Millennium Post

Tax the rich, feed the poor

Something unusual is happening in UK as the G8 summit being held in Northern Ireland convenes. Many people are looking up to a Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, someone who is an ideological believer in low taxes, to become a credible champion of a possible crack down on corporate tax avoidance.  Cameron desires this G8 to focus on three Ts – tax, transparency and trade – as means to fight poverty and global injustice. British PM said earlier this year, ‘The fact is, the poorer the nation the more they need the tax revenues but often the weaker the capacity they have to collect them. All of this in developed and developing countries alike comes down to a simple issue of fairness’. Nothing could be truer than this.

The issue of tax avoidance by multinational companies like Google, Amazon, and Starbucks etc has rattled the British political space for quite some time now. Every mainstream media in UK is abuzz with news on growing political clamour to rein in the corporate mayhem. Margaret Hodge, the feisty chair of public accounts committee has recently strongly denounced Google for tax avoidance by saying that the firm is ‘devious’, ‘calculating... and manipulating’.

Starbuck’s British subsidiary despite 31 per cent of market share suspiciously managed to report loses in 14 of its first 15 years and that’s why it’s facing public flak today. To pre-empt a cappuccino boycott, it voluntarily agreed to pay 100 million GBP ($153.6 m) to the treasury. Actors like Bill Nighy have also joined the movement against serious tax avoidance and corporate secrecy by banks and large companies and become the face of Robinhood tax campaign. In a recent article, he writes that ‘perhaps the biggest step forward the G8 could make would be to end the scandal that sees  companies dodge more than $160 bn a year in tax they should pay poor countries.

All these stories from India’s erstwhile colonial master are very pertinent to the headless discourse generated around the topic of impending National Food Bill and tax breaks given to the companies in UK. They should also put Indian media to shame for their biased coverage on Vodafone-Hutchison tax case where similar tricks were employed like their British counterparts to avoid genuine taxation. Leave alone the impossible thought that you would see Big B or Shahrukh or any other actor on an ad campaign like Bill Nighy to tax the high profit making multinationals more. No, not even in a single episode of Satyamev Jayate where Aamir would show how much he cares about the genuine causes of our country. Yes, leading Indian media outlets or celebrities never bother to take a stand on the issue of taxing the multinational companies who make enormous profits. Rather during the Vodafone case, you hear more about the fact that further taxation would create negative climate for investment in India.

It is extremely unfortunate when some people constantly scream about fiscal deficit or financial mismanagement during TV debates on the ambitious food bill which aims to provide legal entitlement of subsidised food grains to 67 per cent of the Indian population. Discussion on every welfare schemes, be it food bill or MGNREGA, what they passionately call as freebies generate same kind of response from their side.

They are the same people who goes silent or rather support the fact that government had given tax breaks to the tune of five lakh crores to the Indian corporates in the last few financial years. The idea of fiscal responsibility never struck them when diamond industry enjoys sixty thousand crores of taxbreaks in duties or in cases like Vodafone-Hutchison where billions of genuine tax could be levied. The problem today in India is, anyone talking about fair taxation of the profiteering multinational companies is branded as leftist jholawalahs. The media, the so called economic analysts feed on the same discourse of colouring people with their own ideological brushes. My question, are they going to call British PM with the same name as they brand food activists in India just because he seems to raise the tax avoidance issue at next G8? I would love to see the day when they will.

The debate around the food bill offers us a great opportunity to think over the subject of fair taxation. People before profit is not mere a slogan but the call for more fair business practices which the corporate world many a times consciously avoid. How welfare schemes would be financed, what sectors to be taxed and how much to be taxed should be the starting points of our discussion.
Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu felt: ‘The people are hungry: it is because those in authority eat up too much in taxes.’ In modern day India, the opposite is true. IPA

The author studies Anthropology at University of London

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