TAI Weekly

TAI Weekly | March 13, 2018

By TAI (Role at TAI)

In case you missed it…


It shouldn’t take International Women’s Day to push attention to the gender dimensions of transparency and accountability work, but it did spark some interesting asks and reflections. The Tax Justice Network (TJN) joined Global Alliance for Tax Justice’s call for tax justice to advance women’s rights and economic quality. Liz Nelson writes, “In advocating for greater tax transparency and accountability we, as feminists, are not only demanding multilateral progressive tax policies and a global financial architecture that recognises and disaggregates by gender but a complete rethink of the orthodoxy; of what fair taxation policies should look like for greater rights and equality for women.” Read more about the Bogota Declaration on Tax Justice for Women’s Rights here.

The call would no doubt please Elise Bean, championing to end tax abuses and one of five women that Global Witness pays tribute to for standing up for transparency and accountability. The list also includes slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who exposed corruption cases in Malta.  Such corruption disproportionately affects women, yet women are left behind due to the relative lack of political and economic leverage, according to a UN report.  

More encouragingly, World Vision’s social accountability work suggests that where economic and political empowerment of women go hand in hand it can drive positive change. They point to projects enabling women to be their own catalyst for change that leads to an increase in female leadership at the village and sub-national level. Attention to women’s active and meaningful participation in decision-making processes is also core to Publish What You Pay’s Gender & Extractives pilot project (supported by TAI member Hewlett Foundation) which seeks to clarify how EITI transparency and governance policies can better respond to women’s needs and priorities.

Our numbers for the week – 1.1, 80 and 700. The link? Monies from oil, gas and mining. Last week, Shell, Eni and 13 executives finally entered the dock in Milan, accused of complicity in a $1.1 billion bribery scandal around one of Nigeria’s most lucrative oil blocks. The Sentry reports that more than $80 million has been allegedly paid to South Sudan’s leaders from the state oil company Nile Petroleum Corporation to fund militias responsible for horrific acts of violence. Meanwhile, Sarah McNeil points to minimizing of tax payments to the scale of $700 million by the Canadian company behind Mongolia’s Oyu Tolgoi – one of the largest operating copper mines in the world – making use of preferential trade agreements and networks of subsidiaries.

Digging deeper into the recently featured Open Budget Survey, Daniel Hiller, Jason Lakin and Joel Friedman highlight how Sub-Saharan Africa is backsliding in budget transparency. Their recommendations? Prioritizing institutionalization of transparency practices through laws and regulations, while noting the important role of civil society in vigilant monitoring.  Talking about budget transparency in the region, a sitting Senator in Nigeria revealed that each of his colleagues receives   N13.5 million ($37500) every month for salaries and running costs, much of which is unaccounted for.

Maybe Nigeria should take inspiration from the EU Commission? European Commissioners are now proactively publishing their travel expenses, as part of a movement towards greater transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds. Although they have highlighted the distinction between availability and accessibility in the process. Access Info Europe kindly details the no-less-than six layers of clicks one has to go through to find these well-hidden “additional details” on the Commission site.

We’ve reported on the McMafia tv show in past TAI Weeklies, but can the BBC drama spur the UK government to take on high-end money laundering? Plus – there are encouraging spillover effects to other jurisdictions. See the secret insider terms used in Chinese money laundering and The Hill op-ed on the program’s implications globally. Meanwhile, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project revealed abuses in the “Golden Visa” program, often sold to foreign investors with little scrutiny and transparency, so undermining the fight against corruption in Europe.

In the wake of such revelations, how do we translate outrage to policy follow-through? We can start with better leveraging the international circuit. 2018 is another year of anti-corruption-focused summits and Joe Powell urges us to make use of them and push for concrete commitments.  We might also highlight gaps in implementation from the last round of summits.  At least Joe will be reassured by Laura Wesley finding value in an exchange among all 70+ OGP members. She points to the links between openness, public engagement and the health of democracies. 

As this Weekly goes out, TAI, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and International Budget Partnership are helping kick off a scenario development on the future of fiscal transparency and accountability. One theme may be the challenge of fiscal integration. On that note, Dr. Daniel Mertens offers a warning that increasingly integrated tax status in the European Union might adversely affect the democratic nature of the union. (His paper is in German and not for the faint of heart). On a similar thread, ten years on from the global financial crisis, the Center for Economic and Social Rights urges us to consider the human rights impacts of austerity and argue we cannot afford another “lost decade” from fiscal consolidation. 

In the era of Big Data, more intersections are emerging. Catholic Relief Services reflect on the risks of information scarcity amid data overload and that what is collected might not meet needs. Such learnings are exactly what Ania Calderon hopes to harness in a refresh of the Open Data Charter Principles.

Can technology help? Stefaan Verhulst reflects on how the meeting of artificial intelligence (AI) and collective intelligence (CI) can innovate how we govern. Of course, many are worried about the control this gives technology firms. As David Dayen puts it, “The question is no longer whether we have a problem with Big Tech; it’s what we’ll do about it.” In a wide-ranging piece, he examines how laws, regulatory oversight, taxes, and antitrust enforcement might work separately, or in concert, to counter big firms’ power and increase competition.  Fancy diving deeper into issues of corporate power? Then you might want Adam Winkler’s long-read on companies’ savvy approach to claiming civil rights (or read a review

More to the learning front, here is an article on our own biases in data interpretation. In the realm of giving, Katherine Fulton argues that strategic philanthropy is in danger of becoming its own orthodoxy and needs to be questioned by future generations.

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