WASHINGTON, D.C.—The G20’s recent focus on financial transparency is a welcome development, but instituting bare minimum requirements, or plans that allow for exclusion, simply give illicit flows an opportunity to continue their hazardous drain on the world’s most vulnerable economies.
Last Tuesday, the OECD released recommendations on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS), which are aimed at cutting down on the ability of corporations to shift profits into tax havens. It’s well intentioned, but the execution leaves much to be desired.
“Apparently, transparency now takes place behind closed doors,” said Porter McConnell, Manager of the Financial Transparency Coalition (FTC). “From a small group of nations setting the standard for the rest of the world, to the OECD’s extreme measures to preserve total confidentiality in country-by-country reporting requirements, G20 Finance Ministers are ultimately getting flawed guidance.”
In an opinion piece that ran in the Sydney Morning Herald, Alvin Mosioma of the Tax Justice Network – Africa, Subrat Das of the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, and Oriana Suarez of the Latin American Network on Debt, Development, and Rights called on the G20 Finance Ministers to act on a number of vital financial transparency issues. The ministers will meet this weekend in Australia, ahead of November’s Leaders Summit.
The article focused on the need to address all aspects of financial transparency, including beneficial ownership, automatic information exchange, and public country-by-country reporting.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) new recommendations to fight multinational corporate tax avoidance look robust from the onset, but there’s something missing. Since the most vital reporting information will remain out of the reach of ordinary citizens, the recommendations don’t do enough to bring transparency to a global financial system badly in need of it.
The OECD’s project on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) is intended to crack down on the ability of corporations to move profits overseas, through mis-invoicing trade transactions to avoid taxes and other dubious practices. With nearly a trillion dollars leaving developing country economies each year in illicit cash, coordinated global action to plug the loopholes is desperately needed. But key elements of the financial data collected will be kept confidential, and out of the public’s view.
We often think of tax havens as tropical islands or tiny nations nestled in the mountains. We know most of them are geographically and demographically small. Very small. Given their huge reputations, just how small they are just might surprise you.
Ireland, which is well known for its emerald hills and low tax rates, is about the same size as South Carolina. Luxembourg, a tax haven nestled in Western Europe between France and Germany, is about 2,500 square kilometers, or about a third of size of Rhode Island. Bermuda, a group of islands off the coast of South Carolina, is just over 50 square kilometers. That’s about one third of the size of Washington, DC. Singapore has about the same land mass as El Paso, Texas. Hong Kong is about the same size as Suffolk, Virginia. The notorious Cayman Islands have the same land mass as Shreveport, Louisiana.
These statistics might be surprising. How can nations so small garner such strongly negative reactions in the international community? Any why are so many tax havens so small? Is it coincidence? Or is there something else going on?
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil / WASHINGTON, DC – More than US$400 billion flowed illegally out of Brazil between 1960 and 2012— draining domestic resources, driving the underground economy, exacerbating inequality, and facilitating crime and corruption—according to a new report to be published Monday, September 8th at a press event in Rio de Janeiro by Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a Washington DC-based research and advocacy organization.
Titled “Brazil: Capital Flight, Illicit Flows, and Macroeconomic Crises, 1960-2012,” the study finds that trade misinvoicing—the fraudulent over- and under-invoicing of trade transactions—accounted for the vast majority (92.7 percent) of the country’s illicit financial outflows over the 53-year period analyzed.
Tomorrow, Heather Lowe of FTC member organization Global Financial Integrity will participate in a panel discussion organized by the U.S. Department of State. The event, hosted at the OpenGov Hub in Washington D.C., will also include officials from the World Bank’s Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative, the State Department, and Transparency International USA. The discussion will focus on the inherent links between governance and corruption, and how to combat them.
If you aren’t based in Washington, or are unable to attend the event, there’s no need to worry, as a live stream will be available on the Internet. You can submit questions to the panelists via Twitter using the hashtag #StateofRights, as well.
If you have had much contact with the disciple of economics in the last year, you’ve heard of the book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, written by French economist Thomas Piketty. And Capital concerns two subjects that are very near and dear to us at the Financial Transparency Coalition: inequality and taxes.
Piketty’s book is all the rage among economists and policy wonks. Perhaps for good reason. In a unique exploration of a new dataset, Piketty parses through literally centuries of tax data to discern long-term trends in inequality and wealth. His conclusions are broad and many, but one of his main findings is this: wealth inequality was high before World War I, it fell after and for much of the century, and it has been on the rise again since the 1980s.
That income inequality is already extreme (and getting worse) should come as no surprise to readers of this blog. We’ve heard that the richest one percent of Americans earn about a fifth of the nation’s income. Central to Piketty’s thesis, inequality is even starker in terms of wealth, rather than income. By contrast to the top earners who make one-fifth of the nation’s income, the wealthiest one percent of Americans hold about one-third of the nation’s wealth.
The Deputy President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, has issued some strong words against individuals and corporations funneling money out of the country to avoid taxes. Speaking at the National Council on Provinces, Ramaphosa called on citizens to report cases of tax evasion.
The latest edition of TaxCast, the podcast produced by the Tax Justice Network, is out! In this edition, you’ll hear about a tug of war between Switzerland and India for information on tax evaders, how Russian sanctions are affecting business in Europe, and much more.
This week the Treasury Department began assembling administrative options for deterring or preventing U.S. companies from inverting—or reorganizing overseas to avoid paying federal taxes. This move follows on the heels of a strong statement from President Obama who accused inverting firms of “cherry-picking the rules.” As he put it: “My attitude is I don’t care if it’s legal, it’s wrong.”
Particularly common among pharmaceutical and life-sciences companies, inversions are primarily a means for U.S. companies to avoid corporate taxes. In an inversion, a smaller foreign company “acquires” a large U.S. firm, allowing the domestic firm to reincorporate overseas and pay a lower foreign tax rate. Usually, this process does not change the operational or functional structure or location of the company – it just changes the way that company has to pay taxes.
Historically, these tax inversions haven’t been all that common. In fact, according to the Congressional Research Service, only been about 76 companies have inverted or planned to do so since 1983. The practice has become much more frequent, however, which is why inversion has garnered the spotlight from Treasury. Of the 76 inversions since 1983, 47 occurred in the last decade, and 14 occurred just this year.
WASHINGTON, DC – As New York regulators announced that British bank Standard Chartered PLC will pay a fine of $300 million for failing to rectify anti-money laundering deficiencies as required by the bank’s August 2012 settlement with New York regulators, Global Financial Integrity (GFI) warned that the agreement underscored the fact that fines and monitoring are insufficient for deterring illicit activity at international banks.
“As I noted in August 2012 when the original Standard Chartered settlement was first announced, monitoring and paltry fines are not an effective response in this case,” said Heather Lowe, GFI’s legal counsel and director of government affairs. “In 2004, Standard Chartered was forced to submit to monitoring by regulators for significant anti-money laundering deficiencies. The illicit activity covered in the August 2012 settlement was happening while the first round of monitoring was already in place. Now it appears that the monitoring and fines imposed in 2012 did little to rectify the situation at Standard Chartered. They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over-and-over-again and expecting a different result. The settlement today is a prime example of that.”
Last week the White House wrapped up the three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which President Obama convened to strengthen and enhance relations between the United States and African nations. One of the stated missions of the Summit was to advance America’s “commitment to Africa’s security, its democratic development, and its people.”
As such, a core promise of the Summit was more American investment in the African continent. Specifically, the Summit set the stage for more than $33 billion in new commitments to support economic growth across Africa. President Obama pledged $7 billion in new financing; U.S. companies announced $14 billion in deals in a variety of sectors, including energy and construction; and alongside the World Bank and Sweden, the United States also promised an additional $12 billion in investments for the President’s Power Africa initiative.
Foreign investment can play an important role in economic development. One study, for example, found that foreign direct investment (FDI) promotes economic growth in developing countries by increasing the transfer of advanced technology and creating higher productivity in those nations. Other studies suggest that recipient nations of FDI can also benefit from increases human capital as their residents receive employee training through the investing company. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, several studies note that host nations benefit from FDI to the extent that it contributes to increased corporate tax revenue.