The tax justice dialogue

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It was good to be in the Netherlands yesterday at the conference of the Tax Justice Network in that country.

What was so good about the event was that the event did not just attract TJN people, or those from the support organisations with which we are often associated, such as development agencies (although it was good to see them). PWC were also there in force, and contributing. So too were academics from several Dutch universities, and as welcome, the Dutch finance and foreign ministries.

I think this indicates the way in which this issue has developed. I’m well aware that on occasion we have to, and do, draw attention to the abuse that takes place within the tax system. When we do it appears that the issues in the arena of tax justice are very black and white: right and wrong. Unambiguously that is the case on occasion.

But it’s also true that many, indeed, the majority of those who are working in the tax professions act in good faith, but without an awareness of the implications of what they do. Albert Hollander, a former PWC partner and now chair of TJN Netherlands made this point in his own address. He admitted that when he was at PWC he thought it his job solely to benefit his client. No one had made him or his clients aware of the consequences of what they were doing.

But as he admitted, that was just a few years ago. Now the situation has changed. The facts are becoming known. The dependency of many on the tax decisions of multinational corporations is now clear. Their impact can be assessed, albeit incompletely.

This means there is a need for balance. And dialogue. And that was a theme of the debate.

This dialogue has a long way to go. There’s no doubt about that. But I think that it’s beginning, and I welcome it.