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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.

 

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. 

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.

Talking about Tax Is Taxing: Pretending It Is Simple Will Hurt the Poor

Here’s an obvious truth: tax lost to trade misinvoicing in Africa does not equal tax lost to transfer mispricing by multinational corporations in Sierra Leone, which does not equal lost health-care spending. Unfortunately, a policy paper released on Tuesday by Oxfam makes exactly these equivalences. This sort of imprecision is widespread, and it’s not going to help the poor.

African Regional Integration and the Fight Against Illicit Financial Flows

The African Development Bank estimates that illicit financial flows have drained in excess of a trillion dollars from Africa since 1980. These flows undermine the tax base, damage political institutions and exacerbate inequality. With major momentum behind global counter-measures, there are clear opportunities for progress at the regional level – including through stronger information exchange and cooperation, tax base harmonization and innovative uses of trade data.