Views from the Center

CGD experts offer ideas and analysis to improve international development policy. Also check out our Global Health blog and US Development Policy blog.

 

Is the Idea of Counting Dollars of Illicit Financial Flows Undermining Action Where It Counts?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a target to “significantly reduce illicit financial flows (IFFs).” While there is no global consensus about what this means, working definitions point to funds that are “illegally earned, transferred, and/or utilized.” The term is thus generally seen as an umbrella for a wide variety of “dirty money” including funds associated with drug, arms, and human trafficking; wildlife and natural resource crime; state capture and illicit enrichment; the financing of terrorism; and the evasion of taxes and tariffs.

Stop Spreading the Myth: Zambia Is Not Losing $3 Billion to Tax Avoidance

If transparency in debates around matters of natural resource wealth, then so too does the way that figures get translated into public debates.  Earlier this month the Lusaka Times published a claim that multinational mining companies were “robbing Zambia of an estimated $3billion annually through tax evasion and illicit financial flows.” I have written about the Zambia Copper Billions before. I don’t think the figure is at all credible, and I am not the only one. Organisations that have allowed this myth to spread have not done any favours to the people of Zambia, and they have a responsibility to put it right. 

Illicit Financial Flows and Trade Misinvoicing: Time to Reassess

You might remember the UNCTAD report on trade misinvoicing published last year which alleged that the majority of gold exports leave South Africa unreported. If not, you will more than likely have heard the billion dollar estimates of illicit financial flows as a source of resources for financing the SDGs. It is increasingly clear that these calculations, based on gaps and mismatches in trade are not reliable.

How Big Is the Transfer Pricing Prize for Development?

It is often stated that developing countries are “haemorrhaging billions of dollars” of tax revenues through companies abusing transfer pricing, in particular by mispricing commodities.There is no doubt that companies can take advantage of weak regulations and enforcement, but new studies based on microdata from revenue authorities suggest the scale of revenues that might be recovered is unlikely to match up to heightened popular expectations.

Why Do People Think Nigeria Might Be Losing $1 Trillion to Corporate Tax Evasion?

Misunderstandings about the scale of multinational tax avoidance are common. The origin story for an erroneous $1 trillion figure is a case of bad lip reading, but its proliferation reflects the belief that there are absolutely huge sums of money for development at stake from cracking down on multinational tax avoidance. The figure itself may be ridiculous but these myths are serious—they undermine both trust in revenue authorities and businesses, overheat disputes, and make it harder to judge practical progress on improving tax systems and compliance.

Demonetization Ushers in New Era of Digital Finance in India

It has been more than 100 days since the Modi government declared that the two largest denomination notes in India—the 500 and 1000 rupee notes—would no longer be accepted as legal tender. The announcement of “demonetization” had an immediate and sweeping effect on Indian households, which were no longer allowed to use the notes (outside of a few narrow exceptions) and were given less than eight weeks to deposit or exchange them.

Criminal Finances: Should the UK Be Imposing Public Registers of Beneficial Ownership on Its Ex-Colonies?

A new Criminal Finances Bill is making its way through the UK House of Commons which aims to make it harder for criminals and kleptocrats to use the UK financial system to launder ill-gotten gains, while minimising the burden on legitimate businesses and individuals. The bill gives expanded powers to law enforcement agencies and makes banks and other businesses liable for prosecution if they fail to prevent facilitation of tax evasion. It also introduces ‘Unexplained Wealth Orders’ (UWOs). These would allow the authorities to demand explanations about any assets that appear suspicious. These measures should have both domestic and international benefits in tackling illicit financial flows.

India Prime Minister Enacts Bold Policy to Cut Down on “Black Money”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announced a bold measure on Wednesday to reduce the role of unaccounted for cash or “black money” in the country’s economy by “de-monetizing” higher-denomination currency notes. The new policy bans the use of 500 rupee and 1,000 rupee currency notes. While this measure may have the positive (though potentially temporary) effect of forcing illicit activity out of the regulated economy, the process could be disorderly, with the poorest members of society bearing the brunt of the disruption.

Global Efforts to Combat Financial Exclusion Forge Ahead

In November 2015, CGD published a report on the unintended consequences of anti-money laundering policies for poor countries, focusing on three groups: migrant workers who send remittances to their families, vulnerable people who are displaced by conflict or natural disasters and are in need of foreign assistance, and businesses that rely on cross-border trade. Since then, the international community has made several efforts to address the problem of financial exclusion created in part by these policies. 

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