A Developing Country Perspective on the 2017 Review of Irish Tax Law

I write in reference to the call for views globally on the review of the Irish Income Tax Act. I recently looked into Irish tax law and its effects on developing countries with particular focus on Africa. Although I have not published on this as yet I have compiled data that I believe will be of interest to the Irish government as it goes through its decision-making process.

Pattern of International Financial Flows Between Ireland and African Countries

Together with my colleagues we looked into the issue of flows out of Ireland using IMF data between 2009 and 2013 and what we see form an African perspective is while there was initial investment in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mauritius, Mozambique and South Africa, in reality this seems to have decreased throughout other African countries and by 2013 the only countries predominantly receive flows are South Africa and Mozambique. Please see the figures below that showing the changing pattern of the flows.

 

Figure 1: Flows in 2009                                                          Figure 2: Flows in 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 3: Flows in 2011                                              Figure 4: Flows in 2012

 

 

Figure 5: Flows in 2013                                              Figure 6: Flows in 2014

 

 

This data would need to be cross referenced as against the Double Taxation Agreements in place between Ireland and African countries: Botswana, Ghana, Zambia, Ethiopia, Morocco, South Africa. This list does not include Uganda, Mozambique or even Mauritius where the flows seem to be predominant. In addition, there are Irish business associations in the following African countries: South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya. In addition, there is also Irish business in Ghana that does not show up at all. There is a disconnect between the flows of finance and the treaty base in place as well as potentially actual support on the ground.

The Irish Spillover Report and Impact in Africa

Last year, the Department of Finance released “spillover” analysis of the potential impact of Irish tax policy, including the 12.5 per cent corporate tax rate, on developing nations. In the report, Michael Noonan commended the State for “taking a lead” in such research and thus showing its “full commitment” and fostering “a trusting relationship between the developed and developing world”. However, this document failed to analyze the implications of the State’s 12.5 per cent corporate tax rate not only through the lens of globalization but also through human rights. As a result, it did not unpack the subsequent knock-on effects that Ireland’s tax laws, policies and regulations are having on the on people in developing nations. As the figure below illustrates there are interlinkages between actions and laws in one states with inevitable spillovers in others and all states going forward should be at minimum aware of this.

Figure 7: The Linkages Between Tax Evasion and Human Rights

Traditionally, the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the World Bank have always recommended between 20 and 25 per cent corporate income tax. The World Trade Organization recommends 15-20 per cent and has since revised upwards to 20 per cent. But in Ireland your rate is at 12.5 per cent. If you sign agreements like DTAs with African countries based on residence then the taxes you will collect are 12.5% but the amount lost in developing country from the Irish business that is operating is 30%. However, this minimum recommended rate is based on the economics principle of cost-benefit analysis and the idea is that on average the amount you’re taking is enough to maintain the services that you’re granting, and 12.5 per cent doesn’t cover that. In addition, in a globalized world, by having a tax rate of 12.5 per cent, you are destroying the potential of developing countries to maintain their 25-35 per cent rates so that they can start becoming financially self-sufficient as businesses compare tax rates instead of the real competition which includes: political stability,

Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, last year also warned of the human rights implications on developing nations of excessively low corporate income tax rates. Speaking at a Christian Aid conference in Dublin, he warned that the State’s 12.5 per rate had descended into a type of mantra and that “mantras are simply slogans that are repeated unthinkingly”. He said policies that gave large multinationals “a free pass on tax” were especially damaging to developing countries which rely heavily on investment from multinational corporations.  “The 12.5 per cent corporate tax rate and the willingness of Ireland to countenance a wide array of special arrangements designed to attract inward investment and make itself an attractive financial hub have become almost a defining characteristic of the society,” said Alston.

Reflecting on Progressive Realisation and the Financing of the MDGs: An African Analysis

The absence of express provisions relating to finances has impeded the realisation of human rights. Holmes and Sustein stated “rights cannot be protected or enforced without public funding and support…all rights make claims on public treasury.” Rights require resources to be allocated to them in order that they can begin to be realised.

There are several core texts which provide the source of human rights discourse in Africa. These are the UDHR, the ICCPR and the ICESCR and even though they do not offer a definition of human rights they all state that the main purpose of these rights is to promote human dignity. Regionally, African states have the ACHPR (The African Charter of Human and People’s Rights), a treaty that has outlined the various human rights but not the right to social welfare.

Globally, the Millennium Development Goals were a critical step towards achieving the most crucial social, economic and human rights making financial demands of state nationally as well as in co-operating with other states to realise rights, however this was limited to developing countries only. While most countries have made remarkable progress towards achieving them, low-tax and low-income states in Africa are still lagging behind.

Data using a simple analysis shows that there is a direct relationship between the amount of tax collected as opposed to resource revenue and the responsibility of the state in re-distributing the resources for the benefit of their people.[1] Although there have been challenges when it comes to relating tax to MDGs, there are debates moving towards the possibility and the practicalities of the connection between the two practically although the treaty framework does not reflect this with enough clarity. At the level of political will, the AU Agenda for 2063 also sets out an ambitious development plan aimed towards the realisation of rights especially economic rights.

The main obstacle to the realisation of these human and socio-economic rights is limited resources. A declaration of rights as being human or socio-economic does not suffice for their realisation, instead, the development of equitable global, regional and national tax systems will be instrumental in achieving these rights and ultimately, the Millennium Development Goals and the Post 2015 development agenda.

[1] Waris and Kohonen, Linking Taxation to the Realisation of the Millenium Development Goals in Africa

http://eadi.org/gc2011/waris-109.pdf (accessed 20th May 2015)

Towards a Framework Convention on Global Health : A Fiscal Perspective

Achieving health globally requires a combination of a change in thinking and action as well as a financing of certain aspects; there are both fiscal and non-fiscal challenges to the achievement of health globally for all people whether they live in developed or developing countries. However, what will it take to eliminate the gross health inequities that continue to plague the world, the unconscionable health gaps between the rich and poor?

Today the world is focusing on two different processes in an attempt to achieve health as well as other important milestones in the well-being of all people. The Financing for Development process on the one hand is looking to encourage and crystallize fiscal commitments of states while the SDG discussions are focusing on the basic needs and rights of peoples that can be achieved in the post 2015 period.

The eyes of the global health community are similarly focused on the post-2015 sustainable development goals, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) is advocating for universal health coverage: global health with justice  improving healthy lives for everyone, with particular attention to marginalised communities worldwide and its fiscal implications. The sustainable development agenda, however, cannot achieve global health with justice without robust fiscal global, regional and national level governance. A proposal has been made for the adoption of a legally binding global health treaty – a framework convention on global health grounded in the right to health.

While many may argue that there is treaty fatigue and perhaps too many treaties there remains the need to crystallise one particular principle in human rights treaties: rights require resources. The continued reliance on the idealism of human rights without reference to the reality of the need to fund it can no longer be ignore and if for no other reason a framework convention on global health could allow for the clear recognition of this principle. The financing of health under the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights places the responsibility of progressive realisation on both domestic states as well as through international co-operation and assistance and to date this has remained within the discretion of states as they choose to assist or not, health is a global issue: diseases cross borders as easily as the wind can blow and both these arms of realisation need further clarity within a treaty framework.

The understanding of the right to health remains partially clouded and this hinders both domestic and international accountability for international human rights obligations. To solve this problem, a framework convention on global health could bring clarity and precision to norms and standards surrounding the right to health, including states’ duties to “take steps…to the maximum of their available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realisation” of the right to health. Most importantly, the framework convention on global health could build on a progressive post-2015 development framework by putting specific standards and forceful accountability behind the post-2015 global commitments for both the SDGs as well as the FfD processes.