Friday, June 28, 2013

Manal Corwin, now at KPMG, to discuss Reputational Risk Deriving from the Tax Transparency Movement

Fresh out of Treasury, Manal Corwin and some of her new/old colleagues will present a webcast next Tuesday on Tax Transparency and OECD Initiative on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting:
KPMG's Tax Governance Institute will host a webcast that addresses the implications of tax transparency and the potential impact of the OECD initiative on base erosion and profit shifting. Board and audit committee members, CFOs, tax directors and other business professionals interested in attending the program – one in a series of KPMG presentations on this timely topic – can register at:
The webcast will focus on "the debate over the shift of taxable business income out of the United States and high-tax jurisdictions around the world and into low or no-tax jurisdictions, and the resulting issue of tax base erosion." I'm not sure if debate is the right word there.  Is there a debate about these two phenomena existing as a factual matter? I think no.  Is there a debate about the appropriateness of such shifting and base erosion? I think decidedly yes.

Interestingly, however, KPMG suggests this is a debate about neither the existence nor the appropriateness of profit shifting and base erosion, but rather it is specifically about transparency, namely, the extent to which the public will gain a right to know about the existence and legal sanction of these practices:
The global debate on tax transparency has sparked both public interest and concerns among many companies, and the spotlight will grow brighter in coming weeks as the OECD prepares to deliver its coordinated action plan on base erosion and profit shifting and the European Commission moves forward with announced plans to address issues around tax fairness. With potentially significant changes in future tax obligations and reputational risks at stake, senior executives and board members at multinational companies should find this webcast, and those that will follow, especially useful as they formulate how their organizations should respond to the debate and possible outcomes.
[Emphasis mine.]  This statement is from Brett Weaver, who is described as "tax partner in KPMG's International Corporate Services practice and the firm's partner-in-charge of Tax Transparency" and a member of KPMG's "Tax Transparency Steering Committee," along with Corwin, who is described by KPMG as:
national leader of KPMG's International Corporate Services practice, principal-in-charge of International Tax Policy in the firm's Washington National Tax practice, and former deputy assistant secretary for Tax Policy for International Tax Affairs in the U.S. Treasury Department and U.S. delegate/vice chair to the OECD's Committee on Fiscal Affairs. 
The other participant on the webcast will be Philip Kermode, "director of the Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union of the European Commission".

It seems very clear to me that the "reputational risk" Weaver identifies is going to be something corporate tax managers and their legal & accounting advisers will be forced to price in going forward. The last paragraph illuminates this:
...the [KPMG] Tax Governance Institute ... provides opportunities for board members, corporate management, stakeholders, government representatives and others to share knowledge regarding the identification, oversight, management, and appropriate disclosure of tax risk.
I think it is safe to attribute the creation of reputational risk (or what some might call an internalizing of a cost that heretofore has been externalized thanks to strong corporate tax confidentiality laws), as well as any potential that may currently exist for systemic change to occur in the OECD's approach to the taxation of multinationals, to the international tax activist movement. As a result this should be a very informative webcast.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

New Taxpayer Right in Canada: No Reprisals for "Service" Complaints

From the Canada Revenue Agency website: Harper Government launches new right to ensure Canadian taxpayers are treated fairly [french version here]
The new right says:
16. You have the right to lodge a service complaint and request a formal review without fear of reprisal.   
We know that to be trusted, effective, and efficient, we must conduct ourselves ethically and honestly, and the CRA strives to do so every day. Our employees are expected to act in accordance with the CRA Code of Ethics and Conduct and the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector. These codes are terms and conditions of employment and they reinforce our commitment to serve the public with integrity, professionalism, respect, and cooperation. This right means that if you lodge a service complaint and request a formal review of a CRA decision, you can be confident that the CRA will treat you impartially, and that you will receive the benefits, credits, and refunds to which you are entitled, and pay no more and no less than what is required by law. You should not fear reprisal. We are required to apply the law and relevant CRA guidelines and policies, which may include the charging of penalties, or requiring the payment of your debt. When CRA employees act in accordance with the law, these do not constitute acts of reprisal. If you feel that you have been subject to acts of reprisal, the CRA wants to hear from you. We take your concerns seriously. Tell us about them by completing section 3 – Reprisal Complaint on Form RC193, Service‑Related Complaint. We can assure you that we will address your complaint, and that we will send it directly to an investigation office located at CRA Headquarters. This will ensure that the investigation is conducted independently of the office associated with the complaint.
At a meeting with members of Certified General Accountants (CGA) Canada to discuss taxpayer fairness, Minister Gail Shea stated:
“Our Government is committed to ensuring that all Canadians are treated with fairness and respect by the Canada Revenue Agency. In our system of voluntary compliance, taxpayers must have confidence in the objectivity and fairness of CRA’s actions as a tax administrator. This new addition to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights will help reinforce public confidence in Canada’s tax system, and ensure that Canadians taxpayers feel free to speak up if they have a disagreement with the CRA.”
 Curiously, the CRA website adds the following:
Although there is no evidence that Canadians have been subject to reprisal by the CRA, in his work across the country, the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman heard that taxpayers would sometimes hesitate to lodge a complaint for fear of being treated differently afterward. To address this unwarranted fear and encourage Canadians to speak up if they have a disagreement with the CRA, the Ombudsman recommended that a new right be added to ensure Canadians are confident they will be treated fairly. 
The Taxpayer Bill of Rights is an agency statement that lacks the force of law, but many of its rights are legislated (via the Charter or otherwise). This new right aligns with observed attempts by tax agencies to present themselves as "service-oriented," that is, as if taxpayers were customers. It remains to be seen if and how taxpayers will avail themselves of this newly articulated right.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Periodic Table of FATCA Acronyms

Cute and useful. Acronym overload is a common feature of just about all tax law it seems, and FATCA provides no respite, as this chart demonstrates:

At the link, you can click on any of the elements to get an explanation and links for further information.

McGill Law Journal Podcast on Tax Avoidance

I recently sat down with David Groves of the McGill Law Journal to talk about tax justice as part of the Journal's podcast series. From the MLJ website:
Tax Avoidance, Tax Evasion, and Tax Justice with Professor Allison Christians
Apple, Google, Starbucks: Some of the biggest corporations on the planet are paying virtually no tax on the profits they make. We sat down with Professor Allison Christians, H. Heward Stikeman Chair in Tax Law, to discuss fairness and justice in taxes. 
You can listen to the podcast here.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Webcast of McGill Roundtable on Tax Justice-now online

Last week the McGill Faculty of Law hosted a public roundtable on Tax Justice featuring John Christensen, James Henry, Diana Gibson, and Frédéric Zalac. If you missed the live webcast, you can now view the archived version online here.