"When something such as the Panama Papers [disclosures on global tax avoidance] happens, we seem to be surprised. We should not be."
— Vito Tanzi, former leader of international tax policy at the International Monetary Fund; author of "Taxation in an Integrating World" (1995)
"Taxes are what we pay for civilized society," said the famed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. So what does it say about society when it tolerates a skewed tax system that applauds tax avoidance, accommodates tax evasion, mocks the compliance of honest taxpayers and drags its feet on tax cooperation?
Those are some of the philosophical (and pointedly political) questions that are being debated this week at the World Bank, at a conference that has gathered some of the world's foremost authorities on international tax policy along with international advocates of fair and effective taxation.
If you can't make it in-person to the Bank's Preston Auditorium this week, many of the conference sessions are being livestreamed and the video will be archived at live.worldbank.org/winning-the-tax-wars
The livestreamed sessions include a pivotal speech by a determined tax-policy watchdog, former Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) — the former chairman of the U.S. Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations — whose address on "Reducing Secrecy and Improving Tax Transparency" will be one of the highlights of the forum.
Coming just a week after a global conference in London on tax havens, tax shelters and abusive tax-dodging — a conference that highlighted some wealthy nations' lackadaisical approach to enforcing tax fairness — this week's Bank conference, "Winning the Tax Wars: Protecting Developing Countries from Global Tax Base Erosion" will propel the fair-taxation momentum generated by the recent Panama Papers disclosures. That leaked data exposed the rampant financial engineering (by high-net-worth individuals and multinational corporations) to avoid or evade taxes.
The recent global financial crisis has highlighted the impact of credit markets on the real economy, in particular on employment. While an extensive literature exists on how finance can affect corporate investment and overall economic growth, comparatively little is known about the effect of finance on labor market outcomes.
In a recent paper, entitled “Access to Finance and Job Growth: Firm-Level Evidence across Developing Countries” Meghana Ayyagari, Pedro Juarros, Sandeep Singh and I use comprehensive firm-level data across a large set of developing countries to analyze the impact of access to finance on job growth and the heterogeneity in this relationship across firm size. In particular, we study the differential impact of access to finance on MSMEs’ ability to create jobs relative to that of larger firms.
Telenor believes in empowering societies. Motivated by the prospect of building something that can make a difference for customers with very limited access to traditional financial services, we ventured to leverage our mobile tele-density strength in developing countries to bring about financial inclusion. Telenor has committed to enabling 50% of its customers to use their mobile phones for financial services by 2020, which means 100 million customers will have access to mobile financial services. We joined the UFA2020 initiative eager to learn from other players on shared challenges, drive strength from a common goal, and scale solutions that have demonstrated success in other markets.
We are about to launch in Myanmar and have obtained a banking license in India. We are already working in Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Hungary, Malaysia, Pakistan, Serbia and Thailand. In each country we have adopted different models of financial services catering to the needs of that market. For example, in Serbia fully owned Telenor Banka is the first fully mobile and online bank, consolidating banking needs in a unified digital interface, making it the fastest growing bank and the highest rated banking app in the region. In Pakistan, Telenor’s subsidiary Tameer Micro Finance Bank offers mobile financial services under the globally recognized brand of Easypaisa, serving over 20 million customers for domestic and international remittances, purchase airtime, pay utility bills, receive government social cash transfers, pay taxes, save and borrow money, buy insurance or make online retail purchases. We are picking up speed in delivering straightforward digital banking services in most of our Asian markets. Last year we established the groundwork for business in five out of six Asian countries, and this year we are focusing on expanding our footprint in these markets. When all businesses are up and running, we will be ready to build scale and to reach our 100 million customers target.
The World Bank (WB) has set an ambitious goal of securing universal access to formal financial services by 2020. Although 700 million people have signed up for a bank account since 2011, about two billion worldwide remain unbanked. As the WB seeks to expand worldwide financial inclusion, it should look to Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) for inspiration.
Despite the persistent low-growth environment, the benefits of the digital era are within our grasp to help reignite the growth engine.
Digital trade is the fastest-growing component of trade, and 4.4 billion people globally are yet to come online. In the first quarter of 2015 and in major U.S. cities, an average of 46 percent of all total paid car rides were through Uber. In Kenya, the digital payment system creates additional income for more than 80,000 small business owners. The Chinese e-commerce sector has created 10 million jobs. The Internet of Things, self-driving cars and 3-D printing have now arrived as part of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution.
These benefits will materialize faster if competitive dynamics allow and drive innovation. Disruptive innovation has a great potential to shake up markets, increase productivity and bring benefits to consumers. And yet, if there are government-imposed rules that close markets and unjustifiably protect incumbents from such competing new solutions, these benefits do not materialize. Cities around the world have blocked Uber from offering services. The debate on President Obama’s Executive Order to boost competition has centered around a pending decision by the communications regulator on whether to open the market for TV cable set-top boxes to allow for competition.
Conscious of such challenges, forward-looking competition authorities around the world are advocating several measures that will allow consumers and businesses to benefit from disruptive innovations and new business models. A new World Bank Group publication on competition advocacy tools highlights examples of successful initiatives to promote pro-competitive regulatory reform in markets subject to disruptive innovations.
In just a few years since the G20’s Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI) published its initial White Paper, the role that global financial standard-setting bodies (SSBs) have on “who gets access to what formal financial services at what cost” has been increasingly recognized.
Appreciation has also grown for the important role that digitization of financial services plays in reaching financially excluded and underserved customers, and the implications this development has had on the SSBs.
There is still far to go, but the advances are noteworthy.
The GPFI’s new White Paper, Global Standard-Setting Bodies and Financial Inclusion: The Evolving Landscape documents this progress while flagging the disruptive forces that digital financial services represent for the formal financial system, as well as the opportunities and challenges they carry for the SSBs to develop standards that countries can apply.
Access to finance is an important tool against poverty since it allows for the smoothing of consumption. The equality of access amongst different groups in the society is also crucial in terms of correctly allocating the positive benefits of improved financial services.
In a recent paper published in the World Bank Policy Research Working Paper Series we proposed and computed an Equity Adjusted Coverage rate (EACR) for a range of financial inclusion indicators in Turkey. This work complements the conventional coverage or use of financial services by adjusting for the equity of its coverage, on the basis of a set of `circumstances’. The characteristics or circumstances that are accounted for, in Turkey’s case, are gender, age, education, income quintile, and urban/rural.
To function properly, a financial system needs to have two doors in place: an “entry” and an “exit”. The first one enables qualified local or foreign institutions to enter the marketplace to provide innovative products and services – such as savings, investments, credits, payments and insurance – to households and firms at competitive prices. The second facilitates the rapid and orderly dissolution of those financial intermediaries that are not able to survive competition, manage risks properly, or comply with rules and regulations.
Many of the World Bank Group’s client countries face a difficult challenge – and the White House recently put this issue at the top of the agenda, too: How can policymakers increase competition to support continued growth of the economy? In a global low-growth environment, developing and advanced economies alike are looking for new ways to boost productivity and innovation. A global panel of Ministers agreed at a recent Spring Meetings event that market competition is pivotal in finding a solution.
When firms collude to fix prices or divide markets, thus harming consumers and reducing competitiveness in their sector and the broader economy, independent competition authorities can fine and therefore deter such illegal conduct. When governments set up rules that reinforce the market power of a dominant firm or that allow such illegal conduct, then competition authorities can rarely demand that those rules be changed – even though the effects on prices, service quality or the availability of products can be just as severe. If champions of competition seek to promote more pro-competition government interventions in markets, they must rely on competition advocacy.
Last Thursday in Singapore, Klaus Tilmes, Director of the Trade and Competitiveness (T&C) Global Practice of the World Bank Group, and Andreas Mundt, Chair of the International Competition Network (ICN), presented awards to the winners of the 2015-2016 Competition Advocacy Contest – a joint WBG and ICN initiative – at the ICN Annual Conference.
A new World Bank Group publication, launched by T&C on April 15, showcases the results of the 2014-2015 Competition Advocacy Contest, sharing the lessons that have been learned about effective advocacy and discussing innovative ways of adapting to new competition challenges. Previous rounds of the contest have shown how the notable impact of competition advocacy can change mindsets.
Our newest publication highlights the tools that competition authorities have developed to overcome the practical challenges, political-economy constraints and emerging trends that affect competition advocacy.
The World Bank and Rabobank Foundation are teaming up to strengthen financial cooperatives in rural areas to improve financial services for smallholder farmers and agricultural SMEs.
Financial services in rural areas are scarce and expensive. Servicing smallholder farmers spread across wide geographical areas isn’t attractive to mainstream financial institutions as their transactions are small, their cash flows seasonal and returns on investments can be risky due to potential crop failures or weather calamities.
To get access to savings and credit, rural households and farms often establish cooperative financial institutions (CFIs). While CFIs have a strong local presence and knowledge, they often have weak institutional capacity and governance, lack access to information technology, and suffer from political interference. Also, the laws regulating CFIs are often inadequate and supervision is weak, all of which hampers CFIs’ ability to deliver financial services. Often, CFIs don’t fall under the purview of the main financial sector regulator and supervisor, but of other entities that don’t always have the required capacity and expertise.