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Tax

Raising the bar on responsible tax for a sustainable future

Rajiv Joshi's picture



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 if we are to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), reach our ambition to end poverty, reverse inequalities and curb climate change by 2030, serious action on taxation will be crucial. 

How to help more citizens participate in the global tax agenda

Andrew Wainer's picture
Photo: Mohammad Al-Arief/The World Bank.

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.

Even as domestic tax reform is in the political limelight, there is growing attention to taxation in the developing world and the role of citizens in shaping tax policy.

Making taxes work for the SDGs

Jan Walliser's picture
Also available in: Français
Graphic: World Bank Group

Taxation plays a fundamental role in effectively raising and allocating domestic resources for governments to deliver essential public services and achieve broader development goals.

Game-changers and whistle-blowers: taxing wealth

Jim Brumby's picture
Also available in: Français 

High and rising income inequality is a serious concern in many countries, as highlighted in the IMF’s recent Fiscal Monitor. Wealth, however, is distributed even more unequally than income, as in the picture below.

Better understanding the costs of tax treaties: Some initial evidence from Ukraine

Oleksii Balabushko's picture
Also available in: Español | Français
Kiev, Ukraine. Creative commons copyright: Mariusz Kluzniak


As the world is increasingly interconnected, international taxation – traditionally more of a niche issue for tax lawyers – is receiving more and more attention in wider discussions on economic development: Double tax treaties, or agreements that two countries sign with one another to prevent multinational corporations or individuals from being taxed twice, have become more common, with more than 3,000 in effect today. And while they may contribute to investment, some have also become an instrument for aggressive tax planning.

Peer Pressure: Tax competition and developing economies

Michael Keen's picture
A race to the bottom. Graphic by Nicholas Nam/World Bank

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.

Higher revenue, easier filing for taxpayers in Armenia

Julia Oliver's picture


Photo credit: Dmitry Karyshev

Armenia was faced with a slowing economy, sinking remittances, and inefficient tax administration. At the same time, ordinary taxpayers had to navigate arduous processes when paying taxes. The Armenian government was eager to reform its tax administration. Below is a transcript of what we learned when we spoke to World Bank experts working with Armenian tax officials to make things better.
 
Julia: I’m Julia Oliver.
 
Maximilian: I’m Maximilian Mareis.
 
Julia: And we have been talking with tax experts around the World Bank to find out about what they do.
 
Maximilian: So, let’s start with this project in Armenia. Why did we get involved?

Julia: Well, the global financial crisis hit Armenia and its three million people pretty hard. In 2012, when the World Bank began working with policymakers to improve the country’s tax administration, the country faced a pretty bleak picture. Foreign remittances were low, and the domestic economy was slowing. In addition the country had high levels of informal employment.

Tax treaties: Boost or bane for development?

Jim Brumby's picture
  Tax treaties are like a bathtub; a single leaky one is a drain on a country’s revenues.  Photo: Kris Schroeder 


Tax officials and experts grappled with the issue of tax treaties several weeks ago at the IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings. This arcane subject has now emerged as a new lightning rod in the debate on fairness in international taxation. As citizens demand that corporations pay their fair share of taxes and some governments struggle to raise enough revenues for basic services, tax treaties present difficult issues.

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.

Malaysia’s long race to competitiveness

Laura Altinger's picture
Have you ever felt like you are in a race and each time you pass another competitor, more keep showing up ahead on the race track in an endless marathon? Well, countries striving to be competitive face a similar predicament. No matter how hard they try to improve their competitiveness, cut the red tape and reduce burdensome regulations, other countries are doing the same, but even quicker.

Malaysia is already a very competitive country. Today it ranks 18 out of 189 economies in the World Bank Group’s Doing Business Index. Yet, its ambition is to become more competitive. And it wants to overtake some countries on the way up. Malaysia has long recognized that a concerted cross-ministerial and public-private collaboration is needed to do just that.

Malaysia’s Special Task Force to Facilitate Business (PEMUDAH), was established in 2007 to improve the ease of doing business in Malaysia. Testament to its success was Malaysia’s surge to 6th position in the 2014 Doing Business, up from 12th place in 2013 and 18th in 2012, placing it in the same league as Singapore, Hong Kong, and the United States. But since then, Malaysia has been challenged to keep up with the rapid pace of business reforms across the globe.
 

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