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How Buddhist tax accountants and whistle blowers can change the world

Duncan Green's picture

Max Lawson is back again (he seems to have more time to write now he’s Oxfam International’s policy guy on inequality) to discuss tax morality and a bizarre encounter with a Buddhist accountant.

A few years ago I went on a hiking holiday with a number of people I didn’t know, and ended up befriending a tax accountant. He was a very nice man, who had been going through a bit of a mid-life crisis, his children had grown up and left home, his wife was not very interested in him, and he had developed an interest in Buddhist philosophy. Anyhow, after a few days, he revealed to me that over the last five years he had started defrauding a firm he had been working for, to the tune of several million pounds a year. He was not taking the money for himself, but was abusing their trust in him, by not telling them about the latest tax avoidance schemes, meaning that they were systematically overpaying tax to the government.

I was reminded of this surprising suburban Robin Hood figure by the rash of stunning leaks on tax prompted by the whistle-blowers of the last couple of years, starting with the Luxleaks, then Swissleaks, and then the mother of all leaks, the Panama Papers. All have involved incredibly brave accountants or bankers risking a huge amount to get this information into the public domain. The two former employees of PricewaterhouseCoopers who leaked information on tax breaks for major corporates such as Apple, Ikea and Pepsi in the Luxleaks case are facing years in prison. The Swiss Leaks whistleblower has been sentenced to six years in prison in Switzerland in absentia. Finally, the Panama Papers whistle blower has wisely remained anonymous but I imagine is being hunted by a range of private security firms.

I can only guess at the panic in the boardrooms of the investment banks and particularly at the big four accounting firms – Deloittes, PwC, KPMG and Ernst & Young, who between them have almost complete oversight over the business of aggressive tax planning by the major corporations. But no amount of security software can fully protect any firm from increasing numbers of employees no longer feeling morally comfortable with what they are doing, as ultimately the secrecy of the system is dependent on those that run it being able to look in the bathroom mirror in the morning and feel OK about their lives.

Media (R)evolutions: A 'deep and disturbing decline' in media freedom worldwide

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

It is widely acknowledged that a basic precondition for inclusive, democratic societies to function is a well-established and protected freedom of the press. A free press is one where political reporting is strong and independent, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, state intrusion in media affairs is minimal, and media are not subject to burdensome legal or economic pressures. Under these conditions, free debate, challenges to authority, and new ideas are all possible.
Nevertheless, “there has been a deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels,” in recent months according to the 2016 World Press Freedom Index. The World Press Freedom Index is an annual ranking and report on global media freedom around the world, produced by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). RSF attributes much of the global decline to antagonistic politics, new security laws, increased government surveillance, and physical attacks on journalists that all stifle the spirit of investigation and send chilling messages to journalists and media outlets. 
This map shows the countries where media are free to report the news and where the media is strictly controlled.
World press freedom visualised
Infographic: World press freedom visualised | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista


WANTED (a communication professional to save WikiLeaks and) JULIAN ASSANGE

Naniette Coleman's picture

Stockholm Criminal Court warrants, rumors that the US Senate will dub Julian Assange a “transnational threat”, conspiracy theories, and all other charges aside, the international transparency vessel that is WikiLeaks started sending out mayday signals the day that Daniel Domscheit-Berg (alias Daniel Schmitt) stepped down as spokesperson for WikiLeaks.   I believe that many  of the organizations problems began when founder and spokesperson became one-and-the-same.