The finance needed for development was once thought to be aid. Then it was debt relief, shortly followed by fair trade. All have a role, but it's clear none can pay for the Millennium Development Goals. Successive reports have made clear that these can only be paid for by collecting the taxes that are evaded and avoided around the world.
The Tax Justice Network released a report on Monday 5 February on how to do this. Commissioned by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry for presentation to the 'Leading Group of Nations' conference in Oslo commencing 6 February, the report is entitled 'Closing the Floodgates' and is a comprehensive review of how companies and individuals evade and avoid taxes, and how governments, tax havens and tax intermediaries help them do so.
The amount of unpaid tax is enormous. In the UK and USA alone it is estimated that the combined 'tax gap' might exceed US$500 billion. The Tax Justice Network estimates that the offshore tax industry costs the governments of the world US$255 billion a year in lost revenues from individuals alone. An additional $50 billion a year is required to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
The Tax Justice Network is practical. It highlights actions that can be taken now. These include supporting the current proposal before the International Accounting Standards Board that would require all multinational companies to report their activities on a country-by-country basis which would highlight those using tax havens. And the report presents research that shows that much of the 'transfer pricing' abuse that allows money to flow between countries to evade tax by the use of wrongly priced goods and services could be stopped using computer data that has been proven to highlight high-risk transactions at ports and airports.
In the longer term the Tax Justice Network makes clear that progress does depend on three things. The first is eliminating tax abuse in domestic economies. The second is the supply of funding and practical support to the tax administrations of developing countries. The third is the creation of better international regulation of the world's tax system.
As editor of the report I said in our press release on it:
'The world's tax intermediaries have to realise that they can play a real role in tackling poverty. Tax avoidance and evasion is not just anti-social or illegal, it costs lives. If the world's tax advisers were to promote tax compliance where people paid the tax required of them, but no more, in the country where it was really due at the time when it was required to be paid then the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals could be guaranteed'.
John Christensen, director of the Tax Justice Network added:
'This report presents challenges to many people. It challenges the governments of the world and especially those of the tax havens but it also challenges all those professional people working in tax. There's a choice to be made. Do these people care enough about the world's poorest people to ensure that the tax due (and no more than that) is actually paid? That's all we're asking for. It could be done. It's up to them.'