Where is Africa’s voice in challenging the corrosive secrecy of tax havens?

February 9th, 2011

Matthew McDermott/Flickr *

So far, 2011 has not been a comfortable year for the tax dodger. One month in and WikiLeaks is preparing to publish the names of thousands of offshore account holders in Switzerland, UK based companies like Vodafone have been criticised for alleged aggressive tax avoidance, and following a high profile corruption scandal, India’s media is hungry to expose the horrors of a system which allows billions of dollars to flow out of the country every year.

Best estimates suggest that Africa has lost US$854 billion to illicit outflows of capital in the past three decades – aided and abetted by the financial secrecy of tax havens. Tax Justice Network’s own Nick Shaxson has highlighted how endemic this offshore system is – allowing corrupt dictators to stash their loot, corporations to minimise their tax bill, and allowing New York billionaire Leona Helmsley’s outrageous statement that ‘only little people pay taxes’ to remain a truism.

So where is Africa’s voice? Where is our sense of outrage? A quick search for statements from Africa’s leaders show that there is little interest in the issue (bar perhaps South Africa’s Former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel). Why is this? Don’t we care that Africa is a net creditor to the rest of the world? Perhaps it is the vested interests of the political classes. Or perhaps, those leaders simply aren’t feeling any pressure from their citizens to do anything about this.

Against the backdrop of dramatic change in the Middle East, here in Dakar at the World Social Forum, thousands of people from across the world are calling for a better way. For markets to serve people, rather than people serving the market.

Yesterday, Tax Justice Network Africa launched a new report “Tax Us If You Can – Africa” [PDF]. This report is a clarion call to civil society and governments across Africa to stand up against the injustice of those who dodge taxes, and the response from those attending the launch was clear: this is an injustice we can no longer tolerate.

This is why Tax Justice Network Africa is supporting this newly launched “End Tax Haven Secrecy” campaign, calling on the G20 to address this issue when they meet in France in France.

Where is Africa’s voice? Where is out sense of outrage? Today it is here in Dakar at the World Social Forum.

With thanks to David McNair. TJN: For some more hair-raising numbers, see this recent Eurodad presentation by Léonce Ndikumana of the African Development Bank, here.

* Image License: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Matthew McDermott

Written by Dereje Alemeyehu

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