In an adaptation for the Weekly, we start close to home with updates from TAI members.
- New Project: US Foreign Assistance | William + Flora Hewlett Foundation – With support from Hewlett Foundation, Publish What You Fund launches a new project interrogating how open aid data can improve US aid transparency and decision-making
- Assessing Nonprofit Capacity: A Guide to Tools | William + Flora Hewlett Foundation– Been meaning to check your organization’s health? Perhaps some of the tools in this compilation of 91 comprehensive organizational assessment tools, checklists, and guides, might be useful!
In case you missed it…
Well, there is little chance that you missed the flood of stories drawing on the Paradise Papers. Jake Bernstein of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists argues that this latest batch of reporting brings vital transparency to the shadowy world of tax avoiders and plants a flag “on the boundary between privacy and secrecy.” However, should we be worried by the lack of outrage in response to this latest batch of revelations?
Perhaps the biggest “win” long-term from the latest releases is the addition of information from 19 corporate registries to the ICIJ database of offshore company names, directors and shareholders. This can be the basis for further illuminating the social costs of tax avoidance. The papers are already creating discomfort for politicians, sports men and royalty, but perhaps most pertinent is the spotlight shined on the tax practices of the likes of Apple and Glencore. All more fuel for dramatic advocacy pushes such as Oxfam GB’s video on tax dodging. We can expect more debates on the extent of losses for developing countries.
Debates will also continue regarding mechanisms for exchange of tax information. Christian Aid and Financial Transparency Coalition argue that agreements such as the Common Reporting Standard by G20 and OECD are structured in such a way that rich countries benefit from more information than poor countries – in essence, they rely on Unequal Exchange. Perhaps a bigger concern is the seeming race to the bottom on tax for all. The European Union signals its concerns regarding UK tax enticements that might constitute state aid.
Of course, while media investigations are benefiting from leaks, secrecy in the banking sector remains entrenched as a rule and will be well-defended. Already we are seeing efforts of Zurich prosecutors to widen the coverage of a bank secrecy law that may make it easier to convict whistleblowers based overseas.
Not that we should underestimate the effectiveness of regulators and state investigators. Just ask Paul Manafort and Richard Gates as they seem to explain an estimated $75 million allegedly laundered through shell companies and foreign bank accounts in Cyprus, Seychelles, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Meanwhile, US regulators may get more aggressive in pursuing Chinese firms that break sanctions (e.g. doing business in Iran or North Korea). The $1.2 billion fine slapped on Chinese firm ZTE may indicate shifts from mere slaps on the wrist, despite risks of Chinese retaliation on the US. Do such sanctions really work? Anne Applebaum claims that Russia’s anger over the Bill Bowder case and the effects of Magnitsky Act proves so.
Turning to the open government agenda, two opposing signals among OECD countries this week. On the one hand, Publish What You Pay Australia lauded the Labor Party commitment to introduce a mandatory reporting regime for the extractives sector if they win back power. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration announced its withdrawal from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a move that Publish What You Pay US sees as “further eroding US leadership on combatting corruption” and Global Witness attribute to pressure from major US oil companies such as ExxonMobil and Chevron. Remember that early in the year Congress repealed the Cardin-Lugar provision from Obama’s days requiring all US-listed extractive companies to make public their project-level payments in every country of operation, including the US. Furthermore, the delayed release of a national action plan for open government, due for release in October, does not bode well.
Seeking more positive dialogue, the OGP Secretariat was in Ottawa this past week, prompting us to wonder what Canada’s leadership could mean for the open government movement. For Jean-Noé Landry and Suthee Sangiambut, it should supplement Canada’s soft power. The research by OpenNorth and Powered by Data came up with six recommendations from civil society for Canada’s leadership (Facebook live discussion is also available). Joe Powell of Open Government Partnership provides a snapshot below:
Has open data succeeded? These case studies from the Philippines and Indonesia demonstrate in what ways open data improve government productivity and improve peoples’ lives. And what of the future of open data writ large? Listen to insights from Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt from the Open Data Institute. For more helpful reads, check out this quarterly roundup from Open Data Watch.
Turning to big data and machine learning, the OECD just hosted a conference on the consequences of artificial intelligence (AI) and suggest there is an implied agreement that governments should be enabling AI to be used for their obvious benefits to society, while minimizing the risks of the increased collection of personal data and also the risks of how the AI is actually using that data. How to do that remains unclear and governments might do well to listen to Kate Crawford and Meredith Whittaker, who argue that efforts to hold AI to ethical standards to date have been a flop. And we quote, “New ethical frameworks for AI need to move beyond individual responsibility to hold powerful industrial, governmental and military interests accountable as they design and employ AI.”
The Paradise Paper fallout is unlikely to make life easier for journalists who are already targets of government and criminals alike. Which countries are the worst for unsolved murders of journalists? Somalia tops the list of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2017 Global Impunity Index. How does corruption link to human rights violations? Follow the panel discussion organized by Transparency International UK and hear Baroness Shami Chakrabati announce that a Labor government would establish a public register of beneficial ownership information over foreign companies that own property in the UK; guarantee the future, funding and independence of the Serious Fraud Office, and publish the long-overdue UK Anti-Corruption Strategy. With cross-party support, legislation to create the property register could pass in 2018.
Turning to the funding world, IssueLab makes the case for foundations sharing details not just of grants but the knowledge they commission (we see the merits).
What happens to unsuccessful proposals for MacArthur’s 100&Change competition? In this case, they sought alternative funding and are pursuing their concept to understand behavior-change practices. Listen to this podcast for a fascinating look at a complex collaboration model and breaking through the traditional “rational actor” black box to designing questions around incentivizing and dissuading behaviors. A $100 million grant, while definitely welcome, would surely be challenging to manage for most CSOs. How can nonprofits manage risks around financial access? Chartered Bank and InterAction suggest five key steps, highlighting the need for collaboration among all stakeholders to arrive at solutions and transparency in standard setting and implementation. And perhaps, a design thinking approach could be useful? Another tech please to follow the IDEO method:
UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report highlights accountability as a means to achieving the SDG 4 on ensuring inclusive, equitable and good-quality education for all. It touches on the importance of trust and an enabling environment for actors and reviewed accountability mechanisms. Unsurprisingly trust was a recurrent theme in conversations at the Global Partnership for Social Accountability Forum 2017 last week.
Those shaping the aid effectiveness agenda have long acknowledged the necessity of integrating local capacity building into aid programming, but participants at the recent AidEx Nairobi conference, assert that donors and INGOs have failed to follow through. How to bridge the disconnect between high-level pledges and policy and implementation on the ground? Kenyan NGOs provide four recommendations. Would doing so require shifts in strategy? To deliver results, MIT scholars recommend breaking down the strategy into strategic priorities – actions that are simple and flexible to execute – rather than summarizing it into to a 35-word statement.
Of potential interest…
· Arnold Foundation’s New Leader Vows Risk-Taking Grants and Steady Focus – Kelli Rhee emphasizes continuous use of data to inform decision-making
Call for field-wide proposals…
On the Calendar…
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The TAI Weekly is an informal recap of news, research, and events relevant to our four work streams: data use for accountability, taxation and tax governance, strengthening civic space, and learning from improved grant making.The Weekly is in no way a reflection of TAI member views or thinking. The Weekly now goes to our mailing list and live on the website every Tuesday.
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