People’s groups and movements denounce deepening inequality, say it’s time to tax the rich, not the poor

The call for governments to “Tax the rich, not the poor / Tax the billionaire, not the worker” reverberated in protest actions and activities staged by people’s organizations and movements in Asia on 21 January 2022, in solidarity with theGlobal Protest to Fight Inequality called by the Fight Inequality Alliance and with movements and CSOs in over 30 countries.

Protest actions in the region, including in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines,called attention to the urgency of reforming tax systems to end unjust tax burdens on the people and to sharply and justly tax the income and wealth of corporations and the elite in order to raise domestic revenues for public services and for people’s recovery.  

Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development,notes that the multiple crises in Asia —health crisis, political repression, the impact of the climate emergency, and the economic crisis — preexisted the pandemic but the pandemic has exacerbated the situation, exposing and widening social and economic inequalities.

Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, an estimated 233 million people in Asia and the Pacific lived in extreme poverty, below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day. Another 1 billion people were trapped on incomes of less than $3.20 a day, the lower middle-income poverty line. Close to 2 billion lived on less than $5.50 per day. UN ESCAP estimates that up to 93 million additional people may have fallen below the $3.20 per day poverty line due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, billionaires thrive in the region. A recent report has found the wealth of the Asian billionaire class to be greater than the GDPs of Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines and Thailand combined.

Nacpil decried the role of tax systems in many countries in Asia and other parts of the world in entrenching inequality.  “We have national tax systems and an international tax architecture that put  undue burdens on people — on women, workers, farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous people, urban and rural poor, even young people. These burdens come in the form of a very regressive tax system. These tax systems put the greater weight of tax payments on poor and marginalized sectors and communities while the elites and biggest multinational corporations are given all kinds of tax breaks and commit tax evasion with impunity,” she said.

Massive profit shifting by MNCs and tax avoidance and evasion by the elite, Nacpil said, results in staggering amounts of revenue losses for public coffers, a major factor driving the underfunding of public services.   The social, economic and environmental costs of these tax abuses by MNCs and the elite are borne by the vast majority of ordinary people, she added.

“A system where the unbridled accumulation of wealth and profit by a select few is enabledat the expense of the needs and rights of the many, is gravely and fundamentally unjust,” pronounced Nacpil.

According to a report published on January 19 by the Fight Inequality Alliance, Institute for Policy Studies, Oxfam, and Patriotic Millionaires, a tax based on the market value of assets owned by multi-millionaires and billionaires could also “generate enough revenue to make enough vaccines for the entire world and fill financing gaps in climate measures, universal health and social protection, and efforts to combat gender-based violence in over 80 countries.”

The report also points out that an annual wealth tax in Asia would raise US$673.74 billion a year (with rates at 2% on wealth over $5 million, 3% on wealth over $50 million and 5% on wealth over $1 billion).Such a wealth tax applied to the wealth of multi-millionaires and billionaires would raise $673.74 billion a year, enough to increase public health expenditure in the region by 62%. 

In Pakistan, protest actions, children’s art exhibit and debate competition and other activities were held, led by FIA, Pakistan KissanRabita Committee (PKRC), and Crofter Foundation,  in 10 cities: Lahore, Karachi, Larkana, Faisalabad, Toba Tek Singh, Rawalpindi, Shadadkot, Mardan, Multan,and, Dera Ismail Khan.

“Nearly half of the population live below or around the poverty level, not earning enough to make ends meet. Millions of workers in construction, retail, wholesale, transport, agriculture and informal sectors earn much lower than required to pay income tax. Nearly 77 percent of women are not active in the formal economy. Even then they are paying the imposed indirect taxes. How can they be asked to pay taxes when they find it difficult to feed themselves?” said Saima Zia of PKRC.

In the Philippines, coordinated actions were staged in 10 cities and municipalities in the major islands of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The actions denounced the botched response of the Philippine government to the multiple crises in health, livelihoods, climate, and human rights. Speakers and participants demanded an end to unjust tax burdens on people, pointing out that tax revenues should be used for people’s needs. They also called for the adoption of a wealth tax and recovery of ill-gotten weath of billionaires to raise more revenues to fund public services.

With the theme “Indak, Sayaw, Piglas Para sa Ayuda, Proteksyon, Trabaho – Kahirapan, Wakasan! Kayamanan, Buwisan!” (Move-Dance-Struggle for Relief, Protection, Work/ End Poverty, Tax Wealth!), protesters conveyed their demands through music, dance, testimonies and speeches from some of the most affected and marginalized sectors. Addressing the tax abuses of corporations and billionaires, they sang out a sharp warning, “We will tax YOU!”  The outdoor action in Quezon City gathered more than 300 participants and was led by the Freedom from Debt Coalition, Sanlakas, Bukluran ng Manggagawng Pilipino (BMP), the women’s group Oriang, Aniban ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng Maralitang Lunsod with APMDD.

In Bangladesh, a human chain demonstration demanding tax justice was staged in front of the National Press Club. Badrul Alam, president of Bangladesh Krishok Federation, said that due to lack of proper tax management, the owners of big domestic and foreign companies get away with tax evasion and smuggling the country’s wealth overseas. “Tax management needs to be for the public interest. It is time to formulate a progressive tax management,” he said.

Some 250 men and women from the Bangladesh Sramik Federation, Bangladesh Bhumihin Samiti, Bangladesh Krishok Federation, Bangladesh National Labor Federation, Ready Made Garment Workers’ Federation, Jago Bangladesh Garment Workers Federation, and,Motherland Garments Workers Federation,  tribal leaders and students joined the mass gathering.

Speakers called upon the government to bring back about US$1.1 trillion smuggled outside the country and use the money for services and development projects. They challenged government to formulate a budget on the basis of the policy of ‘taxing the rich, not the

In Indonesia, protest actions were held in seven villages spanning three islands — Bali, Java and Sumatra — between January 15-22. Food hawkers in one of the last traditional markets in East Jakarta protested the government’s plan to tax nine basic food items and the uncontrolled inflation.Protesters in Wadas, Central Java put up mural installations on the impact of a hydropower project. Peasants in Lampung, Sumatra took up high living costs and land inequality.

There were physical and online consultations in Pakel, East Java;  Indramayu, West Java; Mount Wayang, West Java; Bali and Jakarta. Pakel is a village fighting to reclaim the working land, a 1000 year-old fight. The community in Indramayu is fighting against coal power plant, including Cirebon.Women leaders in the MuaraBaru urban village in North Jakarta, known as the most marginalized in the country, held several meetings to strategize towards engaging the national government on evictions, the right to water, among other issues. KRuHA, Women Forum for Social Justice, and the Household Assistant / Housemaids Union work together in the area.

In India,where the wealth of Indian billionaires has more than doubled during the pandemic while 46 million people are estimated to have fallen into extreme poverty in 2020 (nearly half of the new global poor),“Rising Inequality” was the focus of a discussion-forum with Dalit activist and intellectual P. Deekaiyya, feminist thinker Vani Periodi and writer Shoukath Ali, at the open amphitheater of the School of Social Work RoshniNilaya in Valencia, Mangalore. Organized by the Citizens’ Forum for Mangalore Development and led by Vidya Dinker and friends, the gathering brought together around 70 activists, thinkers, grassroots leaders keen to fight inequality.

Nacpil called for intensified campaigning to advance a comprehensive set of demands for tax and fiscal justice, stressing the urgency of ‘transforming our tax and fiscal systems to make them ‘work for people and the planet.’ APMDD’s statement issued on 18 January 2022, A People’s Manifesto: Make Taxes Work for People and the Planet,” summarizes these demands, building on the analyses and positions articulated by APMDD and its members and partners in various actions and consultations on tax and fiscal justice:

A People’s Manifesto  advances the following demands:
• Tax the Rich, Not the Poor
• Make Taxes Work for Women and Other Marginalized Sectors
• Reclaim public services; increase and mobilize public funds for fulfilling peoples’ rights and needs!
• Make MNCs Pay Their Share! Stop Corporate Tax Abuses and Other Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs)
• Advance Tax Justice in the Extractive Industry
• End Inequalities in global tax rules and rule-making
• System change, People First Before Profit!

The week of protest kick-started with an activity with labor groups in the Philippines on 16 January with some 150 workers, including leaders from 13 unions in Metro Manila, participating in the event. Held in Valenzuela City under the banner theme, “Workers Unite to Fight Inequality!” and organized by APMDD and the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (Solidarity of Filipino Workers) it amplified the workers’ call on the Philippine government to #TaxTheRichNotThePoor.

Discussion groups, press conference, and other ‘build-up’ activities, including a webinar by APMDD on 18 January,  were also held during the week,  in the lead up to the actions on 21 January.

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