Amy Croome, from Oxfam GB, interviews fellow researchers, and civil society actors, on approaches, challenges, and opportunities to tax justice in Asia.
For two days academics, activists and civil society actors came together in Delhi to discuss tax justice, illicit financial flows and tax havens in Asia. A key theme was the important role of narratives in motivating people to take action. Amy Croome, Oxfam research fellow in Myanmar, interviewed Sakshi Rai from the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) in India, who co-organized the event with the Financial Transparency Coalition, Mae Buenaventura from the Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD) in the Philippines, and Ming Zhuang from the Participation Center in China.
What could an Asian narrative on tax justice and financial transparency look like?
It needs to start from a national perspective, and link to the need for regional co-operation on tax methods. This is important because all of us have such strong national identities in our countries. So, to engage and mobilize people to take action, and build a movement on tax justice, people need to be able to relate to it on a personal level.
It should really come from the ground, from the people who are the tax payers, especially women.
For me, an Asian narrative on tax justice needs to be rooted in historical economic, social and political realities. And take account of limited resources and capacities. As Sakshi says, it should really come from the ground, from the people who are the tax payers, especially women. That narrative must reflect their realities, their challenges. We need to mobilize a critical mass of people to build the pressure for tax and fiscal justice.
I think there should be more communication and exchanges amongst Asian countries working on these issues. Because of economic globalization and regionalization, we are more closely connected. But for civil society in China at least, there has been very little communication. It’s necessary for us to build more connections regionally.
Let me just add, a tax justice movement cannot be separate from other social justice agendas. As we have seen, it’s very difficult to push for tax reform only. You need that synergy between like-minded groups to move the agenda forwards. We need to link with other groups that are working to reduce inequality, such as those seeking the democratization of assets.
I would also like to add that the personal is political and this movement is all about that. Tax justice begins from a place that is incorruptible, because it affects people so personally. The Asian movement that I want to see develop over the next 5-10 years should relate back to our experiences regionally. It must be based on a collective understanding of how tax affects us, and how our struggles complement each other.
Me too, let me add! No matter what the will of our governments, and their officials, is, we must stick and work together on common ground and goals.
Sakshi, the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) in India is very active in a variety of networks. How are the network and collectives regionally evolving and what role do they play in regional advocacy?
I would say that, our regional networks, like Tax and Fiscal Justice Asia (TAFJA), and Financing Development in Asia (FinDevAsia) have evolved by engaging diverse individuals and organisations These include intergovernmental tax forums, tax administrators and civil society organizations working on a range of issues.
We are evolving in a way that’s very responsive to our political climate.
We focused our energies on developing expertise in our partner organizations and we’ve worked with unions. So, I think for both networks, we are evolving in a way that’s very responsive to our political climate. We bring up issues like illicit financial flows over and over again; repeatedly taking it back to the narrative of human rights, gender and debt, and grounding our policy asks in what Asia needs.
One of the policy asks that we always put in our documents is that we need more research and evidence from Asian perspectives. For example, what is the biggest driver of illicit financial flows in Asia Pacific? We need to know so we can raise awareness of these issues with the public and popularize such messages.
Mae, you mentioned the anniversary of the Paradise papers, and how the campaign framing is different in Asia. What is the framing here, and why?
It’s not substantially different, it’s more about using the angles you think will resonate better with people. If we started with the technical aspects of tax havens, it wouldn’t connect with our communities. But if we focus on how they are missing out on money for education or health – funds that are theirs as a matter of right – and link this to money spirited away in tax havens, that makes it more effective.
Ming, you mentioned there are dangerous signs of a coming global financial crisis, and that it is likely to hit emerging markets hardest. How should we prepare? And how will this affect public opinions on illicit financial flows?
When there is crisis, there will be opportunities for change.
There may be some windows of opportunity to challenge the current financial orders that benefit the rich and financial super powers, and let emerging economies and people suffer. We know that those who are already struggling will bear the brunt . I wonder if the financial challenges might also provide opportunities for people at the bottom, to gain more from development. When there is crisis, there will be opportunities for change.
Tax justice and financial transparency issues are national, but at their core they are personal and affect those in poverty the most. There are shared issues, there needs to be a shared narrative and the response must be collective and linked to other social justice movements.
Thank you Sakshi, Mae and Ming!