|Alexandra Readhead is a new entry this year|
Alexandra Readhead's work focuses on issues of tax avoidance and other forms of illicit financial flows by multinational extractive companies in developing countries. Readhead has directly assisted governments in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia, and Cote d'Ivoire on strengthening legal frameworks against abusive transfer pricing in the mining sector. She is technical adviser to the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Metals and Sustainable Development (IGF) on its programme 'Tax Base Erosion and Profit Shifting in the Mining Sector in Developing Countries'.
The IGF BEPS in mining programme is a two-year collaboration with the OECD Centre for Tax Policy and Administration to equip the tax authorities of resource-rich developing countries with policy guidance and practical tools to confront aggressive tax planning by mining multinationals.
In 2017, Readhead also published the Toolkit for Transfer Pricing Risk Assessment in the African Mining Industry. The toolkit is the result of collaboration between GIZ and the African Tax Administration Forum (ATAF) aimed at helping tax authorities identify and detect transfer pricing risks in the mining sector. The government of Cote d'Ivoire is already using the toolkit in tax audits in the mining sector.
Over the coming year, she will build on the achievements of 2017 and continue to coach tax authorities on transfer pricing in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, South Africa, Tanzania, Senegal and Zambia, and publish new research on comparing anti-avoidance measures in oil and gas, and mining.
International Tax Review: Where are the challenges for tax administrations attempting to broaden their tax base and balancing these efforts with accommodating private sector needs?
Alexandra Readhead: Developing countries desperately need investment to contribute jobs and revenue. But, to attract this investment, they may need to offer tax incentives to compensate for a lack of infrastructure, administrative capacity and stable government. While these trade-offs may be necessary, the challenge is to make the right one. In Cote d'Ivoire, research by OpenOil into the Yaoure gold mine has shown the investor's internal rate of return was already very high compared to other gold mines, in which case the five-year tax holiday was probably unnecessary. Meanwhile the holiday cost government $120 million in tax revenue. Navigating the trade-offs involved in attracting investment is complicated.
Part of the work I am doing with the IGF is to inform these compromises in resource-rich developing countries by helping governments get a better sense of the potential cost of tax incentives, including the ways investors may use incentives to maximise the tax benefit beyond what was anticipated by government. Investors should also consider the political sustainability of the demands they place on governments. Recent events in Tanzania have shown that overly generous tax incentives may come back to bite investors.
ITR: Do you think institutional efforts to close loopholes for tax avoidance have taken on a quicker pace this year? Are goalposts moving fast enough or too fast?
AR: There continues to be a huge amount of activity at the international level and among developing countries to close loopholes for tax avoidance. Between 1995 and 2014, the number of African countries with transfer pricing rules has grown by 600%, according to EY. They are developing standalone transfer pricing regulations, building specific expertise, setting up specialised transfer pricing units and working together to share best practices through ATAF.
However, there remains a question as to whether the goalposts are the right ones, and whose interests they favour. This is clear from the recent OECD BEPS deliberations, which were limited to developed countries, which are now binding developing countries to the new international tax standards through the inclusive framework. Some aspects of the new standards are helpful to developing countries, for example, country-by-country reporting. However, given they are particularly exposed to multinational tax avoidance due to their disproportionate reliance on corporate income tax as a major source of tax revenue, and have limited financial and human resource to implement complex rules, there is a strong argument for simpler legal and institutional 'goalposts' that developing countries can inform and enforce. In mining this might include using index prices to calculate sales revenue for income tax, or setting limits on deductions for common cost categories. Neither measure is arm's length, but might be justifiable given the administrative challenges facing developing countries. The goalposts are moving quickly, the question is whether they will get developing countries where they need to go.
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