In early December, the European Union (EU) published a list of 17 countries now considered tax havens. Among this list, only two African countries were pinned by Brussels: Tunisia and Namibia. Another list, the “gray” one, should be published soon with the countries that have made commitments to be followed, on which, it is said, Morocco and Cape Verde should appear.
My idea is obviously not to name and shame this or this country, especially as this list compiled by the European authorities is subjective and is sometimes based on more than questionable criteria. It should also be noted that not one single European country appears on the list, considering that they are supposed to apply European law in the fight against fraud…
But I would like to draw attention to the fiscal issue African states are facing and to the scourge of tax evasion. While Africa is still too often perceived (for all the reasons we know), as a continent dependent on official development assistance, our continent has potential resources that it actually lets evaporate each year. This problem goes well beyond the African continent. For instance, the OECD has made the issue of transfer pricing a priority in recent years.
According to the high-level group sponsored by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the African Union (AU), it is estimated that illicit financial flows out of Africa amount to between $ 50 and $ 60 billion each year. And again, this estimate probably underplays reality, given the difficulty of evaluating these transactions and the lack of data on this subject. Between 1970 and 2008, illicit financial flows cost Africa between $ 854 and $ 1.8 trillion, according to estimates by the high-level group dealing with illicit financial flows from Africa. Another organization, the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation (ICRICT), estimates that between $ 40 and $ 80 billion are lost each year in Africa. In any case, these figures are staggering.
These illicit flows include, of course, criminal activity of any kind and the transfer of funds from corruption, but they do not constitute the majority of these flows. The bulk of the flows actually come from traditional trade, a combination of tax evasion and avoidance. The first refers to the actual fraud that is illegal, while the second is for a company (or an individual) to take advantage of loopholes in the tax system of a state, to reduce the amount of its levies, which is supposedly legal though deeply immoral. The porous border between evasion and tax avoidance means that both strategies need to be fought hard.
The challenge is twofold. On the one hand, the establishment of increased inter-state cooperation to respond to this challenge is essential. Indeed, companies profit very logically from dissonances between different governments on the international tax system. Several countries are openly betting on a leveling down of tax incentives, to the detriment of many. On the other hand, public administrations too often suffer from a lack of technical expertise in the face of multinationals backed by international law firms helping them to implement aggressive tax avoidance strategies. In order to combat this phenomenon, the first step is the construction and drafting of strengthened legislation, taking into account the various tax avoidance practices, particularly the thorny issue of transfer pricing.
This legislation will only be worth the value of the ability of our tax administrations to implement them.
This is notably the fight of the Forum on African Tax Administration (ATAF), a platform dedicated to promoting mutual cooperation between African tax administrations (and other relevant and interested stakeholders) and aimed at improving the efficiency of their tax laws and administrations. The organization often cites the case of Uganda, which has become aware of this issue and has begun implementing the necessary reforms. In 2015, these reforms allowed Kampala to win a dispute with Heritage Oil for some $ 400 million before the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL).
Taxation is an essential element for the economic and social development of African countries. It enables the fair and equitable sharing of the costs and benefits of development, contributes to the creation of a stable environment for economic operators and finances infrastructure needs at the material and social level. This is why reform of tax systems is one of the best ways to finance development, making it possible to strengthen the autonomy of governments. African governments must therefore seize this project as a priority, in order to be able to rely on the fiscal pillar to collect the resources they need to finance their development strategies.