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Tax Inspectors Without Borders – a Tax Justice Network idea bears fruit

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Tax Inspectors Without Borders – a Tax Justice Network idea bears fruit

The Economist is running an article about a fairly new body called Tax Inspectors Without Borders (TIWB), a programme backed by the OECD and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to provide tax assistance to hard-pressed revenue authorities in poorer countries, whose underpaid officials struggle to match the awesome legal and accounting firepower of the world’s multinationals.

This is a vast issue: IMF research estimates that global profit-shifting by multinationals cheats the world’s treasuries out of around $600 billion a year, while the Tax Justice Network estimates $500 billion annually. Although high-income countries are the biggest losers in absolute terms, it is lower-income countries that are taking the biggest hit in terms of the share of lost revenue – which means that the likely human cost is highest in these places.

The Economist’s article makes clear that TIWB is an excellent idea:

Recently a team came back from meeting one company so excited,” relates another [Jamaican tax official]. For the first time ever when dealing with a large taxpayer, “our people did the talking and the other side sat dumb”, struggling to answer the questions.”

That’s the kind of thing that TIWB was set up to achieve, The Economist notes (and it also quotes our Executive Director, Alex Cobham). What the article doesn’t mention, however, is that the original impetus for TIWB came from the Tax Justice Network.

Emma Lochery and Matti Kohonen, Bamako, 2006

The roots of this concept lie in a mapping exercise in Africa led by John Christensen in 2005 and 2006, carried out with help from Emma Lochery, Matti Kohonen and Roman Kuenzler, on a budget that the word “shoestring” would probably overstate. Back in those days, almost nobody was paying any attention to the role of tax havens in the looting of poor countries by kleptocrats and their assistants, and tax was a dirty word in most policy circles.

The mapping exercise discovered a couple of things, Christensen said:

When we listened to African tax officials their biggest concerns focussed on tax competition, and the dirty, corrupt tax deals that ministers were signing with big mining companies, in Burkina Faso, in Mali, in Niger,  and across all of the world’s poorest countries.

Then there was the tax audit capacity. The [African revenue officials] were telling us, ‘We get these brilliant bright officials, we train them – and then they go and join the enemy. When we are up against these gigantic companies, we are totally outgunned by their legal teams.’ And of course the accountants too.

You might find a junior auditor with only three or four years of experience of complex transfer pricing issues going up against global companies with half a dozen top tax lawyers and accountants in their team. David against Goliath stuff, but David’s hands were tied because none of the relevant accounting information was being shared with him.

That was the genesis of the idea.”

The Tax Justice Network, which was in its infancy then, held a consultation with several African legal scholars and tax officials at the World Social Forum in Bamako, Mali in 2006. “I remember a long long discussion with three or four of these guys, they were saying ‘We are supposed to be handling these really complex accounts, but we don’t have the capacity.’ That’s what triggered the idea for me.” Christensen came up with the name Tax Inspectors Sans Frontieres, or Tax Inspectors Without Borders. He discussed it internally in the Tax Justice Network, and with a couple of people outside the organisation, including a UK tax official called Brian McCauley, but for a while nothing came of it.

In 2011, Christensen was invited to give a presentation at an event in Bonn sponsored by the German development agency, and he proposed the TIWB concept. Afterwards, a US State Department staffer approached him and said she’d like to bring the idea to Hillary Clinton. She did, and that’s where take-off began.

The US State Department then put the idea to the International Tax Dialogue meetings in India in December 2011. But it had already started wheels turning, and had contacted Michael Durst, another former top US tax official, who felt a vocation to help poorer countries in these matters, and already began getting involved, advising governments of poorer countries directly.

However, the International Tax Dialogue is a forum led by the IMF and the OECD, the club of rich countries, and has always represented the interests of the world’s rich countries and its multinationals, often at the expense of developing countries. It has also long sought to be the go-to body on international tax, to the exclusion of weaker countries’ views.

Christensen remembers pushing back hard against this rich-world consensus.

We said there is no way we will accept a solely OECD-led thing. We said it’s got to involve the United Nations, it’s needs to be truly global, and we want the countries of the Global South to be the leading partners.  In other words, requests for support with tax audits must come from the tax authorities of countries wanting this form of expert technical assistance.”

And the Tax Justice Network, in this instance, seems to have got its way, at least partially, for it has evolved into a joint OECD-UNDP body, which ensures representation from the poorest countries. It was formally launched in July 2015.

So from an early stage, the initiative moved out of the Tax Justice Network’s hands, into the global policy community. But, true to our ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ approach to projecting influence around the world, we have always been happy with that. “We never wanted it to be exclusively a TJN initiative,” Christensen said: “not least because we had to be realistic about our capacity constraints and the fact that senior tax auditors at the top of their profession might not feel comfortable about being publicly associated with the radicals at the Tax Justice Network.”

TIWB does now seem to be fulfilling a useful role, and we are gratified to see it. 

(This has now been added to our History of Tax Justice page.)

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Right to Repair Bill Introduced in Congress

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Hot on the heels of last week’s victory in the New York state senate, the fight for Right to Repair comes to the US Congress. Today, Congressman Joe Morelle (D-NY) introduced the first broad federal Right to Repair bill: the Fair Repair Act.

“As electronics become integrated into more and more products in our lives, Right to Repair is increasingly important to all Americans,” said Kyle Wiens, iFixit CEO. Lawmakers everywhere are realizing the need to protect our Right to Repair—along with progress in the EU and Australia, 27 US states introduced Right to Repair legislation this year, a record number.

“Every year I’ve worked on Right to Repair, it’s gotten bigger, as more and more people want to see independent repair protected,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, Executive Director of Repair.org. Rep. Joe Morelle has been a champion for much of that journey, sponsoring legislation while in the Statehouse in Albany starting in 2015. Everywhere you go, people just want to be able to choose for themselves how to fix their stuff. You’d think manufacturers would wise up.”

Congressman Joe Morelle’s federal bill would require manufacturers to provide device owners and independent repair businesses with access to the parts, tools, and information they need to fix electronic devices.

“For too long, large corporations have hindered the progress of small business owners and everyday Americans by preventing them from the right to repair their own equipment,” said Congressman Morelle. “It’s long past time to level the playing field, which is why I’m so proud to introduce the Fair Repair Act and put the power back in the hands of consumers. This common-sense legislation will help make technology repairs more accessible and affordable for items from cell phones to laptops to farm equipment, finally giving individuals the autonomy they deserve.”

“Right to Repair just makes sense,” said Nathan Proctor, U.S. PIRG Senior Right to Repair Campaign Director. “It saves money and it keeps electronics in use and off the scrap heap. It helps farmers keep equipment in the field and out of the dealership. No matter how many lobbyists Apple, Microsoft or John Deere and the rest of the manufacturers throw at us, Right to Repair keeps pushing ahead, thanks to champions like Rep. Joe Morelle.”

“At iFixit, we believe that big tech companies shouldn’t get to dictate how we use the things we own or keep us from fixing our stuff.” said iFixit’s US Policy Lead, Kerry Maeve Sheehan. “We applaud Congressman Morelle for taking the fight for Right to Repair to Congress and standing up for farmers, independent repair shops, and consumers nationwide.”

We’re pleased to see Congress taking these problems seriously. In addition to supporting Congressman Morelle’s Fair Repair Act, we urge Congress to pass much-needed reforms to Section 1201 of the Copyright Act, to clarify that circumventing software locks to repair devices is always legal, and to expressly support the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to tackle unfair, deceptive, and anti-competitive repair restrictions.

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For a healthier planet, management must change

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Our environment sustains all life. Both human and wildlife. When habitat degrades, the lives of all that depend on it also deteriorate: poor land = poor people and social breakdown.By Sarah Savory, Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe (like many other countries in arid areas with seasonal rainfall) we are facing the many symptoms and signs of our country’s advancing desertification: ever-increasing droughts, floods, wildfires, poverty, poaching, social breakdown, violence, mass emigration to cities, biodiversity loss and climate change. No economy can survive if we destroy our soil – the only economy that can ultimately sustain any community, or nation, is based on the photosynthetic process — green plants growing on regenerating soil.


So, if we wanted to find out the optimum way to manage our wildlife, people and economy, logically, shouldn’t we be looking at our National Parks for the best examples of what we can do for our environment? Because in national parks, we not only have the best management the world knows, we don’t have any of the issues that are normally blamed for causing desertification: ignorance, greed, corruption, corporations, livestock, coal, oil, etc. Let’s do that now…the following are all photos taken in our national parks (the first 3 were taken in May right after the rainy season when they should still be looking their best!)

As you can see from those photos, some of the worst biodiversity loss and land degradation we have in Zimbabwe is occurring IN our National Parks. But, as I pointed out, those have been run using the best management known to us and have been protected and conserved for decades. We’ve clearly been missing something…

The above 8 pictures are a mixture of National Parks and Communal Land…can you tell which is which?

We are seeing this land degradation both inside and out of our Parks because there is an over-arching and common cause of desertification that nobody has understood, or been able to successfully address, until recently.

We spend our lives blaming resources for causing the damage (coal, oil, livestock, elephants, etc) but resources are natural, so how could they possibly be to blame? Only our management of them can be causing the problem.

ALL tool using animals (including humans) automatically use a genetically embedded management framework…and every single management decision made is in order to meet an objective, a need, or to address a problem. And those decisions are made with exactly the same framework, or thought process and for exactly the same reasons, whether it is an animal or a human.

For example, a hungry otter has an objective: he wants to break open a clamshell because he needs to eat. He uses a simple tool (technology, in the form of a stone) to do so. He does this based on past experience or what he learned from his mother.

Or, the president of the United States has an objective: to put a man on the moon within a decade. He and his team use the same tool (technology, but various and more sophisticated forms of it) and base their choices on past experience, research, expert advice, and so on. It’s the same process, or framework, in both cases, only the degree of sophistication has varied.

A screen shot taken from a short video clip we took with a film crew last month, of 4 different areas, all near to each other: you will clearly see the terrible desertification in both National Parks and nearby Communal Land. In comparison, you will see a vast difference on Dibangombe, the Africa Centre For Holistic Management (our learning centre, which is only 30km from Victoria Falls.) This habitat is being regenerated for all life by simply managing holistically. Every year on this land, despite the worsening droughts, the biodiversity increases and the land and wildlife flourish.
All this footage was taken in the same area, at the same time, with the same climate, the same soils, the same wildlife and the same humans.
But different management.

To this day, this decision making process works just fine for the otter. But imagine that one day, the otter invents a machine that can crack open 1,000 clam shells a day and that all the other otters suddenly stop doing what otters are designed to do and just come to him to get their clams. They still use the decision making process but everything else has changed…that tiny advance in technology would have inadvertently set off a complex chain reaction through the whole ecosystem and there would soon be catastrophic environmental knock-on effects because the balance of the ecosystem has been upset. The ecosystem will keep trying to adjust to this change but eventually it will start to collapse. Imagine the otter started charging for the clams. Now, with every decision the otters make, in order to make sure their ecosystem didn’t collapse, they would need to be simultaneously addressing the social, environmental and economic aspects of their actions. Their management would have to evolve with the change.

This is exactly what happened to humans…As soon as our technology advanced, our management should have evolved to accommodate for it. But it didn’t.

Our natural world is rapidly collapsing all around us and we have ended up constantly chasing our tails and dealing with the symptoms and complications we’ve created. While there have been thousands of books written over the years on different types of management, if you dig a little deeper and ‘peel the onion’ the same genetically embedded framework is still inadvertently being used.

In the last 400 years, our technology has advanced faster than in all of the two hundred thousand or so years of modern human existence. Over those same few centuries, you can now see why the health of our planet has entered a breathtaking decline.  We now have the knowledge to change that…

No matter what we are managing, we cannot ever escape an inevitable web of social, economic and environmental complexity, so, in order to truly address any issue, the people and the finances have to be addressed simultaneously, not just the land itself. Isolating one particular part of the problem, or singling out a species and trying to manage it successfully, is no different from trying to isolate and manage the hydrogen in water.

With this knowledge, the Holistic Management Framework was developed. And, incredibly, it all started here in Zimbabwe, by my father, Allan Savory, an independent Zimbabwean scientist. This new decision making process ensures that no matter what we are managing, we focus on the root cause of any problem. It also makes sure that all our decisions are socially or culturally sound, economically viable and ecologically regenerative by using 7 simple filtering checks. And, it introduces us to a new, biological tool: animal impact and movement, that can be used to help us reverse desertification and regenerate our land and rivers.

This framework has received world-wide acclaim and is now being mirrored in forty three Holistic Management hubs on six continents, including the first university-led hub in the USA.

Now we can begin to understand that most of the problems we are facing in Zimbabwe today are simply symptoms of reductionist management.

Imagine that one day, someone starts to beat you really hard over the head, once a day, every day, with a cricket bat. It really hurts, and instead of trying to take the bat away from them, you just take a dispirin to deal with the headache it’s caused and carry on.

After a week, the pain will be getting much worse and the dispirin will no longer be strong enough, so you’d need a new painkiller. The stopain comes out. After a while, stopain won’t be enough, so you turn to Brufen. And so it goes on. Yet the blows continue.

Eventually, your organs will be struggling from all the medication and you’ll end up in hospital with very serious complications. The best doctors and specialists in the world are called in at great expense and they rush around treating all your worsening, and now life-threatening, symptoms. None of them can understand why you aren’t getting better – they’ve used the best medicines and procedures known. It’s because everyone is so focused on your symptoms, that nobody has looked up and seen the person standing behind you with the cricket bat.

It sounds silly when I put it like that, doesn’t it? But that is exactly what we are doing.

Our planet is in that hospital with life threatening complications, with Governments, Organisations and individuals doing their best, spending millions of dollars, often using expert advice, to find out how to treat the patient, but nobody has realised that they are only treating symptoms. Nobody has noticed the guy standing there with the bat.

The holistic management framework stops the blows to the head. As soon as we do that and the cause is being treated, all the symptoms will automatically begin to heal and fall away.

I am going to show you a screen shot taken from a short video clip we took with a film crew last month, of 4 different areas, all near to each other: you will clearly see the terrible desertification in both National Parks and nearby Communal Land. In comparison, you will see a vast difference on Dibangombe, the Africa Centre For Holistic Management (our learning centre, which is only 30km from Victoria Falls.) This habitat is being regenerated for all life by simply managing holistically. Every year on this land, despite the worsening droughts, the biodiversity increases and the land and wildlife flourish.

All this footage was taken in the same area, at the same time, with the same climate, the same soils, the same wildlife and the same humans.

But different management.

These pictures were taken on the same day on land only 30km apart in February 2018, The 2 photos on the left are Zambezi National Park and the photo on the right is Africa Centre for Holistic Management (Dibangombe)

The great news is that we can turn it all around and we don’t have the thousands of different problems we all think we do. We only have to adjust one thing. Our management.

It’s time for us to evolve from using our outdated, reductionist management framework. We need to adapt to a new way of thinking and  apply this paradigm-shifting decision  making framework so that we can all work together towards regenerating our Zimbabwe.

Culturally. Socially. Economically. Environmentally. For for our people and for our wildlife.

Let’s start by stopping the blows to the head!

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Free to Download Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs

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Fight the Fire

Fight The Fire Book Cover

OUT NOW!

“The most compelling and concise guide to averting climate breakdown.” – Brendan Montague, editor, The Ecologist.

Download Jonathan Neale’s Fight the Fire from The Ecologist for free now.

The Ecologist has published Fight the Fire for free so that it is accessible to all.

We would like to thank our readers for donating £1,000 to cover some of the costs of publishing and promoting this book.

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