• 06 October 2017

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    Posteado en : Opinion

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    Challenges for tax administrations in Latin America

    The director of Cooperation and International Taxation of the CIAT describes the great challenges faced by tax administrations in Latin America

    Perhaps “diversity” is the term that best fits Latin America (LA), both due to the geographical, economic and cultural differences between the countries and the inequality in the level of development of their inhabitants. It is not an easy task to define common challenges for their tax administrations (TA). The region has world-class TAs and others that have significant shortcomings, so that it is the mission of the Interamerican Tax Administration Centre (CIAT) to work toward reducing the significant gaps in their levels of development.

     

    Although there are some regional standardisation tools – forms, manuals, proposals – in the area of taxation policy, there has been little success with standardisation. For example, the CIAT-BID-GIZ Tax Code presents a regional model that is intended to motivate reforms that will “level the playing field”. In international taxation[1], transparency and the exchange of information[2], leading to a standardisation process that arises from global initiatives. This process is a challenge for the region. However, it grew out of the experiences of developed countries and not LA. This process could be called “imported standardisation”.

     

    LA TAs have improved mainly thanks to the use of technology and greater political support from their governments. According to data from the CIAT, since the 60s, the tax revenue of LA central governments has shown a positive trend, rising from 9.7 (1960) to 16.2 (2014) GDP points, with the latter value the highest recorded in that period.

     

    The great challenge faced by the TAs consists of “making + out of -“. To do this, it is necessary to direct efforts to the areas in which there is a risk of non-compliance, with the aim of classifying them, preventing them from occurring or managing them. The challenge consists of strengthening various processes and integrating them into one single platform, e.g., access to information and its handling, a taxpayer register, tax current accounts, billing systems, taxpayer service, investigation, auditing, recovery, collection, cooperative compliance initiatives, etc. In this area, the use of advanced technological solutions makes the difference. So as not to fail in the attempt, it is essential to have proper planning, where the critical departments must act in coordination, even with players outside the TA.

     

    Isaac Gonzalo Arias, Director of Cooperation and International Taxation of the CIAT
    Isaac Gonzalo Arias, Director of Cooperation and International Taxation of the CIAT

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Properly monitoring tax incentives contributes to the previous proposal. According to data from the CIAT, in LA they represent on average 4.6 GDP points (2012), which is a significant figure. In addition, the proper application of agreements to prevent double taxation is a challenge. This last topic is not important now everywhere, although the countries of LA are gradually extending their networks.

     

    Strengthening the legal infrastructure is an unresolved issue for many LA countries. At the present time, tax planning is sophisticated, leaving a very thin line between avoidance and evasion. It is complicated for the TAs to apply general and specific anti-abuse rules. In addition, it is appropriate to propose strategies for avoiding litigation and to pay attention to the capacity of the courts that handle tax-related cases.

     

    To face these challenges, political commitment, dialogue and cooperation between peers, international support, investment in resources for the TAs and, above all, tax transparency are indispensable. Within this framework, the cooperation agreement signed recently by the CIAT and FIIAPP to promote the exchange of experiences, knowledge and good practices between the TAs of the European Union and Latin America and between Latin American administrations as part of the EUROsociAL+ Program offers an opportunity to LA TAs.

     

    [1] BEPS Inclusive Framework

    [2] Standard on transparency and exchange of information

     

    Isaac Gonzalo Arias, Director of Cooperation and International Taxation of the CIAT

  • 18 May 2017

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    Posteado en : Opinion

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    Weak strong institutions

    Public policy evaluation in Latin America.

    Some time ago I had the chance to talk to an investigation official of the national police of a Latin American country at a meeting I was invited to attend as an evaluator.

    A great deal is being done in this area through the technical support of institutions, including Spanish ones, whilst scrupulously avoiding the application of “models” from other countries to a national reality that is totally foreign and extremely complex. The United States, for example, has focused particularly on the issues of drugs and youth gangs. In Spain, we have great experience, and here I can mention, for example, the work done in Guatemala to reduce the number of crimes against life and amount of violence against women.

    The official I was speaking with said that, in his country, the police are under great stress, that they’ve been doing their job under great pressure for several years, and that many of them would like to leave the field and get a university degree or do something else or, at least, have a better system of shifts that would give them more down time.

    He also told me that they had learned that a small number of criminals commit the vast number of crimes, and that if there are, say, 10,000 homicide victims annually, these could be attributed to some 1,000 aggressors. That is, with a little investigation, with good police instincts and better coordination between prosecutors, judges and law enforcement, the problem of citizen insecurity could be handled much better.

    “Don’t leave us on our own”, he said, worried about the low level of support they had internally and the idea that these issues could cease to be a cooperation priority. That’s probably the way things are seen by some people who are tired of supporting an institution that we can characterise as weak-strong-absent-present.

    Weak in terms of the strategic direction, given that many bodies work on the same issues in an uncoordinated way: criminal investigation, prosecutors, judges, prisons, institutions that fight against organised crime… Strong, because at times these institutions think the only acceptable answer for society is the incarceration of young people; this accomplishes nothing except filling up prisons, where, on the other hand, there are few rehabilitation programmes to help them abandon the cycle of violence. Absent, because the police and judges are never where they’re needed, and they don’t reach many places where criminals are still being lynched. And, lastly, present, because the government is eager for media coverage and to demonstrate that citizen insecurity is its great priority, without us knowing what that actually means.

     

    Public policy evaluation

     

    That’s why it’s necessary to improve our diagnoses by using tools like public policy evaluation to be able to improve programmes and address these challenges that generate such contradictory responses from institutions.

    And we have an extensive experience working with many institutions to be able to introduce evaluations as a requirement in implementing cooperation programmes for institutional reform. And we have also generated the necessary trust, which will enable us to conduct not only qualitative analyses but also quantitative ones, with baselines and surveys after several years.

    At first glance, it seems easier to quantify the impact of aid in the case of social programmes or poverty-reduction programmes, which are where these types of evaluations have traditionally been done. However if we observe carefully from the institutional standpoint and, more specifically, from one of capacity building, there are many interesting options.

    If the programmes are designed from the start with the objective of being evaluated, we could predict their impact on police performance; to give an example, the impact of one type of training or another, and eventually, the impact this has on institutional change and crime reduction, which is the important thing. It would also be a great advance, and we’re capable of doing it, to learn what effect the training of criminal investigation units has on the impunity variable. That is, in terms of how much our cooperation helps in terms of solving cases and the ability to bring them to trial.

    That way the institutions themselves will be more aware of the limitations and opportunities that exist for carrying out larger-scale reforms and for gradually building a new culture of institutional development.

     

    Miguel Angel Lombardo works at FIIAPP on South-South cooperation for public policy evaluation in Latin America.

  • 23 September 2016

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    Posteado en : Opinion

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    The Ombudsman’s Office as a participant in international cooperation on human rights

    Carmen Comas-Mata, director of the advisory board of the Ombudsman's Office, talks to us about the importance of cooperation.

    In my extensive experience in charge of international relations at the Ombudsman’s Office, which is also the national institution concerned with human rights under terms of the United Nations Organisation, I have been able to see the importance of cooperating in human rights first-hand, not just to merely ensure that the beneficiary countries achieve certain minimum standards of respect and protection for these rights but also to enhance the prestige of Spain abroad.

     

    People talk of “Brand Spain” to showcase to the world the successes achieved by our athletes and companies. But we shouldn’t leave it there: over the past 40 years, Spain has been an example of respect for human rights, and we can show the world how we had an exemplary transition from a dictatorship to a democracy, where we accepted a constitution that establishes the citizen as a subject of rights and established effective mechanisms for their protection. One of the main players in this transition was an extra-judicial institution, the Ombudsman’s Office, which is responsible for ensuring that public administrations respect these rights. Moreover, it is one of the institutions of this type with the most power in the world.

     

    Therefore, I feel especially proud of having been able to help enhance the image and prestige of my country by working in cooperation with human rights in countries of the former Soviet Union, like Kazakhstan and Armenia, and in other ones closer to us, like the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and, most recently Turkey. Through EU Twinning projects, with the invaluable help of FIIAPP, we have helped to start or have strengthened other ombudsman institutions. The importance of sister institutions collaborating wholeheartedly in the same direction, improving action procedures, learning from one another, and thus being able to better serve citizens, the only reason for our existence, is something I understand to be unimpeachable and very positive.

     

    One of our priority objectives is, of course, Ibero-America. The expansive force of human rights has made everyone see the need to intensify collaboration with the ombudsmen in other countries, especially those in Ibero-America by holding meetings within a new organisation that took the name Ibero-American Federation of Ombudsmen (FIO). Its purpose was, and is, to lay the groundwork for fruitful international cooperation, particularly in countries that share a common culture and past. That cooperation is expressed and made concrete through the implementation of practical and effective programmes for training specialised personnel and promoting the establishment and solidity of the ombudsmen in all of the nations in the Ibero-American community.

     

    There is work being done in areas as important as immigration, human trafficking, youth, women and prisons. Precisely this field, that of cooperation in prison matters, and ultimately, the care of Spanish prisoners abroad, is one that can benefit most from Spanish cooperation. It is necessary to make our sister countries in America see that ensuring that sentences are served under humane conditions is as important as fighting crime. This is one of the most important duties we have today.

     

    We also work with countries in the Mediterranean region. The Arab Spring represented a threat to the incipient ombudsman institutions that were being created, but in some countries it is also turning out to be an opportunity to better adapt to international standards. Cooperation with these countries takes place through the Association of Mediterranean Ombudsmen, the purpose of which has always been to give strength and consistency to the ombudsman institutions of the Mediterranean basin, as a secure channel for affirming democracy in the area, as well as to initiate action consisting of international collaboration to cooperate within the framework of the good neighbour policy.

     

    The ombudsman is the friendly voice that listens to us, informs us and, if possible, helps us to improve our lives and solve our problems; and, above all, it is the last hope of dozens of people whom public authorities — culpably, intentionally or accidentally — have passed over them like bulldozers.

     

    Let’s not forget that we are all citizens, whether Spaniards or foreigners, and therefore strengthening our institutions here and there with cooperation projects means strengthening our system of freedoms.

     

  • 16 September 2016

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    Posteado en : Entrevista

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    South-South Cooperation. From and for the South

    According to the Ibero-American Secretariat General (SEGIB), South-South cooperation, in practice, is regarded as “a form of independent cooperation that offers strategic partnerships, under conditions of horizontality, between equals, to achieve common goals”.

    To celebrate the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation, we interviewed SEGIB's Social Cohesion and South-South Cooperation Coordinator, Martín Rivero. His work is focused on the day-to-day aspects of projects from and for the South.

    What is South-South cooperation?

    It’s the horizontal cooperation that countries in the South, in the broad sense of the word, undertake among themselves to try to resolve some of their development dilemmas with solutions applicable to their most concrete needs.

     

    When did the trend of South-South cooperation get started?

    There are various ways of approaching this. On one hand, with a more complete chronology, covering more than 50 years of history. The 1954 Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in Bandung is considered the start of South-South cooperation in the broadest sense.

     

    On the other, in the last decade and a half, let’s say from the start of this century, there has been a very significant intensification of the number of international events and South-South cooperation projects recorded on the planet. To give you an idea, in just the past five or six years there have been more international events and global conferences on South-South cooperation than in the entire previous 60 years.

     

    South-South cooperation has a very long history, going back to that Bandung Conference, and it passed a very important milestone at the Buenos Aires Conference in 1978 with the establishment of the Buenos Aires Action Plan, which will be 40 years-old next year.

     

    How many projects and countries has South-South cooperation moved in recent years?

    The Ibero-American Secretariat General, SEGIB, based here in Madrid, which includes 22 Ibero-American countries (Spain, Portugal, Andorra and all of Latin America, from Mexico to Chile, including the Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries, i.e. Cuba and the Dominican Republic) represents the only region in the world that systematically records the South-South cooperation projects that take place.

     

    SEGIB has been recording them for eight years in the Ibero-American South-South cooperation report. This reflects all the South-South cooperation undertaken between countries.

     

    The latest cooperation report, published last year, recorded 580 South-South cooperation projects and more than 400 initiatives, which are smaller projects. So we’re talking about over 900 initiatives involving this type of cooperation in the region in just the past year.

     

    In the rest of the world, it’s very difficult to map it and establish precise data. We have estimations or national reports of what China, South Africa, or Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia or Turkey, might be doing. There are also very active countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, which have a significant volume of South-South cooperation, but there are no regional records like we have in our Ibero-American region.

     

    Which countries lead in South-South cooperation?

    The six leading countries of the region are Brazil, which holds a prominent place, as well as Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Although, all Latin America countries have South-South cooperation projects, there is a strong concentration in these six countries, accounting for 90-92% of all projects.

     

    Another interesting thing to see in these SEGIB reports is that all countries receive South-South cooperation, which is a very characteristic element and something to highlight because we’re talking about horizontal cooperation. With this type of cooperation, often one country has greater weight, more power, more resources or a higher degree of relative development in a theme, but both participating countries benefit and learn from that process. In other words, the benefit is mutual, and it’s not a donor-recipient relationship, as was traditionally established. In South-South cooperation, equality is not just an ideological position but also a reality; in practice, both countries benefit.

     

    In addition, many countries can be very powerful but perhaps not have the same degree of relative development across the board. Therefore, many smaller countries can present opportunities for learning and benefits in areas that are very useful for other countries with a higher degree of relative development.

     

    I think we are going to see a greater intensity in the future, even South-North cooperation, that is, countries in the South who start to provide advising, aid, cooperation and technical solutions to more developed countries.

     

    Can you give us an example of successful South-South cooperation?

    There are always some projects that are nicer and more interesting than others. Speaking of Latin American, there are three clearly-identified thematic blocks: the social area, with poverty-reduction, education, health or housing policies; the economic and agricultural development area; and lastly, the one related to the quality of institutions, governance, transparency, tax issues, and all the rest.

    To give some examples of both extremes, in the social area, there is one underway in Brazil that we at SEGIB have particular affection for; it has to do with a network of 70 human milk banks in the region. In this network, women who produce more milk than they need for their own children donate this milk to children who aren’t getting enough to meet their nutritional needs, either because their mothers don’t produce enough milk or because they’re orphans.

    A second example is a system of managing transplants in the Southern Cone, the region between Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. It’s a very sophisticated and highly technical system that works very well in this region.

    Then there are a vast number of themes, for example, agricultural production, improving rice harvests at family farming level, and projects related to improving tax systems, the quality of public policies, training of civil servants, etc.

    In other words, the breadth of projects has to do with the region’s capacities, but also with the region’s needs. The countries of the region often demand solutions that are applicable to their specific reality. That is, they don’t seek the best solution in the world, because if they did, every country would always look for cooperation from the Nordic countries, Germany, or countries that common sense tells us are much more developed.

     

    Often we say: which are the countries that have recently developed a solution to the same problem I have but with the ability to make it successful? Sometimes one can have a fantastic solution, but later it can’t be used because it requires a great deal of resources and sophisticated technology. That famous international solution is of little use to me if it’s not applicable to my concrete reality because of my geographical characteristics, my language, my technological abilities, etc.

    Very often, there are interesting cases of countries that one associates with a particular problem and, precisely because they have this problem, they have developed the ability to combat it.

  • 15 July 2016

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    Posteado en : Opinion

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    The American Gran Chaco

    Marta García Moreno es la Coordinadora del proyecto Chaco Ra’anga en Paraguay, y hace un repaso de los objetivos, actividades y países visitados durante el proyecto.

    Image of the Chaco

    The Gran Chaco is a territory people imagine to be remote, isolated and impenetrable. A land of jaguars, dust, gigantic cacti, lagoons and alligators, it extends over Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, and a small slice of Brazil.

    Numerous indigenous peoples with different ethnic identities coexist peacefully with other later-established communities, such as Creoles and Mennonites. In addition to the rich cultural diversity, the Chaco is a key area for conservation of biodiversity. However, the model of large-scale extractive development is a rapidly growing threat to the sustainability of the environment and the traditional ways of life of its peoples.

    Chaco Raanga

    Chaco comes the Quechua word chaku, meaning ‘hunting land’. Raanga is a Guaraní word that means reflection, image.

    Chaco Ra’anga might be translated as ‘The Image of the Chaco’.

    The journey

    1 month (May, 2015)

    3 countries (Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay)

    7 vans

    27 people travelling with cameras and a great many questions

    All of them full of good intentions, although this is not always sufficient.

    No one comes back from the Chaco (he who returns is, in part, a different person), Ticio Escobar. El círculo inconcluso, 2014.

     For one month we toured the Chaco, observing large cotton and soybean fields in northern Argentina. The soybean fields continued into Bolivia, accompanied by hydrocarbon operations. Entering the Paraguayan Chaco, endless hectares of cattle ranches.  We came into contact with indigenous communities that have been displaced from their ancestral lands and are fighting to recover their rights, not only territorial but also civil, political, economic, social and cultural.

    Despite the environmental and cultural deforestation, we also get to see a Chaco that resists the encroachment of agriculture and livestock operations. There are alternative and sustainable development models that respect the environment, such as family farming, agro-ecology, and the ways of life of the indigenous peoples.

     

    The tour, which allotted ten days per country, also included visits to peasant communities, Mennonite colonies, a gas extraction plant, natural parks, and key sites for recovery of the region’s historical memory.

    Based on the field work, the contacts made, the projects of the expedition members and the advisers, we started to work on different components of the project:

    – An International Symposium (held in November of last year at the AECID Training Centre in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia).

    – An exhibition, ‘Territorio Acotado / Expandido‘,  which opened in April at the Juan de Salazar Spanish Cultural Centre (Paraguay), which will later travel to Spanish Cooperation’s Cultural Centres in Argentina and Bolivia. The exhibition is also slated to come to Spain next year.

    – A documentary aimed at giving visibility to the wealth of the Gran Chaco. Click here to watch the preview.

    – An interactive website and a book (under development).

    The objective is to make the importance of the Gran Chaco and the threats facing the region visible, and to advance in the construction of a global citizenry committed to sustainable development, from a perspective of social justice, with equality and rights, and in a scenario of peace and international cooperation.

     

    Bolivian traveller Pamela Gómez in the Chaidi community of the Ayoreo Totobiegosode people (Paraguay)
    Bolivian traveller Pamela Gómez in the Chaidi community of the Ayoreo Totobiegosode people (Paraguay)

    The future

    It is difficult to evaluate the impact of Chaco Ra’anga in the medium term. As curator Lia Colombino says in the text that accompanies the exhibition: ‘This journey, which still has not finished, this crossing whose itinerary raises more questions than we have asked, has to first change what we are, so that this will not have been just a trip through the territory’.

    I close with this phrase because, from my point of view, it is intrinsically linked to the fundamental objective of the project: the formation of citizens who are critical, committed to their environment and to their society. I believe that shared work, cooperative production, and exchanging ways of seeing and doing are things that can be done in response to ever more isolated and isolating presents, and of generating alternatives and commitment to change, not only of thinking but also of realities.

    Marta García Moreno, Coordinator of the Chaco Raanga project in Paraguay. A project of Spanish Cooperation promoted by the Network of Cultural Centres, through the ACERCA programme and with the support of the International and Ibero-American Foundation for Administration and Public Policies (FIIAPP).

     

    If you want to learn more about the Chaco and the project, go to the blog at: www.chacoraanga.org

    You can follow Chaco Raanga on social networks:

    Facebook: Chaco Ra´anga / Twitter: @ChacoRaanga

  • 30 June 2016

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    Posteado en : Entrevista

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    ‘Peer-to-peer treatment is very important for ensuring that they continue to trust us’

    El Director de Relaciones Internacionales del Colegio de Registradores nos habla de las oportunidades de colaboración con la FIIAPP y del potencial de la cooperación con América Latina

    Within the framework of a monographic training course held at FIIAPP’s offices in Madrid, Fernando Pedro Méndez González, Director of International Relations, answers our questions about the function of Spain’s Association of Land Registrars at the international level. We talk about the contributions of the Association in countries like Cuba and Colombia, and about opportunities for working with the rest of the region.

     

    Why is the international cooperation of the Association of Land Registrars with the countries of Latin America important?

    One of the conditions for any country to join the European Union is a solid legal system. Why is this so important? Because a good legal system guarantees that the property rights that exist in a country can be exercised, for example, in the case of guaranteeing mortgage loans; and this means there are resources for initiating business or professional activities.

     

    But this cannot be done if deeds are not clear and easily transferable. And this, in an environment of impersonal contracting in a world made up of millions of people, is very difficult and requires very specific and sophisticated technology, and land registries have this. If registries develop themselves, the property market develops. All of this has, therefore, an enormous impact on a country’s economic development.

     

    What are the strengths of the Spanish Association of Land Registrars?

    Our main asset is our reputation. The prestige of the Spanish land registration system and of the Association of Land Registrars is very high. That is the fundamental reason that institutions from other countries come to us.

     

    Not so much because our land registration systems are similar, as in the case of Cuba or Puerto Rico, but because they believe that we can offer them innovations, etc.

     

    Moreover, we are going to other countries in an absolutely respectful manner. In other words, we aren’t going there to impose anything. We are going to answer the questions they put to us or to make suggestions we feel are opportune in light of what we are seeing. And I think that this peer-to-peer approach, to put it thusly, is very important for them to continue to trust us.

     

    In what areas could an association like yours collaborate with a foundation like FIIAPP?

    FIIAPP is an excellent rara avis because it is dedicated precisely to institutional strengthening and manages considerable funds to this end; and the goal of the Association of Land Registrars is, precisely, institutional strengthening in the area of the land register, the mercantile register, the immovable property register, and tax issues related to these registries, which constitutes a basic institutional aspect.

     

    Therefore, we are two institutions called on to understand each other and to collaborate as intensely as possible.

     

    What can the Association offer in Cuba?

    In the case of Cuba, we have been cooperating for some time on the theme of liberalisation of property ownership in the country, and right now we are working on the development of its registration system in three areas: training of human capital, technology transfer, and legislative advising. Always to the extent that they request.

     

    There is a convention signed with the Cuban government that is currently pending implementation. And we want to develop it in coming weeks.

     

    The first thing to be developed is the training of human capital with a course for some 25 Cuban registrars, who are already working to become familiar with the technologies we are using. So that they can see how the Spanish registries work and the benefits that can be obtained from a register, so that, if they consider it interesting, they can put it into practice there.

     

    And in the case of Colombia?

    The case of Colombia, everything depends on the post-conflict scenario. Let’s say there is a great deal of energy that is currently waiting, in effect, for the post-conflict scenario to emerge.

     

    And, here, we are working on a policy on accessible housing. We want to collaborate because they have asked us to, in relation to the degree that development of property registration might contribute to the regularisation of landholdings altered as a consequence of so many years of conflict.