The secret's out on tax

Published 09 October 2013  |  
AP
Developing countries are losing billions of pounds in revenue each year because of corruption and tax evasion

Church takes us to strange places sometimes. Perhaps less often than we should expect though, because Jesus kept his disciples on their toes, going to meet a Samaritan woman at a well at noon, meeting senior religious leaders furtively at midnight, touching lepers, insisting on going fishing at midnight, sending them to random houses to rely on the kindness of strangers, meeting centurions, prostitutes and tax collectors, etc.

So I shouldn't be surprised to be called to the EU's Accounting and Transparency Directive. I didn't expect it. It wasn't all glamour. But when this obscure piece of EU legislation was approved in June after a two year process, I think Jesus rejoiced and his kingdom grew.

£555 billion goes missing each year from developing countries, in corruption, money laundering, tax evasion, and other illicit payments. Couldn't this money be better spent on helping poor communities? Instead it goes missing: it doesn't teach children to read; it doesn't help women draw drinking water without a three mile walk; it doesn't provide medicine. It gets embezzled; it buys big cars, bigger yachts …and power. We wanted to change that, and EU legislation was our opportunity.

Many countries have valuable resources, like copper, oil, gas, diamonds, gold, or titanium. Tearfund launched a campaign in 2011 to make oil, gas and mining more transparent and make corruption harder. We wanted more of the poorest people to get a fair share. We called it Unearth the Truth. We wanted oil, gas and mining companies to reveal and report their payments made to foreign governments.

When payments are no longer secret, it's much easier for citizens and churches, media and civil society to hold their governments to account. 'We see that a mining company paid $X million to the Ministry of Mining and $Y thousand to the mayor of our district,' a local community will be able to say. 'That's great. Now please tell us what you've done with the money?'

It costs companies very little to add this information to their annual reports; they know it already. It should make bribery less common and reduce costs for business. And it'll help make governments more accountable to ordinary people.
Tearfund's vision is to help 50 million people out of physical and spiritual poverty, and to build a network of 100,000 local churches to do it. The Unearth the Truth campaign shows how well it can work: churches here in the UK and elsewhere in Europe prayed and campaigned for the EU legislation, so church communities in poorer countries can use it to hold their governments to account.

I have much respect for the courage of many church leaders and members who stand up to difficult local and national governments for the sake of their communities. Bishop Stephen Munga, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania – a passionate activist for his country's transparency – is just one of them.

"It's hard to tell where Africa's wealth goes when there's a lack of accountability and public scrutiny – and corruption is shrouded in secrecy," he told us. "That's why the best way of tackling it is to maximise transparency."

We won the Unearth the Truth campaign in June. The EU passed the legislation we'd prayed and campaigned for. Oil, gas and mining companies listed in EU countries now have to publish what they pay. The US has passed a similar law and Canada and Norway promised to do likewise. That's about two thirds of the world's extractive companies covered.
We're launching the Secret's Out campaign to reach the rest.

The G20 is a club of the world's 20 largest economies. It includes the UK and other countries with a lot of extractive companies, like Australia, China, Brazil and South Africa. Tearfund's Secret's Out campaign asks them to follow suit at their next G20 meeting, hosted by Australia in November 2014. The church around the world is working together to ask the different G20 countries the same thing.

Many thousands of people helped win Unearth the Truth – in church, at home, at New Wine, visiting MEPs, on our phones. I hope we repeat the success together with Secret's Out!
Join in at www.tearfund.org/secretsout

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