Enhancing the taxation system in a fair, transparent, and efficient way in the new digital world is essential for countries looking to invest in their human capital, said Karishma Vaswani, Correspondent for BBC Asia Business and moderator of the dynamic event ‘Fair and Transparent Taxation in the Digital Age’ in Bali, Indonesia. Leaders from government, private sector, civil society, and academia gathered to explore the implications of technology on countries’ efforts to mobilize domestic resources to fund the Sustainable Development Goals.
Editor’s note: The findings, interpretations and conclusions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the World Bank Group, its Board of Directors or the governments they represent.
For business, the conversation around tax and sustainable development can be tough. Yet
Taxation plays a fundamental role in effectively raising and allocating domestic resources for governments to deliver essential public services and achieve broader development goals.
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.
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.
In today’s world, international aid is fickle, financial flows unstable, and many donor countries are facing domestic economic crises themselves, driving them to apply resources inward. In this environment, developing countries need inner strength. They need inner stability. And they deserve the right to chart their own futures.
This is within their grasp, and last week the launch of an unassuming-but-powerful tool marked an important step forward in this quiet independence movement. It’s called the TADAT, or Tax Administration Diagnostic Assessment Tool. At first glance, this tool may look inscrutable, technical, and disconnected from development. But listen.
Melissa Thomas, author of Govern like us, speaking at the World Bank recently raised a very interesting question: is our expectation that poor countries with limited resources can deliver high-quality governance unrealistic?
Can these countries provide the public goods and services that citizens demand and need, to be able to forge a strong social contract?
She compares the levels of revenue per capita in rich and poor countries and finds that in the poorest countries, levels of revenue per capita are so low that it would be years, or even decades, until they have enough to provide a decent level of public goods and services.
It is in that context that I thought of Sri Mulyani’s appeal during the Spring Meetings when she spoke of the need to clamp down on tax evasion and avoidance and boost the domestic resource mobilization (DRM) capacities of developing countries as a means of finding resources for financing development going forward.