Let’s go to a meeting about taxation. Doesn’t sound like a fun way to spend a wet Wednesday evening, especially with Lionel Messi and co in action in a big game on TV. However, I went along to St Columb’s Park House in Derry and was really glad that I did. The workshop, facilitated by Children in Crossfire’s Public Engagement Officer Dee Abbott and presented by Debt and Development Coalition, Ireland was a real eye-opener. The presenters, Maeve Bateman and Deirdre Kelly from DDCI made it very clear how important an issue this is for all of us.
WHAT IS THE ISSUE & WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Taxation is a global justice issue. Practices followed by many large corporations are denying billions in potential tax revenue to governments all around the world. It is estimated that tax revenues lost to the EU amount to approximately one trillion euro every year, and billions are lost from developing countries each year the same reason. In fact, estimates have shown that developing countries lose more resources to transnational corporations avoiding taxes than they receive as development aid. Most of this is achieved using perfectly legal, but morally indefensible practices which shunt profits from one country into those with lower tax requirements.
IS TAXATION A BAD THING?
There is a commonly held belief that everyone wants to pay the least tax possible. Whilst there is something in this – handing over your hard-earned cash to the tax authorities can be a painful experience – most in the workshop expressed how important paying taxes is. Some went further and stated that they are more than happy to do so. Furthermore, there was universal agreement that taxation should be used to provide benefits to us all – essential services such as schools, healthcare etc. However, it transpires that many countries, particularly in the developing world, are denied that revenue. The money that they should receive is spirited away to provide extra profits for an already rich global elite. This might not surprise you, but you might not know that the mechanism for spiriting away a country’s essential tax revenue is usually quite legal, although steps are always taken to keep it hidden from view. It is called transfer pricing, and is taught in our universities and business schools as an acceptable economic tool. However, its effects and the injustice of it are rarely questioned.
This whole complex issue was explored in a series of activities which were both enjoyable and extremely instructive. The time passed quickly, as it does when you are having fun, and all participants seemed fully engaged – an achievement in itself at the end of a busy day. The work that DCCI and others are doing to campaign and inform is both extremely important, and very well executed.
SO, WHAT CAN WE DO?
Often in the face of these kinds of obstacles we can feel small, isolated and disempowered. However, there is a growing awareness that this problem is of huge significance to us all. Becoming aware, talking to others and lobbying whenever possible are some of the small steps that we can take. Supporting the work of those looking for fairer taxation practices is another thing that we can do. DCCI aims to empower people in Ireland to take informed action for greater economic justice globally. Much more about this and other issues can be found at its website, www.debtireland.org. There, you will also find opportunities to become involved in its campaigns and to meet other tax justice activists.
WHY ARE CHILDREN IN CROSSFIRE INTERESTED?
As well as providing on the ground assistance to projects such as those in Tanzania and Ethiopia, Children in Crossfire is committed to raising awareness and understanding of international development issues. Therefore, development education in schools and community groups, and engagement with the public through events such as this one are a key element of its work. Personally, I found this evening’s workshop to be extremely valuable. I had a vague, but not very well-informed idea that the global economic system was unjust and heavily weighted in favour of rich countries and multinational companies, but I was not aware of the extent, nor of the details, of the problem. I now know a lot more. I also know that others are concerned. Indeed, it was heartening to engage with a diverse group of interested and interesting people, and to listen to the wide range of views expressed.
THANK YOU TO ALL INVOLVED
So, thanks to Maeve, Deirdre and all at DCCI for their commitment to making us more aware, and to Dee, Conor and Caroline from Children in Crossfire for doing such a good job in organising and facilitating the evening.
A special thanks must also go to the performers from the art collective BeeBeeDeeBee. In an innovative performance, nearly all improvised on the spot, they managed to summarise all the issues we had explored in the workshop. Not an easy task, I can tell you. It was a unique and powerful way of bringing together all the strands we had covered. They did it quite brilliantly. Thank you so much.
Also, thanks to St Columb’s Park House for a nice, warm venue and for the food, which was very much appreciated by all.
P.S. I managed to see Messi on the late night highlights as well!