Meta l-istat jinkoraġixxi l-evażjoni tat-taxxa

F’indirizz li għamlet nhar it-Tnejn liċ-Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Janet Yellen, Segretarju għat-Teżor tal-Istati Uniti, ippreżentat l-argument favur taxxa minima applikabbli għall-korporazzjonijiet multinazzjonali fuq livell globali, irrispettivament minn fejn huma bbażati.  Proposta ta’ din ix-xorta, kif rappurtat min-New York Times, ikollha s-saħħa li żżomm lil dawn il-kumpaniji milli jċaqilqu l-profitti tagħħom minn post għall-ieħor biex jevadu l-ħlas tat-taxxi dovuti minnhom.

Meta jitnaqqsu it-taxxi biex tinġbed l-industrija u n-negozju, emfasizzat  Ms Yellen, hemm is-sogru li mmissu l-qiegħ: fejn ser tieqaf? Ma nistgħux nibqgħu sejrin hekk. Il-kompetittività mhiex biss kif kumpanija tmur fil-konfront ta’ kumpaniji oħra.  Hi ukoll il-mod li bih nassiguraw  li l-gvernijiet ikollhom sistemi ta’ ġbir ta’ taxxa li jkunu stabbli b’mod li jistgħu jiġbru biżżejjed fondi x’jinvestu f’servizzi publiċi u jkunu f’posizzjoni li jirreaġixxu fi żmien ta’ kriżi. Hu meħtieġ li ċ-ċittadini bejniethom jerfgħu b’mod ġust il-piż tal-finanzjament tal-gvern.”

Din il-materja hi diġa fuq l-agenda tal-Unjoni Ewropeja. Hi opposta b’qawwa minn Malta, il-Lussimburgu, l-Irlanda u pajjiżi oħrajn.  L-argument dwar l-armonizzazzjoni tat-tassazzjoni hu parti integrali mill-ġlieda kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus.

Hu ta’ sfortuna li Malta (u pajjiżi oħrajn) repetutament abbużat mis-sovranità tagħha fuq materji ta’ taxxa. Huwa riżultat ta’ dan l-abbuż repetut li l-proposta dwar l-armonizzazzjoni tat-taxxa qabdet l-art b’mod li issa hi appoġġata ukoll mill-Istati Uniti tal-Amerka.  Malta rmiet il-vantaġġ kompetittiv tagħha billi abbużat minnu repetutament. Il-ħsara lir-reputazzjoni tal-pajjiż hi għaldaqstant awto-gol mill-kbar.

Malta ma tistax tkun kredibbli fil-ġlieda kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus jekk ser tibqa’ tiffaċilita l-evażjoni tat-taxxa fuq skala internazzjonali.  Xi snin ilu il-Grupp tal-Ħodor fil-Parlament Ewropew kien ippubblika studju intitolat Toxic Tax deals: when BASF’s tax structure is more about style than substance. Dan ir-rapport kien svela kif tul is -snin, il-kumpanija Ġermaniża ġgant tal-kimika BASF kien irnexxielha tevita u tiffranka l-ħlas ta’ biljun euro f’taxxi fuq 4 snin billi użat lill-Malta għal dan l-iskop. Dan sar billi kumpanija sussidjarja ġiet reġistrata f’Malta u t-taxxi dovuti, għax l-azzjonisti mhux residenti f’Malta, ħadu lura 6 euros minn kull 7 li kellhom iħallsu f’taxxa!

Il-każ tal-Korporazzjoni Amerikana Apple fl-Irlanda, kif nafu, wassal għall-evażjoni ta’ 13-il biljun euro f’taxxi. L-iskandlu Luxleaks fil-Lussimburgu ukoll wera kif dan il-pajjiż żgħir fost il-fundaturi tal-Unjoni Ewropeja ukoll kien qed jinkoraġixxi l-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Dawn huma ftit mill-eżempji. Bla dubju hemm bosta oħra li s’issa huma moħbija mill-iskrutinju pubbliku. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan kollu madwarna għaddejja evażjoni ta’ biljuni ta’ euro ta’ taxxi, kontinwament. Malta, l-Irlanda, il-Lussimburgu u xi pajjiżi oħra jiġbru parti żgħira mit-taxxi dovuti bħala ħlas talli jippermettu din l-evażjoni ta’ taxxa fuq skala pjuttost kbira.

F’Malta dan kollu kien possibli bħala riżultant tal-hekk imsejjaħ “kunsens nazzjonali” bejn il-PLPN dwar il-qasam finanzjarju. “Kunsens” li ilu fis-seħħ numru ta’ snin. Il-ħsara lir-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta li seħħet u għad qed isseħħ bħala riżultat ta’ dan kollu, għaldaqstant, ma jġorriex il-Partit Laburista waħdu. Il-Partit Nazzjonalista ukoll għandu resposabbiltà xi jġorr. Għalhekk fuq dawn il-materji in-Nazzjonalisti u l-Labour dejjem iħokku dahar xulxin.  

Sfortunatament l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus huma ħafna drabi konnessi. Bosta drabi fejn issib waħda issib l-oħra ukoll.

It-triq il-quddiem m’għandiex ikollha impatt fuq is-sovranità fil-qasam tat-tassazzjoni kif determinat mit-trattati Ewropej permezz tal-ħtieġa tal-unanimità f’materji konnessi mat-taxxa. Imma hemm bżonn urġenti li l-qasam tal-politika fiskali ukoll jinbena fuq prinċipji etiċi b’saħħithom. U mhux dan biss. Għandu jkun assigurat darba għal dejjem li Malta ma tibqax tiddependi minn dħul ġej mill-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Għax id-dipendenza tal-ekonomija Maltija fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa (u l-bejgħ tal-passaporti) hi ta’ inkwiet kbir għall-pajjiż. L-industrija tal-evażjoni tat-taxxa hi sors ta’ dħul kif ukoll ta’ impiegi li it-tnejn li huma inevitabilment jintilfu fi żmien qasir. Wasal iż-żmien li nippjanaw għal futur nadif, futur li mhux iktar dipendenti fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 11 t’April 2021

When the state encourages tax evasion

In a speech delivered on Monday to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Janet Yellen, US Treasury Secretary, made the case for a global minimum tax applicable to multinational corporations irrespective of where they locate their headquarters. Such a proposal, reported the New York Times, would prevent companies from shifting profits to evade taxes.

Lowering tax rates to attract business, emphasised Ms Yellen, is a race to the bottom which has to be addressed. Competitiveness is not just how companies fare against other companies. It is also about making sure that governments have stable tax systems that raise sufficient revenue to invest in essential public goods and respond to crisis, and that all citizens fairly share the burden of financing government.

This issue is already on the agenda of the EU facing fierce opposition from Malta, Luxembourg, Ireland as well as others. The issue of tax harmonisation is an integral part of the fight against tax evasion and money laundering.

It is unfortunate that Malta (and others) have been repeatedly abusing its tax sovereignty. It is as a result of such repeated abuse that the proposal for tax harmonisation is gaining ground such that it now has the support of the United States of America too. As a result of greed Malta has squandered a competitive advantage by abusing it repeatedly and continuously. The resulting reputational damage is hence an own goal.

Malta (and the other countries) cannot be credible in the declared fight against tax evasion and money laundering if it keeps facilitating tax avoidance on an international scale. Some years back the Green Group in the European Parliament had published a study entitled Toxic Tax deals: when BASF’s tax structure is more about style than substance. This report reveals that over the years, the German chemical giant BASF used Malta to avoid the payment of one billion euros in taxes. This was done using the “legal” possibility to have tax refunds of up to six sevenths of the tax due in such cases where shareholders are not resident in the Maltese islands. Tax avoidance is tax evasion sanctioned by the state.

The Apple Corporation case in Ireland as a result of which another €13 billion in taxes were avoided is another example of tax evasion sanctioned by the state of Ireland. Luxleaks had also revealed countless of other examples as a result of which Luxembourg too embarked on state encouraged tax-evasion.

These are just some examples of many: the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There are undoubtedly countless of others, currently below the radar of public scrutiny, as a result of which the payment of billions of euros in taxes are being continuously avoided. Malta, Ireland, Luxembourg and other countries receive a small part of the actual tax due as a result of facilitating this state encouraged tax evasion.

Locally this scam is the result of the PNPL “national consensus” on financial institutions and fiscal policy in force for a number of years in Malta. The responsibility for the resulting reputational damage is thus not one to be shouldered by the Labour Party on its own, it has help from the PN which has continuously buttressed this abusive behaviour.

Unfortunately, tax evasion and money-laundering are inseparable twins!

The way forward need not impact the tax sovereignty afforded by the EU treaties through the unanimity rule on taxation issues. However, it necessitates ensuring that policy on all fiscal issues is also founded on sound ethical principles.

In addition to ensuring that fiscal policy is not in any way unethical it is about time that Malta does not any more, in any way, depend on tax avoidance.

The dependence of Malta’s economy on tax avoidance (and the sale of citizenship) is very worrying. The tax avoidance industry is a source of both revenue to the state and employment opportunities, both of which will be lost in the not-so-distant future. It is about time that we start planning for a cleaner future, a future that is, which is not dependent on the tax avoidance industry!

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 April 2021

Tax avoidance: does Malta play a role?

basf-malta

On 30 August, the European Union, through Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, ordered Apple Corporation to pay €13 billion in unpaid taxes to the Irish state.  The EU ruling considered that the special tax treatment of Apple, whose tax bill was substantially reduced, amounted to unlawful state aid.

In November 2014, through Luxleaks, we learnt of tax avoidance schemes in Luxembourg and elsewhere, as a result of which billions of euros in tax were being avoided by multinational corporations.

The EU has subsequently launched various investigations into the favourable tax treatment which Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Belgium have granted to various multinationals.

As a contribution to the on-going debate on tax avoidance in the EU, the Green Group in the European Parliament has recently published a study on the tax avoidance strategies adopted by the industrial giant BASF, the largest chemical company in the world.

Founded in 1865, BASF has its headquarters in Ludwigshafen, Germany, from where it manages a €70.4 billion turnover with production sites in 80 countries.

Malta features in this report together with Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Over the years, BASF has used mismatches in national tax systems in order to avoid paying its taxes. It is estimated that, over a five-year period spanning 2010 to 2014, BASF avoided the payment of close to one billion euros in taxes.

Chapter VIII of the report, published by the Green Group in the European Parliament, deals with Malta. It refers to the existence of a BASF subsidiary in Malta which held €5.07 billion in assets. These assets where transferred to a new German subsidiary, BASF Finance Malta GMBH, which was managed from an office in St Julian’s, thereby creating the eligibility for preferential tax treatment which could amount to as much as a refund of six-sevenths of all tax payable in Malta.

All this is a clearly planned movement of profits through generous loopholes as a way of avoiding most of, if not all, of the taxation which would be due under normal circumstances.

This abuse of the differences in national tax systems needs to be addressed urgently. As rightly stated by Malta’s Finance Minister Edward Scicluna at a Luxembourg ECOFIN meeting last September, the way forward lies in coordination at an EU level and not in the harmonisation of the national taxation systems, as some EU member states are insisting.

Tax competition has a role to play as an important tool that small and peripheral countries in the EU have at their disposal. No one should expect these countries to throw away the small advantage they have, but it should be clear that this should be used responsibly and in no way should it buttress the urge of multinationals to circumvent the national taxation system where their profits are generated.

Profits should be taxed where they are actually generated and not elsewhere. The EU needs to end – once and for all – not only tax evasion but also tax avoidance resulting from loopholes in national tax rules. For this to happen, the member states must not only be vigilant, but must also refrain from encouraging tax avoidance through the creation of more loopholes.

Tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance seriously will mean that taxes are paid where they are due, thereby funding the services and infrastructure that is required in a modern, civilised society. This can only happen if more companies pay their dues. Tax competition need not be a race to the bottom.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 4 December 2016

The recycled summit

leaders-of-the-european

 

The Valletta Migration Summit is over. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has described it as a ‘historic summit’. It seems to me that it would be more accurately described as the ‘recycled summit’.

In one of the last speeches at the Summit, on Thursday morning, Senegalese President Macky Sall encapsulated in a few words the sentiments of the African side when he stated that African nations would have no need of aid if multinationals corporations active on the African continent paid their fair share of taxes and a fair price for the natural (African) resources. Of course President Sall left out an important last sentence: he avoided any reference to corrupt politicians generally in sync with these multinational corporations.

Earlier in the week had seen the 20th anniversary of the judicial killing of environmental activist Ken Saro Wiwa and his colleagues, who were executed on the orders of a secret military tribunal on the basis of trumped-up charges in Nigeria on 10 November 1995. Ken Saro Wiwa and his colleagues had  stood up in defence of the Ogoni people against Anglo-Dutch multinational Shell, who ignored one and all in its intensive corporate greed.

The conclusions of the Valletta Summit are nothing but a re-cycling of measures that have been discussed for some time: EU leaders have continued to focus on returning migrants and outsourcing problems to frontline states. This is an approach that the EU had previously attempted with Libyan dictator Gaddafi who, way back in 2010, had demanded €5 billion as his price-tag to stem the flow of immigrants across the Mediterranean. In contrast, the initial carrot dangled before African heads of state was a mere €1.8 billion. Another €3 billion was simultaneously being offered to Turkey by Frans Timmermans Vice President of the EU Commission.

Bargaining with non-EU countries in the hope of trading EU funds in return for re-admission mechanisms is not the right approach. The original EU proposal of linking funds to a take-back of immigrants who did not qualify for asylum had to be withdrawn as the African side of the Summit refused the bait.

The causes of immigration into the EU are various. They range from repression and civil war to the accumulating impacts of climate change – primarily drought and the resulting collapse of domestic agriculture. Matters are made worse as a result of tribal rivalry, as well as the absence of the strong institutions of a democratic state. Consequently, the resulting vacuum is filled by corrupt politicians who, after taking their fill from accommodating multinational corporations seek to top up their spoils through additional contributions from Brussels.

The situation is tricky for the EU as there is no one else to talk to. It is for this reason that the Action Plan tied the proposed €1.8 billion assistance to specific projects subdivided into sixteen priority areas built around five priority domains.

Will this Action Plan solve anything? It is too early to tell, as it is a long-term issue which will be implemented within a number of timeframes specified in the plan itself. The main point of contention remains the immediate short term, during which the pressures on the EU borders will keep increasing to the point that, as Donald Tusk indicated, the whole Schengen process is under threat.

In this context it is pertinent to underline that Malta has recently been spared the troubles as the flow of immigrants ending in Malta has decreased to a trickle as a result of Italy taking up all immigrants that it has intercepted or rescued in Malta’s search and rescue area. The reasons why Italy is behaving in this manner are not yet officially known: the rumour mill has it that oil exploration rights are part of the equation. Originally, Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela had indicated that there was some informal agreement with Italy only for him to come back and state that he had been understood.

As stated by Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and Liberal leader in the European Parliament : “The EU leaders have let us down.”

While the Valletta Summit has agreed to a reasonably detailed Action Plan which can form the basis of action in the long term, it has failed at containing the migration crisis in the short term.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 15 November 2015