TAI Weekly | October 24, 2017

By TAI (Role at TAI)

TAI spotlight…

In an adaptation for the Weekly, we start close to home with updates from TAI members.

  • Evaluating as We Go | MacArthur Foundation – Program Officer Maurice Samuels reflects on the evaluation of the 100&Change call for application and selection process. With $100m at stake you want to make the process as effective as possible
  • Global Human Rights Litigation Report | Open Society Foundations – Highlights of over 60 cases of Justice Initiative’s litigation work, including freedom of information, freedom of expression, and corruption.
  • How the EU is Failing Whistleblowers | Open Society Foundations – The article highlights the struggles of whistleblower Luis Gonzalo Segura against an imperfect and fragmented protection mechanism in Spain
  • Britain to Reform Aid Contracts to Cut Out Profiteering and Increased Procurement Transparency| DFID – Development Secretary Priti Patel announces tough new reforms for aid suppliers, including a new Code of Conduct, legally enforceable sanctions, greater transparency and scrutiny of costs and publishing supplier performances. Meanwhile you can now analyze all DfID transactions over 500 pounds on department procurement cards since 2010.
  • TAI staff members are in Jakarta, Indonesia for the Opening Up Ownership Conference (Lauren), in the UK for the Making All Voices Count  – Policy and Practice Dialogue (Alison) and Helsinki for the 7th Financial Transparency Conference (Michael). Say hi, if you’re around.

In case you missed it…

Check out the latest blog on TAI – Mind the Gap: Do We Need More (New) Initiatives On Natural Resource Governance? by Michael Jarvis (TAI), Joseph Asunka (Hewlett Foundation) and Sara Pray (Open Society Foundations)


Will tax justice be the basis of a new (and very different) Washington Consensus? Alex Cobham notes that the Bretton Woods institutions are showing positive signals after past inattention to equity issues. Alex got to sense a change in mood in person at the IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings – a reminder of Oxfam research prepared for the Spring Meetings earlier this year that revealed 51 of 68 companies representing 84 percent of International Finance Corporation investments in sub-Sahara use tax havens. A complementary study released this week by US PIRG Education Fund finds that 73% of Fortune 500 companies used offshore tax havens in 2016, avoiding up to an estimated $725bn in US taxes. And in what could possibly be the biggest corporate bribery trial in history, Royal Dutch Shell and its executives have been charged in Italy for paying $1.1bn to convicted money launderer and former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete, in exchange for an oil block.

It is one thing to strategize to avoid tax liabilities, another to be offered a tax holiday up front. Are holidays necessary? OpenOil’s financial analysis of the Yaoure gold mine in Cote d’Ivoire offers another example suggesting not. Maya Forstater digs deeper on whether and how tax incentives impact investment and calls for greater transparency to help clarify if and how investor and government needs can align productively. While systems have been set in place to encourage tax transparency, such as the Common Reporting Standard, Financial Transparency Coalition and Christian Aid argue that rich countries are benefiting more than poor ones. Expect more talk on non-reciprocity for data exchange at this week’s FTC conference in Helsinki, along with the perennial discussion on the need to better define illicit financial flows recapped anew by Fredrik Eriksson.

What about the SDGs? would a meaningful indicator for reducing multinational tax avoidance help? Potentially – as might proxy indicators for corruption in the private sector (check out results of the DfID supported U4 proxy challenge). What about applications and innovations to promote civic action against corruption in taxes and open contracting? Poland and Malaysia offer some inspiration.

How do you bridge the gap between data and policymaking? Churchill offers a possible solution – a new platform encouraging data uptake among UK civil servants by generating “data for people who don’t like data”. The application allows civil servants to pull open data from official sources and turn these into simple, easy and digestible visualization. Australia is also concerned with use of its statistics, seeking user feedback on its digital service standards. While promising, do we have a sense of the ROI on digitizing government services? The long awaited Open Government Costing report from Results for Development and the World Bank might inspire more attention to such issues by providing a framework for estimating the cost of open government reforms.

While far behind the progress made in the UK and Australia, closed societies such as Iran still offer opportunities for open data and data activists, as confirmed by participants in the first ever Open & Shut Conference in London highlighting experiences of open data practitioners in closed societies (sessions also available on Youtube). Perhaps Canada’s Do-It-Yourself Open Data Toolkit can be a useful resource? While Taiwan, details the impacts of open government policies and practices from 2014-2016 in its Open Government Report.

From open data to big data. Willy Oremus explains why “big data” has gone out of fashion, and provide insights on where data, analytics, and AI are headed. Big data can indeed be biased and incomplete, as Oremus argues, its fetishization carries risks. Looking to the future, interesting that a UK government report recommends creating an AI council to explore “fairness, transparency, accountability and diversity” but does not call for regulation.

Talking of regulations, the US Senates has introduced the Honest Ads Act bill, which seeks transparency from tech companies like Facebook and Google with regard to political ads. How the bill will fare, however, is unclear. As April Glaser claims, US politicians’ reliance on data-driven online ad targeting, and tech companies’ lobbying and electoral donations, could mean Congress refrain from regulating online platforms. While use of platforms like Facebook have boosted Russian influence in the US, could the offshore funds that pay for such ads prove an achilles heel? Anders Aslund points to vulnerabilities in having hundreds of billions in capital flowing out of Russia.

From China to Azerbaijan to Malta. Crackdown on civil society usually follows anti-corruption movements. According to a conversation with human rights lawyer Liang Xiaojun, the Chinese government’s restriction of civil society – increased online censorship and harassment of dissidents –  was to maintain social stability in the midst of uncontrollable corruption within the party and an unstable economy. In Azerbaijan, Katy Pearce breaks down the Azerbaijani government’s attack on the LGBT community following the Azerbaijani laundromat controversy. The murder of journalist Caruana Galizia in Malta is linked to her investigations of corruption and has sparked thousands to protest her killing. A good moment to remind ourselves of her Notebook detailing investigations in her own words.

Meanwhile, in Tajikistan, civil society express concerns over a law now in force requiring anti-corruption authorities to assess corruption risks in the activities of NGOs. In Poland, a new law gives the Prime Minister’s office power over an appointed director that would control distribution of all civil society funding. These and other government strategies surface in TAI’s upcoming paper on government’s use of transparency to shrink civic space (at the copy editor). To know more about the state of civil society in other countries, check out CIVICUS’ submission for the 28th Universal Periodic Review session.

How then can INGOs respond to closing civic space? Civicus Secretary General Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah calls for a shift in perspectives and approach – from the usual aid business to re-engagement with political and social transformation. This theoretical article might also provide insights on how social movements can leverage datafication and social media against closing civic space.

Surely, there are better ways to do development, even around issues as complex and tricky as transparency and accountability? The Transparency for Development project team share six core principles that could guide the design of transparency and accountability interventions to improve public services. Similarly, Making All Voices Count looked at transparency and accountability projects in Kenya to glean lessons on learning and adaptive management. One of many sets of findings to be debated with key researchers and practitioners in their wrap up learning event in the UK this week.

Looking to funding writ large, Global Giving aims to democratize aid and philanthropy to access not only funding but information and ideas as well. Finally, Cheryl Milloy offers more tips on how funders can learn from their grantees to improve grantmaking.


Of potential interest…

  • OECD 2017 Data for Development Report – New report focuses on “big data” and “the Internet of Things” and how these are essential in achieving, measuring and monitoring the SDGs

Call for field-wide proposals…

On the Calendar…

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The TAI Weekly is an informal recap of news, research, and events relevant to our four work streams: data use for accountability, taxation and tax governance, strengthening civic space, and learning from improved grant making.The Weekly is in no way a reflection of TAI member views or thinking. The Weekly now goes to our mailing list and live on the website every Tuesday.

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