• 05 April 2018

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    Posteado en : Opinion

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    Taxation, the state and the public in the labyrinth of the post-conflict (III)

    In the last stage of the journey with EUROsociAL+, we head to San Vicente del Caguán to attend the inauguration of the NAF

    The municipality of San Vicente del Caguán has been particularly affected by armed conflict. Its inhabitants are trying to free themselves from the stigma of living in a ‘land of guerrillas’. The town was at the heart of the El Caguán demilitarised zone—–where the army would not enter–—during the Andrés Pastrana administration, something which allowed FARC to consolidate is influence in the region.

     

    We are now heading there to inaugurate an NAF. The three-hour journey from Florencia passes through idyllic landscapes peppered with military roadblocks. Stories of armed conflict are inevitable: “presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt was kidnapped making this same journey, three days after Pastrana broke off contacts with the FARC”, “the parliamentarian Diego Turbay was killed here a few minutes before arriving at the town of Puerto Rico”.

     

    A car crosses our path, a strange manoeuvre which puts us on our guard. The suspicious vehicle has changed lanes to access a farm. False alarm. These are new times, but past fears have not abated. There are still FARC splinter groups who have not abandoned their weapons.

     

    Taxes for development

     

    The NAF is located in a citizen coexistence centre which offers services to vulnerable people: a family commissioner, police inspection, coordinating council meetings, a victim assistance unit, and so on. The mayor of San Vicente del Caguán, who opposes the peace agreements, is currently in Europe to see the lessons learnt in Northern Ireland first-hand. A total of 53% of the population of Caquetá voted against the agreement, so reconciliation has a long and difficult road ahead.

     

    We are met by Cecilia Collazos, the acting mayor and social development secretary. In her view, tax fraud is mainly due to a culture of avoiding paying taxes: “rather than difficulties understanding the tax system, what there is here is a culture of non-payment and hiding real income in order to avoid taxes. The peace agreements have brought some changes, but there is still extortion, there are still splinter guerilla groups in the area. Real peace is achieved through projects, investment and employment”.

     

    For Cristián, who studies accounting, the NAFs are very useful for his future career: “the accounting component focuses mainly on taxation, and the NAFs give us the chance to offer guidance to people with low incomes and so they can then be competitive in a market like San Vicente del Caguán, where there are a lot of businesses and lots of accountants are needed”. For Cristián, it’s obvious that development and taxation go hand in hand: “if we want social investment, we need to contribute by paying taxes. It will be difficult and we will encounter a lot of opposition at the start, but we will gradually provide a good service for the well-being of communities”.

     

    The creation of the NAF is met with satisfaction from the business sector in San Vicente. This is the message we get from César Augusto España, coordinator of the Business Services Centre at the Chamber of Commerce of Caquetá: “We are three hours from Florence, where the DIAN (Colombian National Taxes and Customs Directorate) has its offices, and the NAF will expedite the process of fiscal formalisation in all municipalities”. España argues that “there is resistance to paying taxes due to limited access to public services and the scarce presence of the State. A full 98 per cent of companies in Caquetá are micro-enterprises and tax revenues are low, but the peace agreements are starting to stimulate the economy: in 2017, these companies grew by 34%”.

     

    Light at the end of the tunnel

     

    Despite the many obstacles, Hernando Vásquez, District Director for the DIAN, is optimistic about the new state of affairs: “I have been to almost 80 per cent of municipalities and I have encountered more receptivity. The public are asking us to assist and guide them in voluntarily meeting their tax obligations”.

     

    Long-lasting peace and economic development are what the inhabitants of Caquetá most long for. A fertile, hospitable land with enormous potential for rural tourism and agricultural development, with a real desire to show that its fate is not sealed and that things can be different. It is now up to them to take the necessary steps to regain security and social cohesion.

     

    It is also up to the institutions, who must forge a new relationship between the State and citizens based on reciprocity, a process in which civic-tax education will be enormously useful as a communication channel between the two.

     

    Citizens and institutions both know that if they wait for the other side to do something, the vicious cycle of ‘not paying taxes-scarce public services-mistrust of the State’ could go on forever. To find a way out of the labyrinth of the post-conflict, it is necessary to move forward decisively with our sights set on a better future.

     

    Borja Díaz Rivillas, Senior Expert in Democratic Governance for the EUROsociAL+ Programme 

     

    Read the first two parts:

    Taxation, the state and the public in the labyrinth of the post-conflict (I)

    Taxation, the state and the public in the labyrinth of the post-conflict (II)

  • 15 March 2018

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    Posteado en : Opinion

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    Taxation, the state and the public in the labyrinth of the post-conflict (II)

    Education is a key factor in transforming the tax culture in those regions most seriously affected by the armed conflict. We continue our journey with EUROsociAL+ in Caquetá (Colombia)

    The National Taxes and Customs Directorate (DIAN) in Caquetá knows that coercion will not get it anywhere, what it needs to do is convince. With only ten auditors, there is no way it can be breathing down every taxpayer’s neck. It needs to build bridges. It needs carrots as well as sticks.

     

    The tax incentives created to promote formalisation and investment must therefore be accompanied by better tax information and assistance for citizens, as well as a good dose of education on the social purpose of taxes and public spending. Teaching children about taxes from an early age can make this process sustainable, and over the long-term, contribute to voluntary compliance with tax obligations.

     

    For several years, the DIAN has been promoting meetings with children and young people on tax culture in schools in Caquetá and it holds tax services events to raise awareness of its role and get closer to the public. New opportunities are arising to consolidate and multiply these efforts through universities in the form of the Tax Assistance Hub project (NAF in its Spanish acronym).

     

    University as a bridge between the DIAN and citizens

     

    Last November, EUROsociAL+ – the European Union’s regional cooperation programme with Latin America – organised a workshop at the University of the Amazon in Florence dedicated to promoting post-conflict tax culture strategies. It was attended by tertiary education institutions and DIAN sections from the Areas Most Affected by the Armed Conflict in Colombia (Zomac).

     

    The University of the Amazon is a unique institution. It is the only public university in Caquetá. It is strongly committed to the peace process, the environment and sustainable development.

     

    Its Public Accounting Programme has joined the post-conflict challenge by creating a Tax Assistance Hub (NAF), an information point where university students give free tax and accounting advice to people with low incomes and micro entrepreneurs.

     

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    NAF at the University of the Amazon

     

    Trained by the tax administration, the students dedicate as much time as necessary to citizens, listening to their problems and concerns. They generate trust and help them understand the tax system and improve their small businesses.

     

    NAFs are a bridge between the DIAN and the public. This experiment, devised in Brazil, is now present in more than 450 universities in 10 countries. In Colombia, 43 universities have joined, 20 of them in ZOMAC areas.

     

    In the past 4 years, EUROsociAL has been supporting the expansion of this initiative by sharing experiences. The workshop in Florencia gave the opportunity to share lessons learned that can be applied to the post-conflict.

     

    Young people as drivers of change

     

    Hernando Vásquez, District Director with the DIAN sees the NAFs as a way for young people to transform the current situation: “The NAFs are an opportunity to generate trust in the tax administration and create civic awareness about taxes. What better way to give future accountants, administrators and lawyers a real view of what is happening?”.

     

    The students attend campus every day and also visit business in Florencia and the surrounding municipalities. This allows them to see the reality of the post-conflict and the opportunities that peace brings for the development of the region.

     

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    Hernando with students from the NAFs

     

    One of the NAF students tells us about their experience: “Caquetá was badly affected by the armed conflict. We now have the opportunity to get to places that were inaccessible until now, and make Colombians from other regions and foreigners see that Caquetá wants to give the best of itself. Paying taxes means contributing to ourselves”.

     

    And the student continues: “Business owners had the excuse that they shouldn’t pay taxes due to the armed conflict. But those excuses are no longer valid. We have gone to NAFs in some of the most difficult places such as San Vicente del Caguán or Cartagena del Chairá, where people are preparing for the law to be enforced more stringently. We need to show what taxes are used for and for farmers or businesspeople to see that taxes build roads to make their work easier”.

     

    This reality is not alien to that of other areas affected by armed conflict, areas that share their experiences at the workshop. Natalia is another of the young people working in the NAFs in ZOMAC areas, in this case in Ibagué: “It’s really rewarding to help someone in need, someone who doesn’t know how to read or write, let alone use a computer, and for them to go away happy with their new knowledge“.

     

    Borja Díaz Rivillas, Senior Expert in Democratic Governance for the EUROsociAL+ Programme

  • 01 March 2018

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    Posteado en : Entrevista

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    “We are addressing the lack of confidence in the institutions of the justice system”

    Andrés Mahnke, National Defender of the Chilean Public Penal Defender and General Coordinator of AIDEF, talks about the challenges in the region and the projects which are being undertaken with the support of the European Union financed EUROsociAL+ Programme.

    Public Defender’s Offices are key stakeholders in Latin America, for guaranteeing access to justice for incarcerated people and ensuring that they can exercise their fundamental rights. What are the main challenges to ensuring that the region’s Public Defenders are able to exercise an effective public defence?

     

    These fall under three categories. Conceptually, although it may initially seem contradictory, Public Defence is not a support service for poor people. It is the representation of the legal protection that the State must guarantee as a basic right. Presenting it in any other way allows the State to shirk its responsibility and directly affects equality before the law, especially for the most vulnerable.

     

    The next dimension refers to institutional aspects. The technical independence of defenders and the institutional autonomy that ensures this independence, funding, resources for hiring and training, salary equivalence with the other parties involved in the system, the capacity and funding to conduct in-house research, the provision of infrastructure that allows clients to be assisted in a suitable manner and information technologies that ensure a defence on equal terms with criminal prosecution.

     

    Finally, the qualitative dimension aims to ensure defence standards and a system that monitors compliance with them. Public Defenders in the Americas and the Caribbean have made significant progress in this regard through AIDEF. If we did not take this aspect into account, we would be providing lawyers who would have no way of effectively representing the interests and rights of the defendants.

     

     

    The EUROsociAL+  action in the area of justice is oriented towards expanding and strengthening the coverage of the assistance services provided by Public Defender’s Offices in order to humanise and dignify attention to people in vulnerable conditions. Which vulnerable groups face the greatest obstacles to accessing justice due to the limited recognition of their status?

     

    The situation in Latin America shows us that native peoples, migrants and the prison population are the most vulnerable when it comes to their dignity and rights. The same is true for young people, women, especially those who are in prison, the LGBT population, and disabled people.–– All of them are linked by the main factor involved in vulnerability and discrimination, poverty.

     

     

    At the regional level, EUROsociAL+ works in close collaboration with the Inter-American Association of Public Defenders (AIDEF), supporting progress in building common strategic reference responses and frameworks for regional public policies, the adoption of joint agreements, declarations and guidelines and the development of protocols or other common products. What is the added value of networking for the Latin American Public Defenders?

     

    Firstly, defending the full validity and effectiveness of Human Rights and the guarantees recognised in international agreements on the subject, which is also one of AIDEF’s objectives. Acting together in a coordinated manner has a real impact on debates that it would be difficult to sustain in isolation. It allows a permanent, inter-institutional system for the coordination and cooperation of Public Defenders to be established with the aim of raising the standards of each individual defence system.

     

    Finally, acting as a network within the framework of the Inter-American System for Human Rights notably increases the leverage of the defence institutions that succeeds in lessening the structural deficiencies that many of them have.

     

     

    We are currently working with AIDEF on diagnosis and action guidelines for Public Defenders in cases of institutional violence so as to respond to cases of torture or institutional violence in prisons. According to recent diagnoses, despite the fact that more than 30 years have passed since the signing of the International and Inter-American Conventions to prevent and sanction torture, there are still major challenges in Latin America when it comes to institutional violence. Do you think that the general public in Latin America is aware of the scale of the problem of torture? How could this issue be tackled in the work done by Public Defenders?

     

    This is a profound issue. After successive dictatorships in the region, it has been difficult to deal with serious human rights violations in democratic governments, whether that is identifying them, confronting them or even calling them by name, as it is the case with torture.

     

    It is undoubtedly an issue on which we have taken the lead because the most frequent cases of institutional violence and torture occur at the two ends of the criminal justice process. At the beginning, following arrest, on police premises, and at the end, after a prison sentence has been handed down, in prison.

     

    Through the projects we have carried out with EUROsociAL+ we have managed to position the issue, with the incorporation of the debate in the Inter-American Human Rights System (SIDH), through the General Resolutions of the General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (OAS) and plenary hearings of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the same institution, among other instruments.

     

    All this has allowed the subject of imprisonment and its consequences to permeate the internal debate, along with the excessive use of provisional detention (whether as punishment in advance or as a social control mechanism), imprisonment as a central element of sentencing in the region, and in particular the institutional violence and torture in prisons that occur under these circumstances.

     

     

    Finally, given the diversity of the actors involved in the area of justice and the fact that these are multi-dimensional problems, what mechanisms/instruments could be set up to improve inter-institutional and inter-sectoral coordination to implement access-to-justice policies?

     

    Rather than creating or implementing new mechanisms or instruments, what is needed in Latin America at the moment is to consolidate and improve the existing channels to bring about good inter-institutional coordination. Strengthening the work between institutions in the area of justice and training the participants while promoting collaborative working.

     

    This is because one of the problems we face is a lack of trust in the institutions of the justice system, not only on the part of the public, but also from those who are involved in the system.

     

    María Luisa Domínguez, Senior Technician in Democratic Governance in the EUROsociAL+ Programme

  • 18 January 2018

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    Posteado en : Entrevista

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    “Our rights cost money”

    Antanas Mockus, the former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, talks to us about the importance of tax education in ensuring that the public see taxes as a contribution toward common goals

     A year since the signing of the Colombian Peace Agreements, we went to Bogotá to interview the city’s former mayor, Professor Antanas Mockus, a big defender of the national reconciliation process and a leader in changing collective behaviour through education, including behaviour related to paying taxes.

     

    During his terms as mayor, Bogotá underwent a transformation in its tax culture, as its citizens began to notice a relationship between taxes and an improvement in public services. This led to feelings of a shared responsibility for funding development that were based on conviction rather than on the fear of being sanctioned. ‘Todos pagan’ [‘We all pay’] and ‘Recurso público, recurso sagrado’ [‘Public resources, sacred resources’] were some of the slogans coined by Mockus, who also promoted a campaign called ‘110 por ciento con Bogotá’ [‘110 per cent with Bogotá’], which appealed for a voluntary 10% tax increase, with a chance to choose the project the money would go to.

     

    What role do taxes pay in post-conflict Colombia?

    The peace process that Colombia is going through has many aspects. One of these is avoiding the use of the force of arms to implement changes. The State must reach the country in a much more substantive way, but the public must also play their part. The public must learn to understand how the State works, how the State reallocates resources for purposes that are usually much more admirable than private spending; it would not make sense to collect taxes to do things that are not as good.

     

    The social rule of law established by the Colombian Constitution of 1991 establishes that one of a citizen’s duties is to pay taxes. However, this duty is associated with the State’s duty to protect citizens’ rights. But rights cost money. There is a book by an American academic named Stephen Holmes entitled ‘The Cost of Rights’, which asserts that a right cannot be guaranteed if no resources have been invested in defending that right.

     

    Colombia is in debt in terms of socio-economic inequality and taxes must be understood to be part of the tools that we have for levelling the playing field and creating more equality. We hope that FARC and the ELN, if they join the peace process, will participate in this learning process and understand the enormous importance of redistribution mechanisms. It is essential to go through the tax system, which is the only method of wealth redistribution open to a democratic government. Redistribution must be understood not only as a way of sharing out resources but also as an essential part of human relations. Public resources are sacred resources.

     

    How can a country’s tax culture be changed?

    I have an anecdote about a Colombian who is working and studying in the United States. At breakfast, he tells an American friend: “Last night I found a way to avoid paying taxes”, and he then explains his scam. And the American says: “I’ll give you 24 hours to put that right or I’ll report you”.

     

    The mafia culture is associated with a code of silence. In the mafia culture, the social norm is more than simply not complying with legal regulations, breaking the law becomes part of your obligations.

     

    For a while, I thought that corruption was something it would be very easy to resist, just by saying no, but then I met mayors who had been threatened with violence for not cooperating with criminals. As a result, the combination of the code of silence with the use of violence against those who do not allow themselves to be corrupted generates an illness that is slightly more difficult to deal with, but it is one that needs to be treated all the more urgently.

     

    When you buy a tin of paint at a hardware store in Colombia, you are still often asked whether you want it with or without VAT, with or without a receipt, which is an implicit or explicit offer to not pay sales tax.

     

    This has a decisive influence on the public’s attitude toward taxes…

    The field of behavioural economics has found that as humans, we are very risk-averse. If you lose 10 euros and find 10 euros, you won’t be happy; from a psychological point of view, you’ve suffered a loss. You would need to find 27 euros. Losses are seen through a magnifying glass. If you see taxes as a loss, you suffer disproportionately; but it is different if you see them as a contribution, a bit like putting money into a kitty, a mechanism for pooling resources to achieve common goals.

     

    Bogotá has managed to improve people’s attitude toward paying taxes. We have also worked with the Ministry for Health to show that there are other redistribution schemes, as well as taxes. In the Colombian healthcare model, the more economically powerful classes contribute more than their proportion to healthcare and this is a clear redistribution model, because people from very different financial situations receive similar medical attention. Having the same guarantees is another expression of the social rule of law.

     

    My experience is that if people understand what taxes are for, if they understand how the rates for the different groups of citizens work, they can understand how important taxes are. The proper management of these is, in part, the secret to the country’s development.

     

    What is your opinion of the work sponsored by the EUROsociAL+ programme in universities with Tax and Accounting Assistance Hubs (NAFs)?

    What is being promoted with the university tax consultancies is a very important step. The role of the accountant as someone who advises you how to evade or avoid taxes is giving way to a culture of a tax adviser who explains the purpose of the regulations to the public, taking on the role of educator.

     

     

    Borja Díaz Rivillas, Senior Expert in Democratic Governance for the EUROsociAL+ Programme.

  • 07 December 2017

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    Posteado en : En primera persona

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    EUROsociAL+, looking for answers

    If one thing characterises EUROsociAL+, it is seeking answers to the questions posed by Latin America

    “When we had the answers, they changed the questions”, said Pelayo Castro referring to a graffito discovered by the Ecuadorian poet Jorge Enrique Adoum and made universal by the Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti. This catch-phrase, quoted by the European Union Ambassador in Costa Rica at the opening of the EUROsociAL+ meeting in San José, laid the foundation for the three days of discussions and exchanges in the capital of Costa Rica.

     

    Because, if one thing characterises EUROsociAL+, it is seeking answers to the questions raised by Latin America. The answers are to be found in Europe and in Latin America, and in Costa Rica they were transformed into reality with significant commitments to fighting gender violence, social dialogue and regional development.

     

    Also, in this third stage of the Latin American social cohesion programme, we would like to be part of the answers. This means being more strategic, once again placing social issues on the European-Latin American cooperation agenda and contributing to ensuring that countries meet the Sustainable Development Goals. This is why we demanded even more strongly that actions be implemented to support public policies that have a real effect on reducing the inequality gap in the region.

     

    The initial meeting was not only inspiring because of the discussions, it also presaged an unforgettable cultural moment that occurred during the first annual meeting of the third stage of EUROsociAL. Creativity laboratories gave a voice to the different realities existing in the Latin American countries through children and young people at risk of exclusion, the struggle of the LGBT community, and the situation of those who are in detention, who, through poetry, painting and photography expressed their wish to be part of a society that offers them the same rights and the same opportunities as anyone else.

     

    It was a meeting filled with symbols, from the word Freedom, which was the name given to the Metropolitan Park where the meeting began, to the former prison known as “La Peni”, which has now become the Children’s Museum and which we visited on the occasion of Universal Children’s Day. The best way, therefore, to end these lines is the prologue written by Kennly Garza, subdirector of the Vilma Curling Comprehensive Care Centre, for the book of poems written by the inmates of this prison, entitled Luna compartida” (Shared Moon). In the prologue, entitled “Alquimistas de significados” (Alchemists of meaning), Kennly calls our attention to some of these allegories: A women’s prison is an uncomfortable, antagonistic place; the unsuspected arrival of cherubim brings on a smile. At the back, the whispers of five hundred writers disturb our conscience when we know we are part of these stories. A scene of losses and grievances, it is also an island of warrior women whose stories deserve to be told before the River Cañas claims its own. Until then, here is the tribute of their words, transparent and direct, warning that while there are women in prison writing about inequality, talking about freedom will never be easy or commonplace, it is an urgent debt that only applause does not endorse”.

     

    Enrique Martínez is the communications manager for the EUROsociAL+ programme

  • 13 October 2017

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    Posteado en : Reportage

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    Hospital medical records: much more than a storage space

    Representatives of the Ministry of Health, the Institute of Social Security and the Institute for Access to Public Information travelled to Madrid with the support of EUROsociAL+ to find out more in situ about the Spanish experience with managing hospital medical records

    When Margarita went to her Social Security hospital in El Salvador for her regular type 2 diabetes check-up, her medical record had disappeared. After hours of fruitless searching, she went in to see her doctor with a temporary (empty) file so that he could prescribe the appropriate medicines. Due to the lack of medical information, the doctor told her that he could not prescribe her glimepiride, one of the key drugs for treating her diabetes, until he had some accurate analyses of her medical condition. Margarita had to wait almost a month to get the result of the new clinical analyses, without receiving proper medication in the meantime. After nearly three months, the file was finally found, surprisingly, among the records of those who had died.

     

    Managing medical records properly is essential for improving the treatment of patients and the exercise of their rights, as well as the effective and efficient functioning of the healthcare system. However, this is a daunting task that requires confronting huge challenges, such as a lack of storage space or human and financial resources. At the same time, the patients’ personal details must be properly protected and the complex process of transferring the files from a paper format to an electronic one must be carried out in stages.

     

    Well aware of the pressing need to tackle this issue in El Salvador, the Institute for Access to Public Information (IAIP), the Ministry of Health (MINSAL) and the Salvadoran Institute of Social Security (ISSS) have joined forces with the aim of building the foundations for a new era in the management of medical records in this Central American country’s public healthcare sector.

     

    The EUROsociAL+ Programme, funded by the European Commission and managed by the FIIAPP, is helping El Salvador with this process. As a first step, between 25 and 28 September, representatives of the three Salvadoran institutions visited Madrid to find out about the progress made and the challenges faced by Spain in this area. For a week, they were able to exchange experiences and lessons learned with the Ministry of Health, Equality and Social Services, the Castilla-La Mancha Health Service (SESCAM), the Community of Madrid’s Hospital Clí­nico San Carlos, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports General Sub-Directorate of State Archives and the Spanish Data Protection Agency. The visit included a tour of the Hospital Clí­nico San Carlos archives and the Central Archives of the State Administration in Alcalá in addition to a presentation of the lessons learned from the Tunisian electronic file project headed by the FIIAPP and funded by the European Union.

     

    This activity was the first step in promoting inter-institutional dialogue in El Salvador, advancing toward creating operating instructions and new regulations, and promoting cultural change, which is needed in order to improve the quality of healthcare in this Central American country.

     

    Borja Díaz Rivillas, Senior Officer of Democratic Governance. EUROsociAL+