Friday, April 24, 2009

Raymond Baker of Global Financial Integrity in the FT

Our good friend Raymond Baker at Global Financial Integrity in Washington has a wonderful comment piece in the FT today. It starts by mentioning the extraordinary political impact his data has been having in India, which we have already noted too.

"The issue of India’s missing billions has grown progressively thornier, as both sides vie to take the moral high ground."


Baker adds:

"Whatever the outcome of the election, India’s problem has broader implications both for the developing world and for efforts by the Group of 20 developed and developing nations to craft an effective post-crisis economic plan for the global financial system."

He provides plenty of exta detail, then (apologies for posting such a large chunk of text) this:

"The proceeds of criminal activity, corruption and corporate tax evasion, these flows are clandestine in nature and usually end up in financial centres featuring low regulation and high secrecy. This makes it tricky to study illicit financial flows.

India is the latest of several nations to raise the alarm about illicit capital flight. Following high-profile scandals involving Liechtenstein and Switzerland, the Group of 20 nations has demanded greater co-operation in tackling the shadow financial system. Made up of tax havens, jurisdictions allowing secrecy, disguised corporations, anonymous trust accounts, fake foundations and assorted money-laundering mechanisms, it is designed to move money and obscure its sources.

What have thus far remained absent are the concrete reforms needed to dismantle this shadowy network and enforce greater transparency and accountability in the global financial system. The G20 is poised to accept the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development standard for exchange of tax information, a well-meaning but weak approach to the problem. While the much-publicised post-G20 arrangements by several havens to sign tax information exchange agreements are welcomed, these agreements are extraordinarily cumbersome. The onus remains on the requesting nation to prove that the information sought is “foreseeably relevant” to suspected crime or tax evasion. Furthermore, havens and jurisdictions supporting secrecy are not required to provide information they do not normally collect. Under the OECD standard, all elements of the global shadow financial system can remain in place.

What needs to happen now is for the G20 to broaden its dialogue on information exchange agreements, inter national co-operation and international financial protocols. Most effective in curtailing the massive illicit outflows from developing countries would be a requirement for automatic cross-border exchange of tax information on personal and business accounts and country-by-country reporting of sales, profits and taxes paid by multinationals.

As world leaders and high-level stakeholders meet this weekend in Washington, the question of India’s black money should be considered as a sign of what lies ahead. The global recession is expected to have a severe impact on developing economies and undo years of poverty alleviation efforts and economic gains. The desire to offset this predicted impact is sincere. But until efforts are made to dismantle the shadow financial system and mandate more co-operative and rigorous reporting, success will remain as elusive as India’s missing black money.

India has shown that this issue resonates with voters. Politicians in other developing country democracies would be wise to take note."


The world is rubbing the sleep out of its eyes and, slowly, slowly, is starting to wake up to the problem of massive cross-border illicit flows. Remember, this is just the illicit stuff (more data here.) Tax avoidance is another matter. And we're starting to see signs of life here too.

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