On June 23 we mark World Public Services Day to call attention to millions of peoples in Asia living in conditions of impoverishment and deprivation. Many of them are without even the most essential services such as water and health that are required to have decent and humane lives.
Many Asian governments have resorted to privatizing social services, citing financial incapacity to continue providing these. They have also persisted in depending on borrowings and foreign investments to support the development of infrastructure in sectors as basic as primary and maternal health, education and literacy, community development, disaster preparedness and climate resilience. For instance, public expenditures for health have consistently remained below the 5% of GDP international standard resulting, among others, in a regression of the Maternal Mortality Ratio from 162 to 221 for the Philippines and from 228 to 359 for Indonesia.
Yet we find that governments are giving away the very revenues critical to providing these social services. Asia has been found to have the biggest share of policy changes, including tax policies, to accommodate far-reaching investment incentives. In such a context, it is not surprising that the region has been losing trillions of dollars in foregone revenues due largely to tax dodging practices of corporations.
Meanwhile, we are being taxed with grim regularity as waged workers. As ordinary consumers we are also unfailingly taxed through indirect or consumption taxes on a wide range of goods and services, thus unfairly increasing the economic burdens of lower income groups and the informal sector where women are especially concentrated.
Developing country governments bend to the pressure of international financial institutions to increase indirect taxes such as VAT, despite acknowledging their unjust impacts, instead of compelling MNCs and rich individuals to pay their obligations. Instead of mobilizing the necessary finances for basic social services and development needs, they persist in a path of privatization and debt dependence. They violate a core principle of their authority to tax, that these revenues must be diligently raised and carefully used for the needs and interests of their people.
We believe that providing essential social services is a state obligation of the highest priority because it is critical to the enjoyment of many other human rights that states have committed to protect and fulfil. In fact, the state’s right to tax goes hand in hand with the state’s obligations to protect and uphold the rights of its citizens, promote equity and justice, provide for essential services and, be transparent and democratic in formulation and implementation of budget, spending and policies. Tax policies and systems should be aimed at raising resources for people’s basic and development needs, not as instrumental for ensuring more profits for corporations and the wealthy.
Today, we claim the resources that are rightfully ours to support urgent needs for food, health, water, energy, climate adaptation and other social services vital to our well-being and the enjoyment of our basic rights. We demand tax justice as a key requisite to our survival, a life of dignity and a humane and sustainable future.
Our money, our needs, our rights! Public revenues in public services! Scrap tax incentives for corporations and the rich! No to tax dodging by corporations and wealthy elites! Tax justice now!