It’s time for the UK to walk the talk on tax havens and development

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This is from the Guardian this morning:

More than two-thirds of the investments made by the private-sector arm of the UK's aid programme last year were channelled through “notoriously secretive” tax havens, according to a report that calls on European development agencies to be more transparent and accountable in their business dealings.

The study, by the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad), found that billions of euros intended for projects in developing countries are being routed through some of the world's most secretive financial centres, allowing businesses to avoid taxes and the attendant regulations.

Eurodad notes that the UK's CDC — formerly the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which is wholly owned by the Department for International Development (DfID) — makes frequent use of such jurisdictions.

The story is depressingly familiar. I researched this issue in 2010. I suggested in that report that the following Code of Conduct for Development Finance Institutions should be introduced. It looks like nothing has happened since. That's depressing, which is why I repeat the need for this Code to be signed by each such institution now:

1. Our investment activities will be transparent and accountable;

2. We will discharge our public duty to promote investment in the interests of development on the assumption that all we do might be subject to the glare of publicity in all locations in which we operate;

3. We will ensure that all our activities, and the activities of all funds in which we invest and all companies and other entities in which we invest are disclosed in all locations in which we operate, to at least the standard required in our parent jurisdiction of incorporation, without exception. If the entities in which we invest do not do so in the location in which they are incorporated we shall publish this information in our own country of incorporation instead;

4. When the funds and entities in which we invest are controlled by a combination of DFIs, whether directly or indirectly, we will make that clear so that this is known to all who engage with that entity in the interests of transparency, accountability and good governance being evidenced in practice;

5. We will seek to ensure that all entities in which we invest are tax compliant by which we mean that they will seek to pay the right amount of tax (but no more) in the right place at the right time where ‘right' means that the economic substance of the transactions undertaken coincides with the place and form in which they are reported for taxation purposes. In furtherance of this goal we shall ensure that each entity in which we invest makes full disclosure of all taxes paid on profits it makes, and to the greatest degree possible, all other revenue payments that it makes to the government of the jurisdiction in which it is incorporated whether that payment is made by it as principle or as an agent for others;

6. We shall seek, quite openly, to avoid double taxation of any transaction in which we are engaged as actively and as publicly as we will seek to avoid non-taxation of any transactions in which we engage;

7. Whenever we need to use a tax haven / secrecy jurisdiction to fulfil this objective we will be explicit about reasons for doing so, shall state what double taxation charge we are seeking to avoid and shall lend our support to reform of the taxation system of the states whose law might give rise to double taxation charges to ensure that a more open and transparent tax system arises for the benefit of all market participants, states and investors in that location;

8. We shall, wherever and whenever possible seek to ensure that the funds in which we invest are located in those places in which they in turn onward invest on our behalf. Where that is not possible we will be explicit in explaining our reasoning and will seek to remove those obstacles that stand in the way of investing in the way we desire, including by offering training, legislative support and technical advice to the governments of the jurisdictions in question to overcome the obstacles to inward investment within their domain that we have identified.

9. We shall account on a country-by-country basis for the activities that we undertake — taking into account the substance and not the form of the transactions we undertake, and shall publish reports according to the principles of country-by-country reporting in each and every country in which we operate and will demand country-by-country reporting of DFI backed companies when they form part of multinational companies.

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