President, International Solid Waste Association

Health and the Environment also Impacted by Tax Dodgers

ISWA Blog: How Tax Evasion has Repercussions on Waste Management

In the wake of the Panama Papers revelations, ISWA President David Newman riles at tax dodging political and business elites hoarding money which could save lives with waste and sanitation infrastructure.

In the wake of the Panama Papers revelations, ISWA President David Newman riles at tax dodging political and business elites hoarding money which could save lives with waste and sanitation infrastructure.

The Panama Papers shocked me. They have exposed, brutally and on a global scale, the level of tax evasion from political and business elites. Whilst the Kremlin may shrug its shoulders and say this is all false, the Chinese government has blocked access to websites like the Financial Times and the Economist because it fears the repercussions of millions of its citizens reading about the Panama accounts of its governing elite.

As the Government is cracking down on graft among its own employees, its ruling elite have ensured that they avoided millions, or billions of taxes. Add the names of another 50 countries leaders and you get a picture which is both depressing and outrageous. The developed countries are not immune as Iceland, the UK and Italy have featured prominently in the papers.

What has this to do with waste?

As the Global Waste Management Outlook report made with UNEP (you can download it HERE) last year  last year clearly underlined, the key to getting waste infrastructure in place is Governance. Governance means creating the rules, the regulations, deciding the responsibilities and ensuring enforcement and compliance so that waste is treated in a manner that is less harmful to human health and to the environment than open dumping or uncontrolled burning.

Governance also means imposing fees, taxes, payments, from individuals and companies to pay for the system of environmental and human health protection which waste management provides- from keeping the streets of our cities clean, to recycling, energy recovery and sanitary landfills. Without these financial resources, countries are unable to invest in infrastructure.

The cost of inaction is five to 10 times the cost of action. As we have shown, without waste management people are dying from all sorts of diseases and due to increased flooding. So poor waste infrastructure crudely put, kills people.

ISWA has been campaigning since 2009 to make sure part of the global spending on climate change mitigation and adaptation goes to waste management in the developing countries, and we are now having some success. Also, we campaign for funding from overseas direct aid to be channelled into waste projects, with as yet limited success. Indeed wherever one travels to, in developing countries, the common complaint among waste experts is that no funding is available- “we are too poor, there is no tax base, we cannot afford it “.

However, the Panama Papers make it clear that more funds than we imagine are in reality available even in poor countries, like India and Pakistan; it is just that a considerable portion of these funds is not going to Governments and being spent on internal infrastructure, but are being channelled out to offshore accounts.

In other words, corrupt elites, for their own personal gain, are diverting money that could be spent stopping people from dying. That is not just a tax crime, it is a crime against the populations of these countries whose people die of poverty. (By the way, I have no objection to people becoming rich, as long as they pay their fair share of taxes too and create wealth ethically.)

Corporate Greed

These same elites are also compliant in helping corporations avoid taxes. According to Christian Aid, a UK charity, multinationals evade up to $80bn a year taxes in developing countries. That is twice what the World Bank said needs to be spent on making our waste infrastructures secure in these same places.

Add to these the hundreds of billions of dollars avoided by companies we all use every day, and we have a devastating picture: global corporations are starving Governments of their fair share of tax income to spend on making their citizens lives better. (click HERE see the graphic)

Corporate greed (known as shareholder value) is denying billions of citizens their right to clean air, water, seas and soil and to a waste - free society. And to add insult to injury, these same corporations lobby against any attempt by civil society to impose EPR systems to ensure their products are collected and correctly handled at the end of life. 

Ethical Revolution

It need not be like this. The role models of Singapore, among the world’s most ethically correct societies, or President Obama, whose eight years in power have been unblemished by any impropriety; or the recent Uruguayan President Jose Mujica who lived in his farm cottage rather than the Palace; and many other, unrecognised champions of decency globally working quietly every day to fulfil their responsibilities, show that Mankind can be correct and ethically decent. Probably these are a huge but silent majority.

(Click HERE to see where your country lies on the global corruption chart and think of the billions being robbed that could be spent usefully.)

But the elites have taken over running the show and have created a situation which is deeply disturbing, unethical and harmful to human health and the environment. It has to be stopped.

We need an ethical revolution against corruption that sweeps these people away and confines them to gaol and to the black book of history. We must close the tax loopholes, close the tax paradises, imprison evaders, ensure international monitoring of financial flows and stop giving aid to countries with high established levels of corruption. Only strong, publicly supported and ethical Governments have the strength to stand up to the greedy corporations cheating countries of taxes. Only then will we find the resources to spend on vital infrastructure. Good Governance is vital.

And think about which company pays taxes next time you want to buy a product or service.

David Newman is President of the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).

*The views expressed here are my personal views and do not in any way reflect those of the International Solid Waste Association or its members.

**Map provided by Transparency International.


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