is a new entry this year
Nobody quite digs into tax data like Maya Forstater.
London-based Forstater has made it her mission to assemble and
analyse data that provides a base for meaningful dialogue on
tax trends through her blog and blog Twitter activity under the
"I became interested in tax because it is an area that seems
to be stuck in a dysfunctional debate. Issues related to legal
compliance such as tax evasion and illicit financial flows get
mixed together with questions about how the international tax
system works and whether it should be fundamentally reformed or
incrementally improved," Forstater tells International Tax
Currently, Forstater is a visiting fellow at the Centre for
Global Development, and an adviser to The B Team, a non-profit
organisation for sustainable business that brings together
global leaders from business, civil society and government,
founded by entrepreneur Richard Branson.
She tells ITR how the stakeholders in the tax
debate, academics, policymakers, NGOs, tax professionals and
the public, seem to be talking past one another and lack a
common language and evidence-base for constructive debates.
"Many of the numbers that are most widely repeated are myths
which tend to inflate the scale of the revenues at stake. Rough
estimates can be a good starting point for shining a light on
issues, but often these numbers are overhyped, or
misunderstood. My blog has become a bit of a one-stop shop for
checking these estimates and claims," she says.
As examples of unchecked figures dominating the headlines in
many of the tax debates she cites examples such as: corporate
tax avoidance being worth 'three times more than aid' to
developing countries, Zambia losing $3 billion to corporate tax
avoidance, corporate tax avoidance in Europe might be worth
€1 trillion ($1.2 trillion), and that developing countries
are losing $1 trillion a year in illicit financial flows
'mainly through corporate tax avoidance'.
"When inflated numbers are combined with high profile
exposés such as the 'Paradise Papers' there is a danger
of jumping to rash politically satisfying responses. The
potential damage is not just to the reputation of corporations,
celebrities and the tax profession, but to confidence and trust
in the tax system and to the quality of public understanding
and debate about public policy."
Proper analysis and understanding of data is needed to
improve the debate on tax issues and to reinstate public trust,
she says, otherwise "more data may just lead to more cycles of
noise and outrage".
Looking ahead to 2018, Forstater says she has been working
with The B Team on developing a platform for business
leadership around responsible tax through dialogues between
companies and campaigning organisations.
"These kinds of dialogues are emerging more and more
– such as ones hosted by KPMG, by the think tank CiVi,
and by the CBI working with Oxfam. I hope that they will lead
to a new generation of tax debates which evolve from antagonism
to constructive dialogue and the development of a common
evidence-base," Forstater concludes.