OGP Session: Tax Transparency
Jed Miller, TABridge Editor
In the campaign to clamp down on tax evasion and avoidance, information to enable tax collection is an essential—but too often absent—piece of the puzzle. But recently reformers inside and outside government have put new attention on tax transparency and its role in the accountability of corporations, and of governments themselves.
Participants in T/AI’s October 31 session on taxes at the Open Government Partnership summit reflected this greater awareness of the issue. Our international panel focused on ways to combat the abuse of offshore tax havens and the need for more effective, trustworthy tax systems in OGP countries.
“We heard strong calls to bring a greater range of voices to the tax policy debate.” said T/AI director Vanessa Herringshaw. “Caroline Kende-Robb of the Africa Progress Panel and Zitto Kabwe, chair of Tanzania’s Public Accounts Committee were both unhappy that tax rule-making has been dominated by OECD members until now. Africa and others outside this ‘wealth club’ must get a seat at the table. And Chris Wales of PwC said citizens and experts outside government should also be included in national policy development.”
That same day, UK Prime Minister David Cameron provided the movement with a big boost when he announced the opening of the country’s corporate registry, which shows of the real or “beneficial owners” of companies.
Cameron told the OGP summit, “… we need to shine a spotlight on who owns what and where money is really flowing.” He added, “We in government will use this data to pursue those who break the rules. And we’re going to do it relentlessly. But there are so many wider benefits to making this information available to everyone.”
“It’s fantastic that the UK has made this commitment to publish the registries of beneficial ownership,” Herringshaw said, “but the non-inclusion of trusts in this data is a huge gap, since they own the companies in many cases.”
Panelist Alex Cobham of the Center for Global Development also expressed measured enthusiasm for the UK disclosure plan. In an October 31 blog post, Cobham wrote “there has – as yet – been no matching announcement that the UK’s generally less transparent jurisdictions (the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories) will be first to join the journey.”
Cobham is also a contributor to the Transparency and Accountability Initiative’s new Open Government Guide, which lays out the practical steps that countries can take to improve openness He said that while writing the Guide’s chapter on tax policy and illicit financial flows, it was a challenge to which improvements were ‘initial’ and which are ‘advanced’ because not many have been clearly articulated, and “it is striking how few, if any, countries are yet delivering them in full. The UK has now announced a breakthrough in one area,” he added. “Who will follow here?”
See below for selected tweets about the session, and read more in the Open Government Guide.