TAI Weekly

TAI Weekly | October 4, 2017
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How do you effectively engage citizens on complex issues such as fiscal inequality and tax injustice? TAI Executive Director joins Alejandra Alayza (Oxfam Peru), Brendan Halloran (IBP) and Ian Gary (Oxfam America) at a learning event, September 27, Washington DC.

In case you missed it…

Global financial secrecy enables a litany of wrongs from terrorism to despotism to corruption that most governments seek to thwart. So why isn’t more done to raise the curtain? It seems the US foreign policy establishment may be waking up to the risks. Casey Michel argues in Foreign Affairs that the US is among those with a financial secrecy problem and points to state-level laxity that undermines federal level efforts. While Jodi Vittori offers a primer on anonymous shell companies for Council on Foreign Relations and makes many of the same points demanding US action.
At least there is a little more light on corporate finances in another respect – the latest Index of Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability reveals increased transparency in corporate disclosures of political contributions. Medical technology company Becton, Dickinson received the index’s first 100 percent score by a company that did not already have a ban on election-related corporate spending.
It’s official – Tanzania has withdrawn from the Open Government Partnership. Should we agonize? Chris Underwood says not, and argues we should instead champion OGP members who are making real change. Could Iran join their ranks? Not any time soon, but it may not be so far-fetched. The government just unveiled its freedom of information portalwhile grassroots initiatives have been championing for open data on multiple fronts (the country currently ranked #67 in the Global Open Data Index), plus there are indications that even the President keeps an eye on the Rouhani Meter tracking fulfilment of twitter pledges. Meanwhile, despite having an Executive Order signed for Freedom of Information in the Philippines, concerns are raised over flawed implementation and charges of government surveillance and open washing.
While the OGP is a helpful barometer, it is not the be all and end all – there are other markets of improved governance, not least SDG 16, which turned two last month. However, Transparency International finds UN measurement indicators “too narrow”, including Target 16.5 which aims to sustainably reduce corruption.
Number of the week? 38 – the number of years since Angola had a new President. Listen to this report on the transition of power this week with an explicit ask of newcomer Joao Lourenco from the Chief Justice to focus on anti corruption.
Will it make a difference? Angola is one of three dozen low-and middle-income countries economically dependent on rich extractive resources facing familiar struggles. Can researchers help? With support of Hewlett and with several TAI members in attendance, UCLA researchers hope to prove their relevance, kicking off a new project teaming up with practitioners for policy solutions to the “resource curse.” Want to know more? Watch this short clip.
Failure to adequately capture rents for the public good is one typical problem for resource dependent governments. Evidence suggests many African tax authorities lack capacity to deal with transfer mispricing in the mining sector, so should welcome a new toolkit from African Tax Adminstrators Forum and GIZ designed to help determine high-risk related party transactions for transfer mispricing audit (bedtime reading it is not). Read Alexandra Redhead’s take on the launch at the International Conference on Tax in Africa in Abuja last week.
To effectively deal with transfer mispricing you need data from multiple jurisdictions – hence the push for automatic exchange of tax info. Yet, how do you facilitate better coordination in data gathering and dissemination across institutions in general? Read insights from the African Development Bank. And what about dealing with missing data? The SocialCops offer four methods.
Is there a collective noun for data scientists? Perhaps there should be as the case is made for gathering data gurus.
Ford’s Graham Macmillan talks about the profitability of AI and its potential for saving the planet. Could it even save you from being hacked? Scott Rosenberg suggests it could.
On a somewhat more prosaic note, what about your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn data solving poverty, gender inequality and climate change? A new report by NYU’s Governance Lab identified five key value propositions on how to leverage social media data for public good and repeats the call for data collaboratives.
Of course, social media platforms have also allowed for online abuse. There is little doubt that Mark Zuckerberg now faces a trust problem. How do you draw the line between hate and debate or around the bounds of acceptable political advertising? Watch Facebook’s Monika Bickert and Harvard’s Jonathan Zittrain debate the right approach. Where should government step in? Would Facebook agree with the Washington Post editorial board that the company can’t do it alone, at least in terms of restricting online political ads? Will we see governments rushing to legislate what’s allowable?
How worried should be citizens be about their data? Don’t underestimate what is being tracked – one person’s request for their personal data from a dating site yielded 800 pages. The vulnerable may have a new front of exposure. The US Department of Homeland Security announced plans to collect social media data of immigrants, including permanent residents and naturalized residents. Data and Society report new findings that low-income populations in the US have difficulty accessing tools and strategies that could protect their digital privacy and security. Magnify that for many other national contexts.
Meanwhile, in China, WhatsApp is the latest to be banned. Simon Denyer considers the implications of the expanding Great Firewall for the roughly 730m people – half the Chinese population – now online.
Populist movements have been gaining traction with calls to “drain the swamp” or equivalent railing against special interests, but Alberto Alemanno says it’s time to democratize the process with a new generation of “citizen lobbyists.”
Alemanno’s vision assumes the ability to advantage technology as do many politicians in their efforts to connect to voters. Can this work in a context where less than 5% of the population has access to the Internet and with a government that avoids engagement on dissenting views? This was the case in Mozambique, which launched “Ask the President” through Facebook. A new format to pose questions, but still no guarantee of a straight answer.
Go big or go small? There is no one size fits all for grant making. Compare an inside view on how MacArthur Foundation considers a single USD100 million grant while Jennifer Lentfer recaps the case for grassroots funding. Whatever the scale, there is a case to be made for funder’s taking fresh perspectives – and Hewlett’s Helena Choi reflects on why term limits for program officers are great for foundations.
Other helpful reads? – 5 ways that funders can change their behaviors to scale solutions for SDGs12 lessons to be unlearned in philanthropy work5 things you are doing wrong in M&E, and how to see beyond blind spots that come with philanthropic power

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The TAI Weekly is an informal recap of news, research, and events relevant to our four work streams: data use for accountability, taxation and tax governance, strengthening civic space, and learning from improved grant making.The Weekly is in no way a reflection of TAI member views or thinking. The Weekly now goes to our mailing list and live on the website every Wednesday morning.

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