Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Africa Tax Conference

We have already remarked on the fourth meeting of the OECD Forum on Tax Administration in beautiful Cape Town on January 10-11, and especially the speech by South Africa's Trevor Manuel.

Our attention has been drawn to plans for a conference on Taxation, Governance and Capacity Building in Africa to be hosted by the South African Revenue Service in late May 2008. (You will find the reference on p4, Section iii of the final communiqué of the January meeting.)

As the communiqué says:

"We propose that the conference in May considers the establishment of an International Tax Centre on the African continent with funding from donors and other interested parties. Overall, the Centre would focus on a more coherent approach to capacity building in the African continent. In doing so, the Centre would ideally work with interested international organisations and other institutions and donors to focus on the development and application of good practices. It would also seek opportunities to develop synergies as well as ensuring that maximum benefit is gained from the use of scarce resources."

We welcome this development, but we would like to see civil society groups having a good voice in this. (We would also like to think that by May, delegates will have had time to read this book. ) A precise date does not yet seem to have been set. We will let you know how this progresses.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Words from a retired crime-fighter

Bernard Bertossa, a former Swiss prosecutor-general, has been a relentless campaigner against corruption, money-laundering and crime in Europe. He retired a few weeks ago, and, freer to speak his mind, he has just given a fascinating interview with Le Monde newspaper. If you read French, click here for the full interview.

Bertossa was one of the seven signatories of the “Appel de Geneve” – the Geneva Appeal (of October 1996) – which was c0-signed by some of Europe’s finest, most senior, and most experienced legal minds. It is a short document, describing the existence of a shadow world in Europe, “the Europe of tax havens” in which international crime and international corruption became intertwined with, and grew rapidly as a result of, international financial liberalisation, spreading noxious roots deep into the political systems of some of our most respectable institutions. Cross-border secrecy and judicial obstacles make national borders into semi-permeable membranes, allowing the criminals through but stopping the forces of law and order.

Like the “Elf Affair” which we recently commented about, the Appel de Genève has been largely ignored in the English-speaking world. But it has had important effects in continental Europe which, as we recently indicated, is now leading the global fight against secrecy jurisdictions.

The Appeal was a rousing call for judicial cross-border co-operation: for the emergence a new European judicial space where crime-fighting magistrates in one country are allowed to co-operate freely with those in other countries to catch the crooks. Like so many things that we comment about, this is an astonishing gap in the fabric of the modern system of nation states.

This new judicial space in Europe that the Appel de Genève called for: does it exist, Bertossa was asked.

No. As regards the fight against grand financial crime, this judicial space does not yet exist. As in 1996, there is national justice, confronting international crime. There has been some progress – such as the European arrest warrant and harmonisation of procedures for seizing goods. Mutual assistance on judicial matters is going faster, but . . . magistrates remain trapped inside their borders and depend on the good will of others to go forward with their financial enquiries.

The main obstacle to co-operation on these crucial matters is

judicial nationalism. Sovereignty (in the European Union) has been ceded in almost all areas; justice is again the last place where sovereignty is holding out.

Bertossa was asked about a working group in France currently looking at the decriminalisation of business law; this was, Bertossa said, the “Berlusconi way." (Bertossa had struggled with Berlusconi before) These changes in France, if they go ahead, would make it easier to commit financial crime, by reducing the penalties.

Bertossa also pointed out a key difference between many continental European legal systems, and those of the “Anglo-Saxon countries” of the UK and the US. Under the French system, investigating magistrates (unlike the prosecutors) are generally more independent of political power. (See a good, brief description of the differences here.) In this context, Bertossa was asked of the shocking political interference by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair over the recent Saudi arms scandal, which has spectacularly undermined the United Nations’ Convention Against Corruption. The impact of Blair's intervention will be felt for many years to come:

It would be hard to imagine, even in France, a minister or a Prime Minister openly saying to a magistrate that he should stop his enquiry. Or at least he would use complex, underhand tricks to achieve it. In Switzerland, it seems inconceiveble. In England, it remains possible.

Bertossa said that while Swiss bankers were more prudent about accepting dirty money than they used to be, and while there are judicial actions for money-laundering, these cases are less numerous, and less public, than before.

Is this because there is less dirty money in Switzerland than before, or that the political authorities are less inclined to look for it? I do not know. . . . certain dossiers, which were opened during my time, are now lost in the sand.

And he had a final word for Britain, on the fabled “Abacha Money” – billions of dollars stashed in Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States by the notoriously corrupt Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha. Switzerland has restituted some of this money, via the Bank for International Settlements. What have the other countries done?

Nothing. In the Abacha Affair, there was more money in London than in Switzerland, but not a single penny has returned yet. As for the United States, they have a philosophy of non-restitution.

But we would like to finish on a more upbeat note. In between the lines of Bertossa's comments, we do detect progress on some of these often-ignored but absolutely crucial matters within Europe. This progress is excruciatingly slow, extremely patchy, and there is a very, very long way to go indeed. But this progress shows that change is possible.


Friday, January 25, 2008

How to build a state

This blogger has just received a copy of Taxation and State-Building in Developing Countries: Capacity and Consent, an important new book edited by Deborah Braütigam, Odd-Helge Fjeldstad and Mick Moore.

The book (and its editors) come highly recommended. The first couple of pages, introducing the book, clearly resonate with what we have written about before. Here are a few excerpts.

Taxation is the new frontier for those concerned with state-building in developing countries.

The political importance of taxation extends beyond the raising of revenue. We argue in this book that taxation may play the
central (their emphasis) role in building and sustaining the power of states, and shaping their ties to society. The state-building role of taxation can be seen in two principal areas: the rise of a social contract based on bargaining around tax, and the institution-building stimulus provided by the revenue imperative. Progress in the first area may foster representative democracy. Progress in the second area strengthens state capacity. Both have the potential to bolster the legitimacy of the state and enhance accountability between the state and its citizens.

Quite. Democracy is all about bargaining over resources: how they are raised, and how they are spent. We also like this next excerpt: for it identifies something that has been puzzling us too.

This idea is largely missing from the new scholarship on state-building. It is also largely missing from the practical concerns of those working in the aid community. The lack of attention to the relationship between revenue-raising and governance is surprising, especially given the long-standing linkage between taxation and governance assumed by students of European and American history.

The huge role tax plays in fostering better government is perhaps one of those things that is obvious enough once you see it, but easy to ignore if your attention has not been drawn to it. TJN sees this as one of its core goals: to draw people's attention to issues like these ones. (update: an important tax conference appears to be imminent in South Africa. We would like to think that delegates will have read this book before they arrive.)

This blogger must now confess that he has only read the first few pages of this book so far. More on this later.


Friday, January 18, 2008

The biggest secret in Africa?

Once again the latest chapter in one of the biggest, and most fascinating, stories about Africa's international relations has been almost entirely neglected by the English-speaking media. The French Secretary of State for Co-operation, Jean-Marie Bockel, has challenged his own president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to fulfil earlier promises of a “rupture” with the bad old ways of “Françafrique.” As he said:

This "rupture" is taking its time to arrive. There are still too many private interests; too many intermediaries without clear utility; too many parallel networks to allow a clean, uncomplicated partnership of equals. The moment has come to . . . kill off these moribund practices and renew our ways of dialogue with Africans. The President will be in Africa at the end of February: that will be a good moment to do it.

If you don’t know much about this, bear with us, because it is important.

Bockel’s comments provide the clearest indication yet that (numerous) reports in recent years of the turning of a new page in France's relations with Africa are wide of the mark. It concerns what (one might argue) was, for decades, perhaps the biggest, dirtiest secret in all of Africa. It is hard even to believe this kind of thing could happen.

The word Françafrique is a mixture of “France” and “Afrique” (Africa) but it also sounds like France à fric (France on the take,) which gives a clue as to other meanings, which are deep, and layered like the rings of an onion. The word came into popular use after the publication of a 1998 book of this name by the late François-Xavier Verschave, describing a sprawling, baroque incestuous edifice of corruption underpinning the relations between France and its former African colonies, with much of the murky goings-on being routed through – you guessed it – tax havens: Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, and so on. African presidents were toppled, rebellions were financed, and whole governments were corrupted on behalf of the system.

Near the heart of Françafrique (but it was more than this, too) lay the giant, brooding “Elf system,” starring the former French state oil company Elf Aquitaine (since merged into Total, with much of the old management purged.) And the Elf system, since the 1960s, had at its heart the tiny, oil-rich African emirate of Gabon, and it was also plugged into the oil industries of Congo-Brazzaville, Angola and Cameroon. The two master-puppeteers of this international edifice were the mysterious French master-manipulator Jacques Foccart, on the one hand, and Gabon’s president Omar Bongo Ondimba, now Africa’s longest-serving leader. Bongo was always protected by secret defence accords with France, and several hundred French troops in his capital Libreville, stationed in an encampment connected to one of his palaces by underground tunnels.

Elf-Gabon was the pumping heart of the Elf system, and its operations acted as giant, secret, oil-fed offshore cash pump-cum-slush fund, available for the secret financing of all the main French political parties, as well as the French intelligence services, and as a source of secret bribe money to back French diplomatic, political and economic objectives all around the globe, in a wide web of countries ranging from Venezuela to Germany to Taiwan. The octopus-like structure was also plugged into African secret societies, freemasonry circuits, presidencies, European refineries, international arms dealers, western banks, tax havens (of course), and even international media organisations.

A few highlights from the system have emerged in English-language media, and is described in detail in the book Poisoned Wells, by Nicholas Shaxson (who is a consultant to TJN and author of today’s blog), which covers this affair over several chapters, starting with an offer of help on a visit to Gabon from a mysterious Frenchman, Alain Autogue.

Looking back, Mr. Autogue’s invitation reminds me of the science fiction film The Matrix, when the main character is presented with a blue pill, a route back to normal life, or a red pill, offering an alternative reality, a chance to “see how deep the rabbit hole goes.” I asked him: What did he have in mind? An emphatic message came back from Paris.“Someone will pick you up at the airport. Don’t worry. Bon Voyage.” I accepted Mr. Autogue’s invitation.

(See the book reviewed in, for example, the London Review of Books. If you read French, there are plenty of books to choose from; you might start with Xavier Harel’s recent Afrique: Pillage à Huis Clos or the book Françafrique itself.)

Another central part of the mystery was a curious little bank, part-owned by Elf and Bongo, called the French Intercontinental Bank (Fiba,) housed in an innocuous-looking building next to the Elf headquarters in Libreville:

Like a trick bookcase in a haunted house, Fiba spun Elf’s cash back to front and upside down, then snaked it out through tax havens. Orders were transmitted verbally, then documentation was destroyed. African leaders got 20 to 60 cents of each barrel that Elf produced in their countries; other flows went to the intelligence services for covert operations, a bit like the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s (and the two affairs shared some participants). Fiba’s president said in court that financial flows were conceived so that the Africans were only aware of the official lending, but were ignorant of the whole system—which Elf rendered deliberately opaque.

This “Elf System” was an open secret in the most élite circles in France and its former colonies; but the world's media all but ignored it: many in the French media were deeply compromised, and the tax haven secrecy that suffused the whole system made it hard to get a grip on what was happening. It is astonishing that while many English-speaking news organisations did cover the trials and a few other elements, they have barely scratched the surface of this remarkable affair.

The Elf system was first opened up to public scrutiny in 1994 by the investigating magistrate Eva Joly (a good friend of TJN) whose brave work, along with efforts of other magistrates, culminated in a series of trials and convictions of Elf officials in November 2003. (As the former head of Elf explained, however, the really big fish escaped justice.) French and African politicians, captains of industry, and others have since fallen over themselves to declare this baroque, confusing affair dead and buried. Sarkozy promised the French electorate that his presidency would involve a “rupture” with the bad old ways of the past -- and Françafrique was widely presumed to be part of that grand bargain.

So in this context, Jean-Marie Bockel’s words this week are interesting. As reported by Le Monde and the French-African publication Jeune Afrique:

I want to sign the death warrant of Françafrique . . . I want to turn the page on behaviour from another age, on an ambiguous and complacent form of relationships which some people – here as well as there (in Africa) use to their advantage, to the detriment of the wider interest and of development . . . I have been in this job for six months; I have had time to look around, to diagnose for myself, to listen to African society – and not just its leaders – and I am now waiting for him (Sarkozy) to confirm this opinion, and to allow us to act.

Strong, and surprising, words. It is interesting to note that on the day of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory in presidential elections in France in May 2007, he spoke to just one foreign leader: Omar Bongo of Gabon. As Bongo himself said:

Sarkozy, I know him well. I’ve already said that he’s a boy whom I like a lot. After his victory, he called me to say: Omar, thankyou. I congratulated him for having listened to me. In return, he thanked me for certain parts of my advice.

Bongo did not say what that advice was. Perhaps he was recommending a design for Sarkozy's curtains in the Élysée Palace. Perhaps. And what of the several hundred French troops in Libreville? They remain there today. The page has clearly not yet turned, although Gabon's reaction to Bockel's words certainly indicate some new tensions: Gabon said those in France calling for a break with the past in Paris' relations with Africa should first "break with the arrogance that have often marked their links with Africa".

Before you (if you are an English speaker) scoff at all this as "typically French" corruption, stop. The Elf system was by no means the only transnational system of this kind, linking an oil industry in a producer country, via tax havens, to political systems in consuming countries, underpinnned by transnational military arrangements, and corrupting democracies around the world. Think Britain, the United States, and Saudi Arabia (see this, for example, or this.) There are several others. The great virtue of the "Elf Affair" is that for once, the forces of law and order broke it open. It is thus of immense value as a resource for helping us understand what is really going on behind the façades, in our globalised world.
Eva Joly, the investigating magistrate who broke open the Elf Affair, is now back home in her native Norway, battered from her experiences in Paris. (You might try her book "Justice Under Siege" or, if you read French, two short memoirs: "Notre Affaire à Tous" and "Est-ce dans ce monde-là que nous voulons vivre?"

We like this quote about tax havens, from the first of those two French books.

The magistrates are like sheriffs in the spaghetti westerns who watch the bandits celebrate on the other side of the Rio Grande. They taunt us — and there is nothing we can do.

Recently, Joly (who has been a winner of Transparency International’s Integrity Award and been named ‘European of the Year’ by Reader's Digest magazine) gave an interview with the Norwegian development journal Development Today. The fight against tax havens, she concluded, must now be “Phase Two” in the global fight against corruption. Quite right too. The tax haven angle on stories like this allows us to see the world differently, and put some of the world's most highly-praised corruption initiatives into perspective. Read more about what corruption really is, join us, and get involved in the emerging debate.


Liechtenstein on the high seas

Lichtenstein, a little tax haven on the European continent, is doubly landlocked (i.e. surrounded by landlocked countries.) It also appears to have a number of ships sailing the high seas under its name: there is a thriving business in ship registration and a number of companies who will register them for you, without too many questions asked. It is just one more example showing the ridiculous lengths governments will go to to allow the world's élites to avoid regulation and tax, leaving you and me to pay their taxes for them. It would be comical if the effects were not so devastating.

Liechtenstein has one of the world's nastiest bank secrecy regimes. As one cheerleader for this pro-crime practice put it:

If Swiss banking secrecy is strict, it's even stricter in neighboring Liechtenstein. With its ruling prince living in a mountaintop castle, Liechtenstein may appear like something out of a fairy tale, but its privacy and asset protection laws are arguably the world's strongest.

In 2003 a referendum was called to allow Prince Hans-Adam II (who already had powers to dissolve parliament and call elections) to hire and fire governments at will. Ahead of the referendum, Sigvard Wolhwend of the country's Democratic Secretariat Party, warned that granting the prince more power could turn Liechtenstein into a dictatorship . As Wohlwend said:

He has more than enough power and it's not democratic to have the head of the state who is uncontrollable and has the power to dismiss parliament and government whenever he feels like it. I think that's the real, real bad thing.

Oh, and one more thing. Prince Hans-Adam (Johannes Adam Ferdinand Alois Josef Maria Marko d'Aviano Pius von und zu Liechtenstein to you, or "His Serene Highness") owns the Liechtenstein Global Trust (LGT), with $100 billion in assets. It has a nice little line in "wealth management" - that cover-all term beloved of some bankers that is used to describe (among other things) highly abusive tax tricks for the benefit of the world's wealthy élites, which are at the heart of the corruption of the global economy. So, Prince Hans-Adam, no conflict of interest there, then.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Tax Justice Focus: The Islands edition

Without wishing to distract readers from the recent speech by Trevor Manuel, we would like to offer you the latest edition of our quarterly newsletter Tax Justice Focus: the Islands edition, edited by Nicholas Shaxson and John Christensen. Click here to read it.

In the editorial, The Prospects for Island Havens, we look at the impact on island havens of multilateral initiatives such as those promoted by the OECD, the European Union, and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Two views of the future have emerged: one questions whether the island havens can survive in the face of these initiatives and competition from offshore centres like Delaware and London; the other concludes that the island havens are unlikely to disappear any time soon.

In the lead article, The OECD and other International Initiatives: a View from the Caribbean, WILLIAM VLCEK looks at the impact of multilateral initiatives on Caribbean tax havens: while the number of offshore banks has fallen, assets on deposit have risen sharply. He explores strategies that Caribbean havens have used to stay in the game.

RICHARD MURPHY looks at Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man in his article What Future for the Crown Dependencies?, and examines the islands’ evolving tax gymnastics as they try to get around the EU Code of Conduct on Business Taxation. He concludes that they have few options left, and sees economic and political trouble ahead.

In The Tax Haven Model: A Fragile Economic Foundation, NICHOLAS SHAXSON argues that while tax havens are good at extracting wealth, they have failed to demonstrate where they add value in the process of wealth creation. He notes some similarities between the tax haven of Bermuda and oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, and explores several reasons why planning an economic future on being an island tax haven looks like a risky gamble.

Other key articles:

* DRIES LESAGE writes about his disappointment with the latest meeting of the UN Tax Committee in Geneva, where inexperienced delegates grappled with arcane technical matters, and failed to address key political questions that they are mandated and required to address – such as driving a development-centred global tax agenda forwards, ahead of the Financing for Development (FfD) conference in Doha in November-December 2008.

* JOHN CHRISTENSEN summarises a research paper examining how a decision to embrace the tax haven model by his native Jersey (where he was previously economic adviser) has led to a decline, or even collapse, in other sectors like tourism or agriculture, as a result of economic processes that show similarities to a “Resource Curse” afflicting some mineral-dependent nations.

This edition also contains a call for papers and an invitation to participate in a Workshop on Tax Justice, Transparency and Accountability at Essex University in the UK on July 3-4, 2008.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Well said, Trevor Manuel

Few, if any, finance Ministers in the developing world enjoy as much international respect as South Africa’s Trevor Manuel does. He has just delivered a keynote speech to the the world's tax experts at the latest OECD forum on Tax Administration in beautiful Cape Town. It is right on the money. Read it here or here.

First, he quoted from the Commission for Africa Report of 2005:

Growth and globalisation has brought higher living standards to billions of men and women. Yet, it is not a wealth that everyone enjoys. In Africa, millions of people live each day in poverty and squalor. Children are hungry, their bodies are stunted and deformed by malnutrition. They cannot read or write.

And then it gets more interesting. We would like to share a few highlights:

On poor countries:

The OECD has led the way in fostering partnerships between nations in response to many of these global public goods issues. These partnerships must be applauded but they must be extended to poorer countries who are often the victims of organised efforts to undermine their tax bases. It is a contradiction to support increased development assistance, yet turn a blind eye to actions by multinationals and others that undermine the tax base of a developing country.

Smaller, poorer countries with tax administrations that are less sophisticated cannot be expected to develop the expertise required to unravel the complex structures that multinationals and other large companies put in place to minimise tax.

From what sources will countries finance healthcare and social security when their revenue sources are under immense pressure? And, what about the poor countries who haven’t yet had the advantage of refining their tax administrations?

On Globalisation and sovereign states

Globalisation and inadequacies in global institutions have increased the complexity of tax administration. Off-shore tax havens, transfer pricing, multiple income streams and complex supply chains make the lives of administrators ever more burdensome and complex. Tax and customs evasion have gained dimensions that require increased global co-operation if they are to be addressed.

Our tax systems have essentially been designed for sovereign states. The choices available to countries are frequently an expression of their state of development.

On our collective global responsibilities

This is an area where the legitimate, rational behaviour of a single country can do considerable damage to the global economy or to specific countries.

Let me repeat the consensual refrain: that sustaining growth and development and sharing prosperity is a collective responsibility.

For the global trade system to work in the long term, everyone – including multinationals - must recognise that such short term behaviour is only likely to result in a backlash, a retreat to protectionism, and inevitably to a world that is

On tax competition

I do know that you are dealing with the issue of tax havens. The steady downward adjustment in corporate tax rates reflects both competition between countries as well as a steady erosion of the tax bases of major countries, forcing the tax burden to be shifted to the less powerful but more vulnerable.

On inequality

In the name of competitiveness, the tax burden on the top 1 per cent of earners has declined precipitously. In a world of rising inequality, this cannot be correct. Again, only joint action by partners in a global village can deal with such inequities. More generally, it must be of concern to policy makers and tax administrators that changes to tax policies have been a significant factor driving rising inequality in the world today.

On multinational companies

One of the by-products of globalisation is that there are now fewer brands with large global brands usurping smaller regional ones. From a tax perspective, some multinationals engage in behaviour that is aimed at one purpose – the
minimisation of tax. Our world needs a set of rules that are simple, transparent and equitable to differentiate legitimate competition between countries from the steps and measures that make tax evasion or avoidance easier.

(again) For the global trade system to work in the long term, everyone – including multinationals - must recognise that such short term behaviour is only likely to result in a backlash, a retreat to protectionism, and inevitably to a world that is poorer.

On the bankers, the accountants, the lawyers

I agree with your focus on tax intermediaries – the accounting and legal professions, investments banks, and so on. The role and influence of tax intermediaries on the tax-paying public, including corporates is significant. Tax administrations need to demonstrate that they operate on the basis of fairness, that they are transparent, that the laws governing taxes are clear and that good governance is practiced. This goes along with making it easier to comply through innovative measures designed to make paying tax easier.

Intermediaries, however, influence these attempts to raise levels of compliance for good and for ill. On the one hand they may make the tax system more accessible to taxpayers. On the other they may market or facilitate aggressive tax strategies that undermine the policies of government and influence perceptions around what is fair and equitable.

In our environment, this is of particular concern as the role of the fiscus in development, redistribution and providing stability and predictability cannot be understated.

I have no doubt that tax intermediaries provide an essential function in guiding tax payers on what their duties and responsibilities are within the legal parameters. In this sense it is essential that the parties work towards building
relations that seek to maximise compliance levels – what is now termed the ‘enhanced relationship’.

On accountability, responsibility, citizens

It is, therefore, imperative that we build relations with the taxpayer on the basis of a different framework – a framework which is designed around providing a sense of social responsibility and civic duty – one where the community and society benefit.

On the future

But these ‘enhanced relationships’ should not allow us to deviate from the tasks at hand – to build a more prosperous and more equitable global economy. There is a grim reminder in Kevin Phillips book, ‘Wealth and Democracy’, in it he writes, ‘Either democracy must be renewed with politics brought back to life, or wealth is likely to cement a new and less democratic regime – plutocracy by some other name.’ The world does not have to be that extreme – this forum has convened because you, as tax administrators know that you have a responsibility to producing fairer outcomes.

Trevor Manuel was not alone at the OECD meeting. Jeffrey Owens, head of the OECD's Fiscal Affairs department, had some more specific gripes about global taxation, in an intervention aimed at the specialists. The OECD's Deputy Secretary General, Pierre Carlo Padoan, said the obvious too: capital flight to tax havens is harming the continent's development. (See more speeches from the OECD forum here, and a web cast here.)

Serious action on international taxation has the potential to do far more for the finances of developing countries than foreign aid, and would help lead poor countries away from aid dependency towards tax-financed self-reliance, with governments accountable to citizens, not to foreign donors. We have a number of suggestions about where to start. Try Country-by-Country reporting, for one. Or look at this TJN Code of Conduct on taxation. And there is much more, here.

Hats off to Trevor Manuel. We could not have said it better ourselves.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tax justice radio programme wins award

Radio New Internationalist has just won the 2007 Excellence in Spoken Word Programming award from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. Here’s the programme that won it… Taxing Matters. (click here to listen directly online.) The Tax Justice Network took the lead role in this programme. As the programme makers said:

Africans are poor. Everyone knows that. But they needn’t be. On current estimates, for every dollar of aid that flows into Africa, five dollars of financial assets flow out into private bank accounts in the Rich World. Money that’s never taxed. Africa has the fastest growth of millionaires in the world, but the burden for building much needed infrastructure keeps on getting pushed back to those who can least afford to pay.

For African economies – and the many other countries like it in the Poor World that are straining under the burden of debt – tax revenue means self-reliance, economic freedom, and money to improve education and health.

So why are developing countries relying on aid, rather than taxing those who profit most from their countries? In what is emerging as a major social justice issue for this decade, Radio New Internationalist’s Chris Richards is joined by a range of guests who challenge the accountants and politicians of the world to ‘Go figure!’

John Christensen spent 11 years as the economic adviser to that infamous tax habourer, the island of Jersey. As co-host, he shows us how countries’ coffers are being plundered to leave populations in poverty, and reveals how vibrant – and important – tax issues can be.

Investigative journalist and author, Nicholas Shaxson reveals how President Omar Bongo of Gabon maintained a giant offshore slush fund, fed by African oil and hooked up to tax havens.

Greg Muttitt from London NGO PLATFORM lifts the lid on how the International Tax and Investment Center – a registered charity – manipulates governments for six of the world’s biggest oil companies.

With money zipping across borders throughout this program, what more appropriate music could we find to bounce its beats off the spoken words than Rumba without borders (Rumba Sin Fronteras) performed by Cuban percussionist
Pancho Quinto.