Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Rocha on Balancing Rights and Power between State and Taxpayer

Sergio André Rocha recently posted a discussion on information, transparency, and the rights of taxpayer versus those of states, of interest. He argues that hard-fought rights needed to balance the unequal power between state and individual are being abandoned in the populist rush to protect the state against multinational tax dodging. Central to this argument is the claim that states are not hapless victims of ruthless tax managers and CEOs, rather they are the very architects of the system. He worries, I think, that suspending taxpayer rights to get at the big bad corporations will ultimately result in suspending rights for individuals, setting up the conditions for states to abuse their power. Here are a few excerpts (footnotes omitted):
There is no doubt that taxation is one of the areas where the balance between the legitimate exercise of Government power and the illegitimate violation of citizens’ rights is most challenging. 
...The transformation of the majority of modern States into Fiscal States – i.e., States that depend on tax collection to obtain the resources to fund all its activities – has changed the nature of the obligation to pay taxes. Some authors have begun to argue that there is a fundamental or constitutional obligation to pay taxes.
However, this line of thought, to which we subscribe, has been used to support an inversion of the whole structure of tax systems. Legal principles that are, at their core, protections of taxpayers against the State have been transformed into protections for the State against taxpayers. 
Let’s consider, for instance, the principle of transparency, which is at the center of modern constitutional, administrative, financial, and tax law. It is, first and foremost, a protection for the citizens against the State, establishing as a goal a state of affairs that guarantees full disclosure of a government’s actions to its citizens. 
The principle of transparency is not a one-way street. It also applies to citizens, requiring disclosure and combating opaque situations that prevent the due application of laws in general. Nevertheless, one should not forget: State and Government transparency come first. 
This maxim seems to have been forgotten by those now in charge of reshaping the international tax regime. 
...[OECD Director Pascal Saint-Amans recently] stated that, "Transparency, from my perspective, is transparency from the taxpayer to the Tax Administration, and maybe the other way around as well. ..."  
We should make no mistake: once legal principles have been mutilated and taxpayers’ rights overturned, effects will be felt by all taxpayers – individuals and legal entities alike. 
...Both the Global Forum’s and BEPS’ work share a common feature: they are aimed at optimizing States’ tax collection. The taxpayer – the citizen – is not in their focus. This is unacceptable. There is nothing more urgent than recovering the protagonist role of the taxpayer in taxation, where he rightfully belongs. This does not mean that their focus is completely misguided. It means that they need to find a way to achieve their rightful objectives without leaving taxpayers’ rights behind.
More at the link above; worth the read.

1 comment:

  1. With personal rights giving away to the ability of governments to use whatever measures they want to enforce taxation (passport revocation quickly comes to mind) it's fast becoming a world where citizenship is no longer based on Liberty, but rather on taxation, or Taxation Based Citizenship.

    Unfortunately, as long as citizens are more than willing to relinquish control to government's for more taxpayer transparency, we'll see less of the reverse.