“We need to raise our voices”, said Baaba Maal, African singer superstar, “people have been too silent. We need to show the G8 leaders that there are many of us, and we are tired of being deceived”. His words reflected a common concern, as Global leaders fly in to Ireland for the G8 summit, that promises are made and not kept. That is why a key part of this years Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign has been calling for greater transparency.
Last night the IF campaign held a moving church service in Enniskillen which reminded politicians that one in eight people around the world go to bed hungry, and called for significant progress on Tax reform and Transparency. It is clear why improved tax collection will bring an increase in resources for health and agriculture budgets in developing countries. But it is not quite so obvious why transparency is an important issue for those of us who work on health and food security.
There are three reasons why improved transparency will improve outcomes for work to combat the huge number of women and children who are undernourished. There are 165 million stunted children in the world today and at current progress this number will only fall by 2% per annum (Lancet 2013). Improved transparency would speed up the process by strengthening the work of civil society in the South, by making global tax collection easier, and by making donor pledges easier to monitor.
First, greater transparency in developing countries is crucial to allow civil society to do their job. As Baaba Maal, said, “Information is the key to hold our governments to account. I have seen big companies come into Senegal to grab land, they have thrown people off their land, but we don’t know have the facts. The companies have exhausted the opportunities in the North, so now they come to Africa.”
“I visited a village in Mauritania and spoke to a mother of 4 children. I asked her why her children are not in school. She replied that she is more worried how she will feed her children every day. We need to help people reclaim their dignity. Why is the government not investing in agriculture? We need better information about who owns the land, about what donors are giving our governments, about what funding is available. Good information is what we need to press our governments for improvements”
Secondly, the global tax system at present is opaque and allows multinational corporations to obscure their sources of profits. Thabo Mbeki, ex-president of South Africa has said that African countries lose $50bn a year in illicit finance flows. These are funds that could be spent on improving nutrition programmes, health systems and small-scale agriculture. David Cameron made good progress last week-end ‘getting the UK house in order’. The UK Overseas Territories such as Bermuda have signed an agreement to exchange information between tax jurisdictions. Developing countries will now be able to request financial information about companies registered in British tax havens.
If the G8 countries will extend this agreement to other global centres of tax dodging then poor countries will be in a much stronger position to collect the taxes due to them. David Cameron wants the G8 countries to sign up to an action plan to disclose who owns shadowy “shell companies” linked to tax avoidance and corruption. The benefits of this would dwarf the pledges made on June 8th at the Nutrition for Growth summit in London. At that meeting donors promised $4.1 billion for Nutrition programmes – but this still leaves a large gap in funding needed. Data from the Lancet shows that ten key nutrition interventions can be rolled out across the world, but at an annual cost of $9.6 billion.
The final way that transparency benefits work against undernutrition is by making public the agreements signed and the progress being made. In the past, promises by global leaders were later ignored or forgotten. But a strong outcome of the 8th June Nutrition for Growth summit was the announcement of an annual global report on nutrition to monitor progress on tackling undernutrition. The UK pledge stated that “This will help us review our progress and share best practice, both in tracking resources spent but also in ensuring real impact against undernutrition”. A second and linked agreement was to hold an annual High Level Meeting on the fringes of the UN General Assembly every year in New York. And third, the summit agreed that there will be a major follow-up event in Brazil before the next Olympics in 2016.
All these agreements help ‘shine the torch’ on donor promises. Let us hope that G8 leaders now in Northern Ireland will agree more of the changes that are needed to bring light to previously obscured development issues so we can have more powerful results.
Photo of Baaba Maal, copywrite Steve Lewis RESULTS
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of RESULTS UK.