Fair Tax: what does it look like and how do we get it?
Oxfam and University of Oxford co-sponsored Symposium
You know you’re a true adult when you spend your Tuesday evening at a conference on tax evasion.
As dull as it sounds from the outside, it was surprisingly interesting. At work lately we’ve been covering tax evasion, the Panama Papers leak, tax havens and how it contributes to poverty. Because all the content is sent our way, it sometimes passes over my head and I don’t fully understand whats going on from all sides (which I probably should). I’m also a ONE campaign youth ambassador and we’re calling on our MPs to do more to pressure David Cameron ahead of the Anti-Corruption Summit on 12th May to ensure tax transparency is a priority. Basically tax is a big deal at the moment and I want to learn more about how we can make it fair – to people like us and those living in poverty.
The event, hosted by Oxfam GB CEO Mark Goldring, brought together the shared knowledge of Oxfam’s directors and the University of Oxford’s African Studies Centre during the aftermath of the ‘Panama Papers’ scandal.
Dr Carlos Lopes from the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa was the keynote speaker. He introduced the notion of fair tax in Africa.
Dr Lopes told the room about how 6 out of 10 unequal countries in the world are in Africa – mostly in southern Africa. Coincidentally, 6 out of 10 jobs in Africa are classed as informal, which means employees are vulnerable to external shocks. Imagine if you had no protection over being fired out of the blue and no savings as a back up in case this happened. The closest comparison I can think of is being on a zero hour contract; no job stability and the inability to plan ahead.
‘We need to advocate for inclusive structural services – which will be economically empowering’ – Think less about international aid and more about how poorer countries can help themselves because money will be accessible to them if everyone pays the correct taxes.
‘The Panama Papers shone a light on tax evasion and now the whole world knows how bad it is’ – this is so true. I had very little interest in tax evasion until the Panama Papers leak, this Panorama story is a simple explanation of the global issue. Now that the world is listening, we need to take action to ensure this is the last tax scandal we have to witness.
’50/ 60 billion dollars are lost annually for Africa. Imagine the impact that could have in reducing poverty and increasing productivity’
Dr Lopes makes it simple; billions of dollars are disappearing. From countries who could desperately use the funds because of their current inequality status and vulnerability.
The next speaker was Jayati Ghosh is Professor of Economics at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences, at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, in New Delhi. As one of the world’s leading economists she spoke with confidence, grace and humour.
‘Taxation is part of a social contract – but the contract isn’t fully developed’ – No one is really sure where they stand in this contract so can get away with paying the bare minimum or nothing at all.
‘Flat tax means the burden falls heavily on the poor’
‘We’re encouraged to reward compliance. but what are we doing about those not paying taxes?’ – what are the rewards of paying your fair share of taxes? Healthcare, education, public services? These are available to those who avoid taxes too.
‘Thanks to Panama Papers we can see the illegal tax activity but not all tax avoidance lives in Panama or the Caymen Islands – some of the biggest tax havens are British Virgin Islands and the City of London’
‘If we’re serious about reaching the Sustainable Development Goals we need to get serious about tax avoidance’ – Basically, how can world leaders call for a more fair and equal world if other leaders, celebrities and big brands don’t pay their share of tax?!
‘Oxfam need to show up the tax havens in the UK’
Next up was Winnie Byanyima – the executive director of Oxfam International. Before that, she served as the director of the Gender Team in the Bureau for Development Policy at the United Nations Development Programme.
Winnie believes that tax is a political issue. Representing Oxfam means being politically neutral on most topics but maybe this one is unavoidable.
‘Tax has the ability to create a fairer society due to the distribution of health and education.’
‘1 company tried to avoid paying $400million in tax in Uganda. Which is more than the government healthcare budget for a whole year’
‘We need an increase in transparency – which requires a global agreement from companies, country by country. The world is watching the Anti Corruption Summit’
‘We must call it what it is – it’s theft’
Kevin Watkins is Executive Director of the Overseas Development Institute. His research focuses on education, globalisation and human development.
‘Google/Amazon/Starbucks think tax is voluntary, like making a donation’ – how do large corporations get away with treating the necessity of pay taxes like a voluntary action? Why do we still consume from these companies who avoid what we pay as citizens everyday?
‘In Pakistan tax is like an elite sport, incredibly rich people aren’t recording their wealth. What are you doing with that money? We need to format a smart strategy ahead of the Anti Corruption summit.’
‘It may be Africa’s problem but it needs a global solution’
Jayati ended the session with a question from the audience. A lady asked, how can we reward those who do pay their fair share of taxes? What are the carrots? ( a metaphor for rewards.)
Her answer was that ‘carrots for compliance didn’t work – sadly we’re only left with the stick for punishment..’
‘..and sticks work best when you don’t have to use them’
The event was really interesting to attend. Hearing from such prestigious directors and economists was truly inspiring and increased my interest in how our governments are going to tackle tax evasion.
Tomorrow is the Anti Corruption Summit. All eyes will be on London and David Cameron. Decisions made will decide the global position of wealth and poverty. As soon as taxes are fair, more money will be available for education, healthcare and jobs for the world’s most vulnerable. And the sooner that can happen, the better.
p.s. you can watch the summit live here use #AntiCorruption to join in with the conversation