Africa has lost its tolerance for being exploited. I urge G20 leaders to tackle issues such as transfer mispricing.
Global tax reform would seem an unlikely issue to excite and unite the world. Yet as public anger grows over the unconscionable scale of tax avoidance by multinational companies, such reform has become a low-hanging political fruit. Who could challenge the need?
When G20 leaders discuss global tax reform at their summit in St Petersburg this week, they will be building on excellent work, including an Action Plan by the OECD.
I urge them to take the sub-Saharan perspective into account.
Africa may have only one seat at the G20 table but it accounts for 14% of the global population. With a young and rapidly growing population, Africa represents not just the world’s largest untapped source of oil, gas, and minerals, but also a high potential consumer market.
In May this year, the Africa Progress Panel, which I chair, published a report – Equity in Extractives – that shows how tax avoidance and evasion prevent Africa from enjoying its fair share of oil, gas, and mining revenues.
‘Africa’s people expect a fair share of the wealth beneath their soil and territorial waters.’
G20 leaders have a unique opportunity to help reform our global tax system. What they decide and implement will set the framework for global corporate activity for decades. From a sub-Saharan perspective, G20 tax reforms must include three crucial elements.
The first is to tackle transfer mispricing, including the undervaluation of exports by a company to understate its tax liability. Between 2008 and 2010, transfer mispricing cost Africa an average $38.4 billion every year, more than its inflows from either international aid or foreign direct investment.
Second, the G20 must enforce transparent beneficial ownership. Extensive use of tax havens, shell companies, and multi-layered company structures operating across tax jurisdictions, creates an impenetrable barrier of secrecy and actively facilitates corruption.
Many anonymous shell companies are registered in tax havens governed by G20 countries. The G20 should demand full disclosure of the beneficial ownership of registered companies on open public registers. In this way, citizen groups, journalists, and law enforcement authorities, can follow the money and help to root out corruption.
The third key reform is to link African tax authorities into global reforms. Tax authorities in all regions struggle to prevent the erosion of their tax bases, but Africa struggles more than most. Automatic information exchanges must extend to African tax authorities and Africa must be supported to build capacity for tackling tax avoidance, evasion, and the illicit transfers of wealth.
Properly designed and effectively implemented these global reforms will benefit Africa by making available a fairer share of revenues. Used wisely, the extra tax revenue could generate jobs and opportunities for millions of Africans. In this way, it could help reduce poverty, build stable democracies and eventually make development assistance redundant. Companies will also benefit from predictable business environments with clearer regulation. Reputational headaches will be avoided through the transparent management of tax obligations and the accountability that follows.
With increased connectivity and education, Africa has lost its tolerance for exploitation by the rest of the world. Africa’s people expect a fair share of the wealth beneath their soil and territorial waters.
Governments, business, and citizens in G20 countries will all benefit from global tax reform. Indeed, mutually beneficial agreements are the only ones that will stand the test of time.
Published in: The Guardian
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Chaired by Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Africa Progress Panel (the Panel) includes distinguished individuals from the private and public sectors, who advocate on global issues of importance to Africa and the world.
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