Friday, September 24, 2010

Letter from America: the MDG summit Day 1

This letter from America was sent to us by David McNair, Christian Aid, who is in New York at a summit meeting of world leaders to discuss the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The Millennium Development Goals Summit Day 1
Security is tight as heads of state, diplomats and NGOs meet at the United Nations in New York of a summit on progress towards the millennium development goals. A 15-car entourage is not uncommon as everyone from President Obama, to Robert Mugabe and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are in town.

10 years since the goals were set and with 5 years to go, progress is slow towards the 8 goals which range from dealing with hunger to maternal mortality.

For Christian Aid, poverty is a lack of access to power, whether that be personal, political, economic or social. Restoration of that power to the poor is addressing the root causes of poverty.

MDGs largely focus on the symptoms of poverty. However, these symptoms are real and desperate for those living without food, for mothers whose babies die in child birth, for those living on less than 2 dollars a day.

Having made my way through security barriers, passed snipers standing on the roof, we enter a side event on the role of tax in meeting the MDGs.

It is clear with rich governments failing to meet their commitments, aid isn’t going to do the job. In fact in the view of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director of the World Bank it was never going to. Developing countries raise much more in tax than they receive in aid, she told the group of a hundred dignitaries and officials.

The European Commissioner called for an end to capital flight which, in his view, costs poor countries seven times what they receive in aid. In fact everyone agreed that we would never eradicate poverty without addressing capital flight and tax dodging which we estimate costs developing countries $160bn dollars a year. Gay Mitchell MEP said this money could save the lives of 350,000 children each year and this outflow needs to stop.

This is where I got excited. Having spent most of my waking hours in the past year talking, writing and dreaming of governments taking Christian Aid’s proposals seriously the head of the OECD said this: ‘Country by Country reporting and Automatic Information Exchange are anathema to those wishing to avoid or evade tax and we should pursue them’. This is a clear signal that Christian Aid’s proposals make sense, but that it is a matter of political will to make them happen.

It is also a clear signal that Christian Aid and our partners have been successful in putting this issue firmly on the agenda of those in power. This is in stark contrast to my experience when we started this work in 2008. As a policy officer in Christian Aid’s Dublin office, I received personal abuse on national radio for defending our report Death and Taxes as completely ridiculous!

But what are those with the power going to do about it? Our friend Raymond Baker from Global Financial Integrity made a clear call for rich governments to stop facilitating and harboring corrupt money.

Angel Gurria was right. It is not impossible to deal with these issues. It is a matter of political will – and it is up to us as campaigners to generate that political will. Why not join us?


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