These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat to Global Democracy
In 2016, populist and nationalist political forces made astonishing gains in democratic states, while authoritarian powers engaged in brazen acts of aggression, and grave atrocities went unanswered in war zones across two continents. All of these developments point to a growing danger that the international order of the past quarter-century— rooted in the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law—will give way to a world in which individual leaders and nations pursue their own narrow interests without meaningful constraints, and without regard for the shared benefits of global peace, freedom, and prosperity. The troubling impression created by the year’s headline events is supported by the latest findings of Freedom in the World. A total of 67 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2016, compared with 36 that registered gains. This marked the 11th consecutive year in which declines outnumbered improvements.
Financial Flows and Tax Havens: Combining to Limit the Lives of Billions of People
Global Financial Integrity
Global Financial Integrity (GFI), the Norwegian School of Economics and a team of global experts released a study showing that since 1980 developing countries lost US$16.3 trillion dollars through broad leakages in the balance of payments, trade mis-invoicing, and recorded financial transfers. These resources represent immense social costs that have been borne by the citizens of developing countries around the globe. Funding for the report was provided by the Research Council of Norway and research assistance was provided by economists in Brazil, India, and Nigeria. Titled “Financial Flows and Tax Havens: Combining to Limit the Lives of Billions of People,” the report demonstrates that developing countries have effectively served as net-creditors to the rest of the world with tax havens playing a major role in the flight of unrecorded capital. For example, in 2011 tax haven holdings of total developing country wealth were valued at US$4.4 trillion, which exacerbated inequality and undermined good governance and economic growth.
What would you expect in a mineral rich developing country? High Government revenues from the mineral resources? Not always, and definitely not in the case of Zambia - until recently.
Zambia has a considerable wealth of mineral resources and its economy depends heavily on these minerals. Zambia's primary export, copper and copper-related products, account for as much as 77% of the country's exports.
The recent decline in global commodity prices is proving to be very costly for South Africa. The deterioration of South Africa’s terms of trade since 2012 cost at least four percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP) growth. This estimate does not account for some important indirect effects generated by the commodity price shock, including the heightened volatility of the rand and its impact on investment decisions. Instead of global monetary policy developments, commodity price volatility is now understood as being the main driver of exchange rate and capital account volatility in South Africa, and in emerging markets more generally. And 91% of European investors surveyed in the second half of 2014 identified the volatility of the rand as a major constraint to doing business in South Africa.
Global Internet Report 2016
Today we are at a defining moment in the evolution and growth of the Internet. Large-scale data breaches, uncertainties about the use of our data, cybercrime, surveillance and other online threats are eroding users’ trust and affecting how they use the Internet. Eroding trust is also affecting the way governments view the Internet, and, is shaping the policy environment for the Internet around the world. The 2016 Global Internet Report takes a close look at data breaches through an economic lens and provides five clear recommendations for a path forward.
What Does “Governance” Mean?
The normative goals of governance reform are twofold: more effective public policies, and procedures that are legitimate and accountable to the citizenry. Often the phrase “good governance” is intertwined with the anticorruption agenda. Drawing on the author's experience as a visiting researcher at the World Bank and as a scholar of both corruption and comparative politics, this essay unpacks the concept of governance and relates it to debates over ways to balance technical expertise and public participation to achieve better functioning governments.
When the Plantagenet kings ruled England (1154-1485), their primary means of securing wealth, prestige, and power was through territorial conquest. Fighting endless wars in France and dispatching armies as far as Jerusalem, the crown often had to finance foreign adventures through taxation -- sometimes crushing taxation – of subjects. The illegitimacy of such taxation only intensified the recurrent threat of domestic revolt. And through their demands for more accountable and inclusive governance, the English nobility succeeded, albeit with much blood shed over a span of centuries, to establish institutions and public policies conducive to economic development.
One of our main areas of focus is the enabling environment – helping governments foster digital development by putting in place the right policies and regulations.
Now, what are some of the main issues?
First, across the world, but especially in developing countries, competitiveness continues to be dragged down by ‘red tape’, including numerous procedures, authorizations and delays to start a business or launch a service, costly and unreliable property registration, or stifling labor regulations. I am sure you are all familiar with the Doing Business report and the World Bank’s many programs to support business reforms worldwide.
While the digital industry also faces these regulatory hurdles, it is confronted with additional challenges.
Let me give you an example. With your phone in hand, you are about to send a text message to a friend. Your phone offers you a choice: to send the text message through your mobile operator, or to send it via the internet through an app. Depending on what platform you use, your text message will be taxed differently. All text messages are not created equal: different digital services are treated differently from a regulatory and fiscal point of view, with no real level playing field.
As part of the 2016 World Bank Group-International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings held this past week in Washington, D.C., a fascinating panel discussion, A New Vision for Financing Development, took place on Sunday, April 17. Moderated by Michelle Fleury, BBC's New York business correspondent, it included World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, Bill Gates, Justine Greening (UK Secretary of State for International Development), Raghuram Rajan (Governor of the Reserve Bank of India), and Seth Terkper (Minister for Finance and Economic Planning of Ghana).
The panel was in consensus about the current challenging economic and social environment facing the world as a whole. That environment includes low rates of economic growth across the world, drastic reductions in the price of commodities that are impacting negatively low-and middle-income countries, rising inequality, frequent natural disasters and pandemics, increased number of displaced populations and refugees due to conflict and violence spilling across national borders and continents, and the ambitious United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A question debated in the panel was, Where will the resources be found to address these challenges? This question is critical under the current scenario if countries are to continue to build on the progress achieved over the last decade and maintain previous gains.
The so-called “Panama Papers” scandal reminds us that concealing wealth and avoiding tax payments is neither uncommon nor — in many cases — illegal. But the embarrassing leak exposes something else: The public trust is breached when companies, the rich and the powerful can hide their money without breaking the law. If this breach is left unaddressed, those who aren’t rich enough to hide money will be less willing to pay and contribute to the social contract in which taxes are exchanged for quality services.
As finance minister in my home country of Indonesia, I saw firsthand how a weak tax system eroded public trust and enabled crony capitalism. Shadow markets arose for highly subsidized fuel, family connections secured jobs, and bribes helped public servants beef up their salaries. Tax avoidance among the elites was common and the country couldn’t mobilize the resources we needed to build infrastructure, create jobs, and fight poverty.
They spend hours waiting in line at tax offices.
In March 2014, with support of the World Bank, a Delivery Unit (DU) was set up in the Romanian Prime Minister’s Chancellery. Its mission: Get better results quicker for the PM in four priority areas.
Tax administration was one of them. The PM’s concern was the pain of paying taxes. Offering online services, for the first time, was one of the ways to decrease the cost of compliance. The DU estimated that they could save the taxpayer up to 12 days a year of waiting at the tax office.
The DU’s role was to plan for these improvements together with the Romanian Ministry of Public Finance and the Tax Administration Agency (NAFA). In a Delivery Agreement, the specific targets, metrics, activities, deadlines and responsibilities were spelled out. The DU was to then monitor the progress monthly against an agreed trajectory and help unblock problems in implementation.
In September 2014, the NAFA launched the online taxpayer platform called Private Virtual Space (PVS). It allows taxpayers to file their tax returns, get their tax bills and see their payments. The target was to enroll 30% of the eligible taxpayers by December 2015. Though the DU tracked progress monthly, the enrollment rate was still at 0.6% in June 2015. Clearly, the monitoring on its own did not help.