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Civil Society Perspectives on the Implications of Global Digital Tax Reforms for African Mining Countries

Posted by Mukasiri Sibanda, Tax and Natural Resource Governance Advisor, Tax Justice Network Africa

Civil Society Perspectives on the Implications of Global Digital Tax Reforms for African Mining Countries

Why Are Extractives Critical to Africa Today?

Now, more than ever, Africa is under enormous pressure to strengthen its public finances: poverty levels have risen, and the inequality gap has widened due to COVID-19. Statistics from the African Development Bank (AFDB) paint a dismal picture: 28–40 million Africans are expected to fall into extreme poverty, and 30 million people may lose their jobs. Most African countries find themselves with insufficient resources to procure COVID-19 vaccines and to invest in socio-economic shock absorbers for pandemics and climate change disasters.

Tax Justice Network Africa (TJNA), under the ambit of the Stop The Bleeding (STB) Campaign, has been working to end the scourge of illicit financial flows (IFFs) which continue to drain resources from the continent. Tax base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) similarly undermines African governments’ fiscal capabilities using loopholes within the international financial architecture to shift profits from high-tax to low-tax jurisdictions. New and significant revenue collection risks for resource-dependent countries could be by-products of the ongoing global digital tax proposal led by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Consequently, TJNA convened the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework to discuss these tax reforms. Considering the significance of the extractive industries to African countries, TJNA invited experts from the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development (IGF) to share their analysis of the implications of the global digital tax reforms on the mining sector specifically.

Key Concerns of African Civil Society

During this discussion, TJNA members and other civil society actors called on governments and civil society organizations to take action and raised specific concerns as described below:

  • African governments must actively participate in the OECD-led Inclusive Framework (IF) discussions on global digital tax reforms to ensure that their interests are protected and promoted.
  • African governments that are not part of the IF process must join it. There is no cost attached to their participation, and potentially a lot to lose by not being at the negotiating table. Ultimately, the decisions made in the IF will impact their countries.
  • African governments should publicly release the results of the OECD’s country economic impact analyses of the global digital tax reforms. This will give a better public view of what is at stake. However, independent research on this subject is still critical.
  • Civil society should continue to advocate for the United Nations (UN) to lead the process of global tax reform rather than the OECD, which is largely controlled by 37 of the world’s richest countries. The global tax reform agenda currently driven by the OECD insufficiently addresses challenges that are unique to the taxation- and IFF-related issues facing resource-dependent countries.
  • Civil society must continue pushing for a unitary tax system focused on taxing multinational enterprises as whole units instead of country-by-country tax assessment on subsidiaries. Indicators for economic activity such as number of employees and asset value can be applied to apportion taxes due. However, there is a need for further research on sectoral basis to determine if such a reform process can achieve the intended results of curbing profit shifting, especially for the extractive sector.
  • The OECD-led proposal would set a minimum effective tax rate on multinational profits. The aim is to reduce the incentive for multinational companies to shift profits away from their countries of operation or residence to low-tax jurisdictions. However, the effectiveness of this proposal depends on where the effective minimum tax rate is set. If set too low, it is unlikely to deter the current race to the bottom.
  • Under the current proposal, the minimum effective tax rate will only apply to companies with a consolidated annual income of EUR 750 million. This does not take into consideration the economic reality of mineral-dependent countries in Africa. Medium- and small-sized mining companies have a material economic impact on mining at the domestic level, and many of these will be left out by the reform process. It is, therefore, critical that the minimum threshold be set according to our local realities.

TJNA members and other civil society actors noted that while the OECD-led process on global digital tax reforms is skewed against developing countries, it remains a critical forum that African countries must work hard to influence. African countries that are passively part of the IF process must, therefore, shift gears and engage meaningfully. In the same vein, it is imperative that those that are not part of the IF join the bandwagon and make their voices heard. In doing so, however, African countries must remain committed to continuously pushing for global tax reforms to be led by the UN, a more inclusive body than the OECD.

Mukasiri Sibanda is a Tax and Natural Resource Governance Advisor with Tax Justice Network Africa (TJNA), a pan-African research and advocacy organization. The TJNA Secretariat is based in Nairobi, Kenya and has 32 member organizations and chapters in 22 countries.

The preceding is a guest blog and does not represent the views or opinions of the IGF Secretariat or its member countries.