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Financial Sector

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.

The Kenyan financial transformation (2000-2015)

Michael King's picture

Giant leaps in financial inclusion driven by private sector innovation and supportive regulation have made Kenya a case study in financial sector development. A new book brings together a group of academics to investigate the myriad of dimensions of and issues that lie beneath Kenya’s much-touted financial inclusion success story. The book is available at this link: Kenya’s Financial Transformation in the 21st Century.

Kenya: A World Leader in Financial Inclusion?

Headline figures from survey data place Kenya at the top of the financial inclusion index both regionally and globally. Data from the last Global Findex survey shows that 75% of Kenyan adults have a formal account that allows them to save, send or receive money. In 2014 Kenya outperformed both the global average and many middle-income countries such as Chile, Brazil, India, Mexico and Russia.

We know very little about what makes innovation policy work: Four areas for more learning

Xavier Cirera's picture

Photo Credit: Innovation Growth Lab.

Whether in Silicon Valley or Kenya’s furniture sector, innovation is a critical driver of job creation and economic growth. It could be a mobile app to connect farmers and buyers of agricultural products. Or perhaps an efficient and affordable solar roof tile. Innovation comes in many forms, from products and services to business models.

Yet despite the growing investment in policies to support innovation, we know surprisingly little about what makes these policies effective. To advance understanding of what works in innovation policy, Nesta, in collaboration with the Kauffman Foundation and the World Bank Group, organized the recent Innovation Growth Lab (IGL) Global Conference in London. The mission of IGL is to promote evidence-based innovation and entrepreneurship policies by funding randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and testing new policy approaches.
The conference was successful in discussing both research and policy challenges — a welcome change from typical innovation conferences, which often focus on either academia or policy.

Chasing shadows: Tax strategies to tackle the shadow economy

Rajul Awasthi's picture
Digital work by Steve Johnson

Tax administrations in developing countries are increasingly concerned about the persistent problem of loss of tax revenues to the shadow economy, and they often deploy a range of strategies to plug tax leaks and augment revenues. The erosion of the tax base prevents governments from collecting the revenue it needs to provide essential services, such as healthcare, road construction, and education. Nonetheless, it’s a sticky problem: how do you convince business owners to pay taxes?
Some possible answers, bolstered by evidence, include: simplify tax payment and provide incentives to formalize businesses. The World Bank’s Governance Global Practice will hold a conference between June 27-29 in St Petersburg, Russia, to bring together participants from almost 25 countries of the Europe and Central Asia region to discuss these issues under the aegis of the Tax Administrators eXchange of Global Innovative Practices, a peer-learning network of tax administrators. The event will be hosted by experts from the Public Sector Performance division of the practice.

Renewables, solar, and large size projects trending in new data on private participation in infrastructure

Clive Harris's picture

Translations available in Chinese and Spanish.

Many of you are already familiar with the PPP (Public-Private Partnerships) Group’s Private Participation in Infrastructure (PPI) Database. As a reminder for those who aren’t, the PPI Database is a comprehensive resource of over 8,000 projects with private participation across 139 low- and middle-income economies from the period of 1990-2015, in the water, energy, transport and telecoms sectors.

We recently released the 2015 full year data showing that global private infrastructure investment remains steady when compared to the previous year (US$111.6 billion compared with US$111.7 the previous year), largely due to a couple of mega-deals in Turkey (including Istanbul’s $35.6 billion IGA Airport (which includes a $29.1 billion concession fee to the government). When compared to the previous five-year average, however, global private infrastructure investment in 2015 was 10 percent lower, mainly due to dwindling commitments in China, Brazil, and India. Brazil in particular saw only $4.5 billion in investments, sharply declining from $47.2 billion in 2014 and reversing a trend of growing investments over the last five years.

Can wage subsidies boost employment in the wake of an economic crisis?

Miriam Bruhn's picture

Unemployment often rises during an economic crisis and policymakers take a range of actions to try to mitigate this increase. For example, 22 countries around the world used some form of wage subsidy program to promote employment retention during the recent crisis. Many studies have looked at the effect of wage subsidies on employment in non-crisis times, with mixed findings. But, there is not much evidence on whether wage subsidies can raise employment in the wake of a crisis.

Conceptually, wage subsidies during a crisis may make sense since layoffs could slow down the recovery as re-hiring and training workers may be costly for firms. This is particularly true for workers with job-specific skills. For these workers, it may be beneficial for firms to not let them go in the first place. However, as firms face lower demand for their products, they may not have the financial means to keep paying these workers, particularly in the presence of credit constraints, which are often exacerbated during a crisis. This is where wage subsidies come in. But, ultimately, we just don’t know whether these subsidies really cause firms to retain workers they otherwise would not have retained.

Managing sudden stops

Poonam Gupta's picture

The recent reversal of capital flows to emerging markets has pointed to the continuing relevance of the sudden stop problem when capital inflows dry up abruptly.

In a recent paper  as well as a  Vox column, we analyze these episodes in emerging markets over the past quarter century. We contrast their incidence, impact, correlates, and policy response before and after 2002, and establish similarities as well as differences.

Real-time data as an early warning signal

Fida Rana's picture

The risks inherent in public-private partnerships (PPPs) are real. These long-term projects require substantial investment: typically, PPP project funding structures constitute 70 to 80 percent debt, with the remaining coming from equity sources. Because of the nature of these projects, their loan repayment profile demands a longer tenor. In a practical sense, once lenders start disbursing funds to a PPP, the loans could remain on their balance sheet for around 20 years. This is a typical scenario.

For such prolonged engagement in PPP projects, lenders’ ability to monitor the project during the construction and operation phase becomes critical. The approach to monitoring we’ve been offered so far serves its purpose up to a point, but promising developments in real-time data monitoring have the potential to serve as effective early warning signals—assuring the success of a PPP in ways that could revolutionize certain sectors.