Following the IFF trail

The report of the High-Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Agenda or FACTI Panelunderscores the urgent need to address the systemic problem of illicit financial flows (IFF) which, if left unabated, will continue to widen inequalities.

Below are quotes lifted from the FACTI Report released in February 2021. * The FACTI Panel was convened by the 74th President of the United Nations General Assembly and the 75th President of the Economic and Social Council on 2 March 2020. It was co-chaired by Dalia Grybauskaitė, former President of Lithuania, and Ibrahim Miyaki, former Prime Minister of Niger, with panelists composed of former world leaders and central bank governors, business and civil society heads and academics.**

· The (pandemic) crisis has sharpened pre-existing divides within and between countries. The impassioned declarations made at the start of the pandemic – that “we’re all in this together”– rapidly started to subside. It soon became clear that less developed countries with low tax-to-GDP ratios were worse equipped to tide their societies over the disaster. All countries were in the same storm, but they were not on the same boat. Developing countries could ill afford social safety nets, medical equipment, and vaccines, compared to developed countries.

· Inequality has risen sharply, with reports suggesting the pandemic has led to an 7% increase in extreme povertywhile boosting billionaires’ wealth by 27.5% at the peak of the crisis, between April and July 2020. Even if this result cannot be traced solely to illegal corruption and fraud, it is an alarming testament to the way the international financial system is presently skewed in favour of the wealthy, even during a pandemic.

· The UNODC (United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime) warned (in April 2020) that dramatic measures taken by Member States to stave off economic collapse, including relaxed safeguards, could present “significant opportunities for corruption to thrive”.

· The UNODC again (in December 2020) drew attention to the risk of corruption, related to emergency funding for the vaccine, including recently approved financing of US$12 billion from the World Bank, to help developing countries finance, purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments. It warned that public procurement posed a particular risk, given the volumes of funding involved. 

· The FACTI Panel notes the estimates that the global loss to governments from profit-shifting by multinational enterprises may be $500 to $600 billion a year. This tax loss from profit shifting estimate is based on a calculation of the deviations in declared corporate profits from indicators of real economic activity, and is a rough estimation, indicative of how much revenue corporations are denying governments.

· llicit financial flows — from tax abuse, cross-border corruption, and transnational financial crime — drain resources from sustainable development. They worsen inequalities, fuel instability, undermine governance, and damage public trust. Ultimately, they contribute to States not being able to fulfil their human rights obligations.

· Concerns about illicit financial flows have been raised before. But these discussions have tended to rapidly run aground, with some vociferously focusing only on illegal activities such as bribery and money laundering, to the exclusion of tax avoidance.This fault line explains in part why there is still no intergovernmentally agreed universal definition of IFFs.

· From a legal perspective, tax avoidance utilises loopholes in tax laws, exploiting them, albeit within the bounds of legality. In contrast, tax evasion is defined as non-compliance with tax laws. However, taxpayers do engage in “aggressive tax planning”, a term which describes artificial arrangements designed to manipulate tax laws in order to achieve results that conflict with the intention of legislatures.It blurs the line between tax avoidance and tax evasion. Both aggressive tax planning and tax evasion foster inequalities, deprive countries of resources that could be used for financing public goods, and undermine trust in governance and the social contract.

· An estimated $7 trillion of the world’s private wealth is funnelled through secrecy jurisdictions and haven countries.Taking into account just one sub-type of illicit financial flows – corporate profit-shifting, or the shopping around for tax-free jurisdictions by multinational corporations – such practices cost countries where these profits are actually made on the order of $500 to $650 billion a year, according to some estimates. Turning to the illegal flows, as much as 2.7 per cent of the global GDP is laundered by criminals.And bribery of all types across the world amounts to an estimated $1.5 to $2 trillion dollars every year.While these opaque transactions occur in all countries, they have a much heavier impact on developing countries.

· Illicit financial flows represent a double theft: an expropriation of funds that also robs billions of a better future. Taking action to recover hidden outflows could reduce inequalities everywhere,improving peoples’ well-being, as well as socioeconomic and health outcomes.Turning to the illegal flows, as much as 2.7 per cent of the global GDP is laundered by criminals.And bribery of all types across the world amounts to an estimated $1.5 to $2 trillion dollars every year.While these opaque transactions occur in all countries, they have a much heavier impact on developing countries.

Echoing a proposal that developing countries have been calling for for years, the FACTI Panel recommends that an intergovernmental tax body should be established under the auspices of the United Nations. Furthermore, the FACTI Panel called for the development of a UN Tax Convention – a proposal that has previously been put forward by the Africa Group at the UN. 

It is high time for governments to act on these recommendations. It is not only a question of ensuring the fairness and effectiveness of our tax systems; it is also a question of governments being able to mobilize the public resources needed to recover from the Covid-19 crisis. 

*The full report of the FACTI Panel is available here

**The members of the FACTI Panel can be found here

Please refer to the following video for more information on IFF:

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