new committee on tax issues, the European parliament has again proved its willingness to tackle tax avoidance and push EU countries to adopt and implement the reforms needed to avoid an umpteenth tax scandal,” she said.
Separately, the UK Treasury has said a “review” examining the Isle of Man’s VAT treatment of private jets should be completed within the next few months. “HM Treasury is currently carrying out its review into the Isle of Man’s administration of VAT in relation to aircraft and yachts. HM Treasury aims to complete the review in spring 2018,” said the financial secretary to the Treasury, Mel Stride.
By David Pegg
The United Nations has been urged by the Tax Justice Network to coordinate a global effort to end offshore tax evasion and corruption, amid warnings that the UK is continuing to insulate its overseas territories from financial transparency.
Commenting on the launch of the TJN’s Financial Secrecy Index 2018, which ranks countries on the size and secretiveness of their offshore sectors, its chief executive, Alex Cobham, said big financial centres had proven unwilling to reform voluntarily.
“The 2018 release confirms the long-term picture that the richest and most powerful countries have continued to pose the greatest global risks – with Switzerland and the US established as the key facilitators of illicit financial flows,” he said.
“If we are to end tax evasion, corruption, fraud and money laundering, the world’s major financial centres need to clean up their act. And since they are not willing to do that voluntarily, the UN should create a global convention to end financial secrecy once and for all.”
Switzerland, the US and the Cayman Islands are the biggest contributors to global financial secrecy according to the survey, which is published every two or three years.
The UK does not feature in the top 10 secrecy jurisdictions. However, the TJN warned that the country was continuing to frustrate moves towards greater transparency by protecting its overseas territories – former colonies, some of which have since become prominent tax havens – from reform.
The TJN acknowledged the UK had made progress at home, including by introducing a register of beneficial ownership for domestic companies, but said government efforts to encourage reform in Britain’s overseas territories had stalled following the 2017 general election.
“In recent years the government of the UK refused to impose more financial transparency on these territories, especially with regard to trusts,” the group said.
“To the contrary, it has actively protected them from international scrutiny, for example, by lobbying to remove them from the EU’s list of tax havens released in 2017.”
A spokesperson for HM Treasury said: “Overseas territories are separate jurisdictions with their own democratically elected governments and they decide their own fiscal matters.
“Thanks to our leadership, all of our crown dependencies and overseas territories with financial centres are committed to all global tax transparency standards, including the Common Reporting Standard that makes it harder for companies and individuals to hide their money abroad.”
The US has risen up the TJN’s ranking from third position in 2015. The group said the increase was driven by “a huge rise in their share of the market in offshore financial services”, with no comparable reduction in levels of secrecy.
The US has also declined to take part in international initiatives to combat financial secrecy, such as the automatic exchange of information between states. Instead it has adopted its own approach, imposing financial penalties on overseas financial institutions that withhold information on US taxpayers.
“There is now real concern about the damage this promotion of illicit financial flows is doing to the global economy,” the TJN said.
Published on The Guardian on January 30, 2018
By Ndanki Kahiurika
NAMIBIA can expect to see its first transfer pricing audit early this year once the transfer pricing unit concludes gathering data from the affected sectors and companies.
Experts yesterday, however, said it would be difficult to establish how much money has been lost through transfer pricing manipulation (also known as mispricing), and to determine to what extent the practice is rife.
Transfer pricing happens when divisions of a company transact with each other, such as the trade of supplies or labour between departments.
Tax Justice, an international body which fights illicit financial flows, says transfer pricing is not illegal as long as the two companies agree on a certain transaction price and trade with each other.
However, Tax Justice says the practice becomes illegal when the companies manipulate the prices.
Although Namibia enacted the transfer pricing legislation in 2005 that gave way to the creation of a transfer pricing unit, it was not until 2014 that the country set it up.
The unit is supposed to monitor possible transfer pricing manipulation and ensure that multinational companies have the right documentation in place.
Inland revenue commissioner, Justus Mwafongwe confirmed the impending audits in a recent interview with The Namibian.
He said they could not rule out the possibility of transfer pricing manipulation in Namibia, as companies which are related to other companies outside of the country exist.
"They distort the prices at which transactions are recorded," he stated.
Mwafongwe said they were compiling data, and will identify which cases to investigate in the transfer pricing audits, based on the information gathered.
The pricing unit's staff have now been receiving training and technical assistance due to the support of the Africa Tax Administration Forum (ATAF), and this training will continue past March 2018.
Mwafongwe further told The Namibian that transfer pricing manipulation could be due to the corporate tax rate, which stands at 32%, while mining companies get taxed at a much higher rate.
"The temptation for multinational companies to declare their profits in low tax jurisdictions and pay less tax thus exists," he said, adding that companies may distort prices at which transactions are recorded.
The agency, when fully operational, will also work to the pricing unit's advantage.
Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) research associate Max Weylandt, who is an expert within the extractive industry, told The Namibian yesterday that there is no way one can know whether transfer mispricing has occurred, or to what extent that has happened.
"That is the problem. This is a very complex issue that requires a lot of specialised skills to untangle," he noted.
Weylandt quoted from the mines ministry's annual report of 2012/13, which states: "Suspicious discrepancies on volumes and values of mineral commodities declared on the royalty payment schedule leads to under-estimation of royalties".
"In some cases, transfer pricing is suspected", adding that the government now taking steps to see whether its worries were justified is a positive step.
Weylandt also said the move to have audits would deter any business guilty of dodging taxes through transfer pricing manipulation.
The researcher said it is not easy for anyone to engage in transfer mispricing as it involves complicated business arrangements.
"The key point is that large multinational corporations who want to engage in mispricing often have more access to the skills and resources than the government trying to detect and punish it," he added.
Popular Democratic Movement parliamentarian, Nico Smit said the government has been complacent in pushing for the operation of the transfer pricing unit, and that this shows that some politicians are benefiting.
"They are deliberately dragging their feet so that those who have shares in these companies, like their families and friends and even themselves, can continue benefiting," he charged.
Smit, who urged that the unit becomes fully operational to curb the outflows of millions of dollars from the country, said the government is trying to fool people by having the necessary laws in place without implementing them.
"We must enforce these laws as we cannot afford to lose more money," he added.
Smit said the country also needs to broaden its tax base, but that cannot happen when there are loopholes and incentives in place allowing various companies to move profits out of the country, or pay little or no taxes.
Audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers points out on its website that the unit will need to investigate where management services are provided from a low tax jurisdiction, or where local loss-making companies have a high-interest rate, in comparison to market-related prices.
In 2015, a report by a high-level panel on illicit financial flows chaired by former South African president Thabo Mbeki revealed that over US$50 billion had been lost in illicit financial flows between 2000 and 2008.
President Hage Geingob also took a stance on the issue, urging African countries to close any loopholes, as the same money lost could be used for development.
Just last year, the European Union blacklisted Namibia as a tax haven for the country's delay in submitting compliance documents which show that the state has laws in place to fight those who fail to cooperate or deal efficiently with tax-related matters and illicit financial flows.
Published on AllAfrica on January 15, 2018
By Jordan Weissmann
If ever there was a piece of legislation designed to guarantee that r stayed greater than g, it’s the Republican tax bill.
Remember “r>g”? It was the notation Thomas Piketty made briefly famous in his book Capital in the 21st Century, the French economist’s shorthand for the dangers that accumulated wealth could pose to society. When the rate of return (“r”) on capital assets like stocks, bonds, real estate, or factory equipment jumps higher than the rate of economic growth (“g”), he argued, we should expect inequality to swell.
Piketty’s theories aren’t exactly gospel these days. But I’ve been thinking about them a lot as I watched the GOP’s tax bill gallop towards passage (and not only because Piketty himself has been raging about it). After all, the plan is designed specifically to reward wealth—to make sure that corporate shareholders and private business owners can pocket more of our national income each year, before passing it onto their children, with only the flimsiest economic rationale to justify this. It’s a real-time demonstration of how growing inequality paves the way for moneyed interests to exert ever more control over politics and the economy, leading to the kind of world dominated by capital and inherited wealth that Piketty has warned about.
Wealth inequality has already been on a steady rise in the U.S. for years—according to the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances, America’s top 1 percent of households own more of the country’s net worth than they have at any time since the study first started in 1989. As outrageous fortunes have grown, we’ve seen billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson and the Mercer family—not to mention many smaller, but still rich donors—pour ever more money into politics. The question has been whether their efforts would ever actually bear fruit for their businesses.
This is a nontrivial issue for the future of inequality and the economy. If corporations and business owners can keep the profits flowing by investing in politics, it means they can outrun the natural economic forces that might, over time, reduce the returns on their wealth. As we’re seeing this week, their investments in the GOP are paying off.
It’s true that the rich do well in general under the Republican plan--in 2025, a quarter of its benefits go to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, 85 percent of whom will get a cut that year, according to the Tax Policy Center. But the bill is especially devoted to bulking up business profits. Republicans are reducing the corporate tax rate tremendously, dropping it from 35 percent to 21 percent, which will let CEOs shower their shareholders with more buybacks and dividends.
They are also offering a large break for so-called pass-through businesses, such as the Trump Organization or your local NFL franchise, which aren’t subject to the corporate income tax. Not counting the bill’s one-time levy on profits that companies like Apple and Google have stashed overseas, the business tax changes Republicans are enacting make up around two-thirds of their legislation’s $1.46 trillion price tag. Toss in the bill’s changes to the estate tax, which will double the amount of money today’s wealthy can pass on to their kids tax free, and you get a big, gold-wrapped Christmas gift for capital. “R” is going bonkers next year.
And what do the rest of us get in return? Republicans have promised a burst of economic growth and higher wages for workers, as companies plow their profits into investments, such as new assembly lines or office buildings. But almost nobody outside the White House or Congress is really expecting a boom. While many mainstream economists think the corporate tax cuts will boost the economy slightly--we’re talking less than one tenth of a percentage point per year, by some estimates--pretty much none believe they will generate enough growth for the bill to pay for itself, as GOP lawmakers have insisted it will, or lead to the kind of stupendous pay raises for the middle class that the administration has advertised. As for the pass-through breaks that will benefit our president? We’ve seen this movie play out already in Kansas, where state legislators finally repealed a similar tax scheme this year, after it led to spiraling deficits and rampant tax dodging while failing to produce any detectable economic growth.
As bad as the bill’s economics are, its politics seem to be worse. Somehow, Republicans have written a bill that gives away $1.5 trillion that less than one-quarter of Americans approve of. Some of that may be a messaging failure; about 32 percent of Americans said they expected to pay more in taxes under the bill, whereas only about 5 percent should next year. But it’s also possible voters just hate the bill because, as survey after survey has shown, corporate tax cuts have always been unpopular. There’s a good reason for this: Only about half of families own any stocks at all, and just one-third own more than $10,000’s worth. Most families don’t have much of a portfolio to speak of, and after years of watching big businesses lap up profits while wages stagnated, they don’t believe their fortunes are connected with corporate America’s. And for the most part, they’re right.
All of which leaves us with the overriding question: Why? Why would Republicans pass a bill so wretchedly unpopular to benefit such a small slice of Americans? Some lawmakers, like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Chris Collins, have bluntly admitted that their donors simply demand it. Others, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, may be true believers in conservative economic dogma. And others could be self-interested: The Senate originally planned a smaller pass-through cut, until Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson threatened to kill the whole effort unless it was expanded, an expansion that may benefit his family’s own business interests.
But the overarching reason is the same: The Republican party answers to the interests of wealth. Lawmakers listen to their donors. They listen to conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation or Hoover Institution, which are funded by the wealthy to create an intellectual justification for deeply regressive policy making. And sometimes, they just listen to their own accountants. The result is a tax code that favors the interests of entrenched money. After three decades of rising wealth inequality, business owners and investors are finding new ways to extend their run. The question now is how the rest of us can stop them.
Published on Slate on December 20, 2017
By Liz Nelson
The United Nations Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and human rights has released a strong statement on the ethical responsibility of corporations in the wake of the Paradise Papers revelations. The current Independent Expert, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky has said ““Corporate tax abuse undermines social justice and human rights worldwide.” His remit includes monitoring the impact of illicit financial flows on human rights and here he helpfully steers away from the immediate obsession with celebrity and individual greed, instead focusing on the systemic flaws of the global system, in particular calling out “the law firms that facilitate tax avoidance schemes must assume their responsibility.” It is encouraging that the UN is signaling an awareness and understanding of the devastation reaped globally by Illicit finance, tax abuse and financial secrecy. We share his statement here in full:
Paradise Papers: States must act against abusive tax conduct of corporations – UN human rights expertsGENEVA (9 November 2017) – International corporations responsible for systematic tax abuse should be downgraded by rating agencies and investment funds in their environmental, social and governance performance, UN human rights experts have said, as information from the leaked Paradise Papers continues to be made public.
“States must stop harmful tax competition amongst each other and work together to stop unethical tax avoidance schemes for wealthy individuals and international corporations. Corporate tax abuse undermines social justice and human rights worldwide,” said Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, whose remit as a UN Independent Expert includes monitoring the impact of illicit financial flows on human rights.
The Paradise Papers have exposed systematic tax avoidance schemes by well-known international corporations, making use of tax havens in places such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and the Isle of Man.
“We call on businesses to assume their corporate responsibility, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”, said Surya Deva, chairperson of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights. “All business enterprises have a responsibility to avoid adverse human rights impacts caused or contributed by their tax evasion practices”.
The experts stressed how business enterprises should comply with both the letter and spirit of tax laws and duly contribute to the public finances of the countries in which they operate, as also clarified in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
The experts note that the series of scandals, including the Luxembourg and Bahamas leaks, the HSBC files, the Panama Papers, and now the Paradise Papers, made it clear there were widespread practices of tax abuse that had to be addressed.
“Wealthy individuals and international corporations are continuing to engage in unethical practices, reducing their tax burdens to minimal levels by using tax havens, which undermines the realisation of human rights” said Mr. Bohoslavsky.
The experts noted that many States are struggling with increased debt levels as tax revenues do not match public expenditure. “Instead reducing spending on social security, public health care, housing or education, Governments should make greater efforts to ensure tax justice,” the experts said
The experts pointed out that corporations use publicly-funded infrastructure to transport and sell their products, employ people who have normally been educated at public expense, and expect their managers and employees to receive publicly-funded health care when they are ill. Yet, corporations shift their profits around to reduce their own tax contribution to a minimum.
The experts also noted that the law firms that facilitate tax avoidance schemes must assume their responsibility.
“The UN Guiding Principles apply to law firms too – they should consider human rights implications of their legal advice given to businesses”, Mr. Deva noted, drawing attention to the Practical Guide on Business and Human Rights for Business Lawyers adopted by the International Bar Association in 2016.
“It is not sufficient for business corporations to ensure respect for human rights and international labour standards in business practices and value chains. These commitments have to extend to taxation, if firms are to be regarded as ethical,” the experts concluded.
The issue of corporate tax avoidance will also be addressed at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights that will be held in Geneva, Switzerland, from 27 to 29 November 2017.
Published on Tax Justice Network on November 13, 2017.
In response to the latest Paradise Papers revelations, which have seen large multinational companies exposed milking profits offshore, the Tax Justice Network is calling on countries around the world to start to tax the global profits of multinational corporations.
The current system of taxation used by most countries around the world seeks to tax only the local subsidiaries of each company. That encourages companies like Apple and Nike to shift their profits offshore – out of the reach of the tax authorities and into tax havens.
An alternative system of taxation, called “unitary taxation” instead calculates the tax liabilities of companies based on a proportion of the company’s global profits. The formula used to work out the tax is based on the real economic activities company, for example the sales it books in each country.
Unitary taxation is a system already employed in many developed economies such as Canada and some states in the United States.
Unitary taxation would be simple to operate and save tax authorities millions in complex investigations. It would also demand the publication of country by country reports by multinationals, so that we would know how much tax, and how much profits were being made in each country that large corporations operate in.
The Tax Justice Network has produced a full briefing on the issue, which can be downloaded here: http://www.taxjustice.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Unitary-Taxation-TJN-Briefing.pdf
Alex Cobham, Chief Executive Officer of the Tax Justice Network said:
The current tax system is broken beyond repair. After two years of the OECD trying to patch up the system, even its biggest members the EU and US have given up and are looking at alternatives.
If we want to stop companies like Apple taking a bite out of our public services, we need a much better way of taxing multinationals.
Unitary taxation would save governments billions in lost tax revenues – as well as making multinationals and tax authorities accountable to citizens in a completely new way.
Liz Nelson said:
The only people who benefit from our outdated, bloated, tax system are the multinationals who abuse it, and their advisors who make billions dreaming up tax avoidance schemes.
A new simpler way of taxing multinationals is needed to make sure we all know who is paying their fair share.
Published on Tax Justice Network on November 6, 2017
The court handed down a three-year suspended jail sentence and a suspended €30 million (US$35 million) fine for Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, known as Teodorin, who is also Equatorial Guinea’s vice president. The court seized his assets in France valued at well over €100 million.
“This verdict against Teodorin Obiang is further proof that rampant government corruption in Equatorial Guinea has robbed its people of their country’s oil wealth,” said Sarah Saadoun, business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The French government should repatriate the money ensuring it goes to key services where it should have been spent.”
The ruling comes after more than a decade of litigation initiated by two French anti-corruption organizations, Transparency International France and Sherpa. It is one of three cases the organizations brought against high-level government officials of different countries for allegedly laundering “ill-gotten gains” in France. It was the first of the three cases to reach a verdict and the first time a French court recognized non-governmental organizations’ standing to file a criminal corruption complaint.
Because the sentence and fine are suspended, they will only go into effect if Teodorin commits another crime in France. He has 10 days to appeal.
Teodorin has been the subject of a number of international money-laundering investigations, and his flamboyant lifestyle has been widely cast as a symbol of brazen government corruption. The huge amount of money looted by members of Equatorial Guinea’s ruling elite contributes to the country’s severe underfunding of health and education.
In 2012 the US Department of Justice calculated that Teodorin had spent US$315 million around the world between 2004 and 2011 on properties, cars, and luxury goods. This is nearly a third more than the Equatoguinean government’s annual spending on health and education combined in 2011, the most recent year for which there is data. At the time, Teodorin was the country’s agriculture minister, earning an official annual salary of less than US$100,000.
The Equatorial Guinean government has vigorously defended Teodorin, claiming that his actions were legal because of domestic laws that permit ministers to do business with the state through their own companies. The government has never investigated the allegations against him.
The president promoted his son to vice president in June 2016, days after a French court ordered him to stand trial, in an apparent effort to use diplomatic immunity as a shield from prosecution. When that failed, the government unsuccessfully sued France in the International Court of Justice to stop the prosecution, claiming it violated Teodorin’s immunity.
The court decision gives the French government control over millions of euro worth of assets seized from Teodorin, including a 101-room mansion on the exclusive Avenue Foch valued at over €100 million, €5.7 million worth of supercars, and millions more euro worth of art, jewelry, and luxury goods, according to the court decision ordering Teodorin to stand trial. France has no laws providing for the repatriation of recovered assets, but Human Rights Watch and other organizations are urging the government to ensure that the funds are repatriated to the country to benefit the people who are victims of official corruption.
In 2014 Teodorin settled a case with the US Department of Justice, which alleged that he bought a California mansion, private jet, and US$2 million worth of Michael Jackson memorabilia with money stolen from the public treasury. He agreed to pay US$30 million without explicit admission of wrongdoing. The settlement mandates that the funds be repatriated for the benefit of the Equatoguinean people, which US authorities are expected to do soon. Switzerland is currently investigating Teodorin for money laundering, and in December 2016 it seized a luxury yacht worth US$100 million and several luxury cars.
Official corruption is rampant in Equatorial Guinea. In 2004 a US senate investigation found that Washington-based Riggs Bank, which held Equatorial Guinea’s government accounts, transferred millions of dollars to companies apparently owned by government officials, including the president. Three members of a Russian family are awaiting trial in Spainon allegations of facilitating the purchase of homes for Equatoguinean officials with the money siphoned from Riggs bank.
The discovery of oil in the early 1990s catapulted Equatorial Guinea from one of the world’s poorest countries to the one with the highest per capita income in Africa. Yet the government has invested only a pittance in health and education and progress on health and education consistently lag behind regional averages. Some indicators, such as vaccination and school enrollment rates, have deteriorated since the start of the oil boom.
In June, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting how the ruling elite siphon off the country’s oil wealth, particularly by owning stakes in companies awarded hugely inflated public infrastructure contracts. Graft and mismanagement exist on such a large scale that they leave little money for health and education.
“The promotion of the president’s son to vice president in an apparent effort to shield him from accountability reflects the culture of impunity in Equatorial Guinea,” Saadoun said. “With today’s verdict, the impunity for Equatorial Guinea’s ruling elite has finally been pierced.”
Published on HRW on October 29, 2017.
By Maria Martinez
It is time for corporations to use their influence to ensure a fairer tax system, not just for business but for the people and places impacted by their work.
Now that the GOP’s tax reform plan, (the “Unified Framework for Fixing our Broken Tax Code”) has been released, are CEOs going to be as vocal about their opposition to it as they have been with other issues that also affect their employee and consumer base such as DACA and non-discrimination?
It has been encouraging to see prominent businesses and their leaders take a stand against some of the decisions President Trump has taken with respect to issues affecting climate, health, and human rights. The strongest and most vocal criticism by business leaders to date has been in the wake of President Trump’s lack of explicit condemnation of white supremacist groups after the tragic events in Charlottesville, VA. This criticism resulted in the dismantling of two of the President’s business advisory councils after a rash of CEO resignations. In addition, opposition to other measures taken by the current administration including the so-called Muslim ban, the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, and the significant reduction in the 2018 budget to fund the State Department and USAID, have also sparked formal calls to action by CEOs of US corporations such as Amazon, Apple, Coca-Cola, GE, Goldman Sachs, Marriott, Netflix, Nike, and Starbucks.
The most recent source of public opposition from the US business community came from the Trump administration’s proposal to end the DACA program. In an August 31 letter to Congress leaders signed by over 300 business executives, including Tim Cook of Apple, Mary Barra of General Motors, and Alfred Kelly of Visa, recognized the essential role that people who have benefitted from DACA play in the US economy. Specifically they noted, if DACA ends, the US economy will lose almost 1 million young workers, $460.3 billion in national GDP, and $24.6 billion in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions.
In a recent blog post, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer urged Congress to ensure that the Dreamers, who “add to the competitiveness and economic success of our company and the entire nation’s business community,” are protected. Smith’s post went further calling on legislators to reprioritize their fall agenda to adopt legislation on DACA before addressing a tax reform bill because “DACA legislation is both an economic imperative and a humanitarian necessity.” Importantly, Smith pledged to exercise all legal recourse within Microsoft’s reach if Congress failed to act in this respect.
As it stands, the Administration and Congress have decided to ignore Smith’s plea and have moved to take on tax reform with the release of their Framework, thus following the timeline laid out by GOP Congressional leaders.
From what the Republican tax plan includes, Trump and GOP leaders are considering several measures such as lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent and limiting the rate to 25 percent for pass-through income, both of which will undoubtedly result in huge tax breaks to wealthy corporations and individuals, at the cost of cutting programs that will disproportionately affect people living in poverty in the United States and abroad.
Executives in the 50 largest US companies are well aware of what is at stake. These corporations spend billions of dollars lobbying members of Congress to ensure that the rules enable them to lower their tax expenses. But if the Trump and GOP tax plan passes, the lower tax for corporations will come at the cost of programs that benefit low-income and middle class Americans such as job training, assistance for the homeless, and revitalization efforts in neighborhoods hardest hit by foreclosures.
Proposed changes to international taxation rules such as switching from a worldwide to a territorial tax system or the repatriation tax holiday, would have ripple effects by incentivizing US companies to stash more profits offshore (likely in tax havens) further straining budgets in poor countries. Corporate tax is an important source of revenue in developing countries, helping to support critical infrastructure, health services, education, and more. Ultimately these changes in the US tax system would not only harm millions of people employed by the corporations and their consumers, but millions more around the world. Is this not a business case for caution in supporting reforms like those proposed, which threaten to drive even greater economic inequality?
The US tax system is in urgent need of reforms that make it fairer and more capable of ensuring that companies are paying taxes where they do business. But these tax system reforms should not further entrench the inequality crisis or increase the gap between the rich and the poor. Some business leaders have demonstrated that maximizing profits for its owners or shareholders is not at odds with strong corporate social responsibility. Paying taxes is generally considered a socially responsible behavior, with companies contributing to the public good by helping to finance the functions of government, which they also benefit from. The ways companies are avoiding taxes may not be illegal, but the ethics are questionable. Even more questionable are their lobbying efforts to change the rules in their favor. Some companies, in fact, seem to believe that lobbying for lower taxes is their corporate social responsibility.
It is time for companies to treat their positions on tax policy the same way they do issues like DACA and non-discrimination.
Business leaders: A tax overhaul will affect all of us. Use your power and influence to speak out and to help shape the US tax system into one that not only fosters growth and innovation, but provides the resources for an educated, healthy, and safe workforce and consumer base. Will you take true corporate social responsibility seriously? Are you willing to act to ensure Congress does not fail to do so? What’s it gonna take?
Published on OXFAM on October 20, 2017.
Skills development to track, stop and retrieve illicit financial flows from Africa: Dialogue with African Parliamentarians, 9-10 October, Nairobi, Kenya
By Cholo Brooks
How do you even begin to track, stop and retrieve illicit financial flows from Africa? The Consortium on Illicit Financial Flows tasked with implementing the AU’s High Level Panel recommendations believes that, because of its complexity, it is essential to develop the building blocks of understanding the use of key legislation and regulations that limit the opportunities for IFFs. This is why this group of 14 organisations has organised a capacity building dialogue targeted at members of parliament of African countries from 9 to 10 October 2017 in Nairobi, Kenya.
Illicit financial flows from Africa are large and increasing. By many accounts, about US$50 billion is taken out of Africa yearly due to trade mispricing. These constitute funds that would otherwise be used for development. Besides, African gross domestic product would be at least 16 per cent higher were it not for illicit financial outflow, based on conservative estimates. It is therefore crucial to assist African countries to develop the capacity to track, stop and return them.
MPs are an essential stakeholder in holding the executive accountable. They are also responsible to ensure legislative frameworks support equitable, accountable and transparent tax systems. Such laws are important as a basis for effective and efficient domestic resource mobilisation. It has been recognised that weak legislation, outdated regulations and lack of transparency posed a risk to governments’ domestic resource mobilisation efforts.
The Consortium on Illicit Financial Flows formed in Accra, Ghana in November 2015 is tasked with implementing the AU’s High-Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows Report’s recommendations. The Consortium consists of 14 Organisations with representation on the Illicit Financial Flows Working Group (IWG) which reports to the Consortium. This dialogue is a joint activity of four members of the Consortium:
The objectives of the dialogue are to bring to the attention of MPs the various risks to tax bases that are lodged in weak legislation, outdated regulations and the lack of innovative measures to combat IFFs; sensitise MPs to the various loopholes present in African countries that allow companies and individuals to strip out profits and assets offshore; and to discuss a range of real-life cases that illustrate IFFs and solutions available to prevent IFFs.
It is also to inform MPs of the tools available to combat illicit financial flows and to encourage MPs to advocate for these products to be ratified in their parliaments. In the end, it is to build the individual capacities of the MPs of African countries as well as develop their skills in the areas of legislation and oversight to better contribute to track, stop and retrieve illicit financial flows from Africa.
The primary target audience is those members who belong to budget, finance and public accounts committees. Members from justice and trade committees will also benefit from the dialogue and its range of cross-cutting issues. Lastly, members belonging to regional parliamentary groupings are welcomed to attend the dialogue. The dialogue is aimed at 40 members of parliament from across the continent and will be conducted in English, French and Portuguese.
Published on Global News Network on October 7, 2017.
The concept note of the conference is available below.
Highlighting the problems posed by illicit financial flows globally, including undermining rule of law and human rights, a United Nations human rights expert has called on Switzerland to ensure that so called dirty money – which stems from tax evasion and corruption – does not enter its financial market.
“Despite significant efforts in adopting legislation and improving procedures to detect suspicious transactions, the risk that the Swiss financial market is used for money laundering remains,” said Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, in a news release issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Facilitated by weak institutions and lack of good governance in countries of origin and financial opacity in countries of destination, illicit financial flows, such as money laundering are a particular concern in developing and under developed countries, syphoning money and resources which could have otherwise used for public services.
In the case of Switzerland, the UN expert noted that the risk of money laundering is particularly highlighted by the involvement of several banks in the Petrobas corruption scandal and in the suspicious cash flows linked to the Malaysian sovereign fund 1MDB.
“It is especially troubling that these events are not from years ago – the money was still being accepted until quite recently,” added Mr. Bohoslavsky, who today concluded his first official visit to the European nation.
In the news release, the expert also underlined that criminal sanctions in Switzerland for assisting foreigners to evade taxes remained relatively weak noting that criminal liability arises only if the tax evaded in a foreign jurisdiction exceeds 300,000 CHF (about $307,500).
He also urged that the staffing, resources and powers of the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority needed to be proportional to the size of the Swiss financial market, and those who infringed standards needed to be named to ensure individual corporate accountability.
Further, noting that favourable tax arrangements in Switzerland made it attractive for multinational corporations to establish their headquarters in the country, but also provided incentives for profit-shifting, affecting tax revenues in foreign countries.
“I call upon the Swiss authorities to carry out a social and human rights impact assessment of the proposed corporate tax reform package, which should include an analysis of how the reforms will impact on tax revenues available for the realization of economic and social rights within Switzerland and for individuals living abroad, in particular in developing countries,” said the UN expert.
Mr. Bohoslavsky visited the country at the invitation of the Swiss authorities, where he met with Government officials as well as with leaders in the banking, financial and trading sectors, civil society and the academia in Bern (the capital), Basel, Geneva and Zurich.
His findings and key recommendations will be presented in a comprehensive report to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council – the highest UN intergovernmental forum on rights issues – in March 2018.
Independent Experts and Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
Published on the UN News Center on October 4, 2017.