In October, hundreds of representatives of civil society organizations, public and private sector representatives, journalists and international organizations gathered in Copenhagen for the 18th International Anti-Corruption Conference. This annual conference is viewed by many as a leading forum in the field of anti-corruption.
Without effective public scrutiny, the risk of money being lost to corruption and misappropriation is vast. Citizens, rightly so, are demanding more transparency around the process for awarding government contracts. And, at the end of the day, corruption hurts the poor the most by reducing access to essential services such as health and education.
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.
Economists tend to agree on the importance of competition for a sound market economy. So what’s the problem when it comes to governments competing to attract investors through the tax treatment they provide? The trouble is that by competing with one another and eroding each other’s revenues, countries end up having to rely on other—typically more distortive—sources of financing or reduce much-needed public spending, or both.
All this has serious implications for developing countries because they are especially reliant on the corporate income tax for revenues. The risk that tax competition will pressure them into tax policies that endanger this key revenue source is therefore particularly worrisome.
India is the fastest-growing major economy in the world with significant Government investments in infrastructure. According to estimates by WTO and OECD, as quoted in a report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, India: Probity in Public Procurement, the estimated public procurement in India is between 20 and 30 percent of GDP.
This translates to Indian government agencies issuing contracts worth an estimated US$ 419 billion to US$ 628 billion each year for various aspects of infrastructure projects. Ideally, in contractual agreements no disputes would arise and both sides would benefit from the outcome. However, unexpected events occur and many contracts end in dispute. Contractual legal disputes devoid project benefits to the public as time and resources are spent in expensive arbitration and litigation. As a result, India’s development goals are impacted.
Countries with large nonrenewable resources can benefit significantly from them, but reliance on revenues from these sources poses major challenges for policy makers. If you are a senior ministry of finance official in a resource-rich country, what are the challenges that you would face and Consider some of the issues that you would likely encounter:
For many resource abundant countries, large and unpredictable fluctuations in fiscal revenues are a fact of life. Resource revenues are highly volatile and subject to uncertainty. Fiscal policies will need to be framed to support macroeconomic stability and sustainable growth, while sensibly managing fiscal risks. Also, there is a question of how to decouple public spending (which should be relatively stable) from the short-run volatility of resource prices.
In today’s globalized world, a corporation might have a retail store in one country, a factory in another, and financial services provider in yet a third.
Corporate interconnectedness has brought investment and growth, to be sure, but it has also added complexity to the work of tax authorities. Increasingly, developing-economy governments come face-to-face with corporations that employ sophisticated strategies with the aim of paying fewer taxes. With our recently published handbook, "Transfer Pricing and Developing Economies: A Handbook for Policy Makers and Practitioners,” we hope to support efforts to protect countries’ corporate tax bases.
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.