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Mining and oil face world tax exposure logo

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Mining and oil face world tax exposure

  • The Observer, 
  • Sunday September 21 2008

Giant oil and mining firms could be forced to reveal the precise amounts of tax they pay in each country in which they operate. The move has been heralded as a major breakthrough that could end a widespread culture of corporate secrecy and alleged corruption.

The measure is being seriously considered by the International Accounting Standards Board after a high-level meeting of investors, including George Soros, and campaigners, argued for the introduction of so-called ‘country-by-country reporting’ in front of representatives from Rio Tinto, Shell, Anglo American and BP. Also attending were leading audit firms.

Presentations from campaigners and investors were favourably received by high-ranking officials at the IASB, which next month will publish further details that could force this information to be included on firms’ financial statements.

If successful, country-by-country reporting could be adopted as early as 2010. However, the IASB is expected to face intense pressure to water down any proposals.

There is increasing concern that the benefits of high commodity prices are not flowing back to poor countries. Tax deals are often negotiated in secret. There have been examples of civil servants and government ministers taking bribes in return for the rubber-stamping of generous concessions, so depriving countries of vital revenue.

‘Investors have voiced their support for country-by-country reporting,’ said Vanessa Herringshaw from pressure group Revenue Watch. ‘Now we need to take this forward. The IASB need to be congratulated for holding this meeting.’

Richard Murphy at Tax Justice Network said: ‘Country-by-country reporting will help identify corruption and mean desperately-needed improved tax revenues for developing countries to transform economies and lives.’

Investors present at the meeting wanted precise tax data at their fingertips to assess the true value of a company and identify firms that may be exposed to political risk. In recent years, many African countries that signed up to disadvantageous deals subsequently ripped up mining concessions and renegotiated tax agreements.

Opponents of country-by-country reporting argue that the requirement is onerous and costly. But campaigners say companies hold this information already and simply choose not to reveal it.

In a recent speech on globalisation Trevor Manuel, the finance minister of South Africa, highlighted how multinationals have walked over the revenue departments of poor countries because they do not have the resources to cope with big firms’ armies of accountants and lawyers. ‘Smaller, poorer countries cannot be expected to develop the expertise to unravel the complex structures that multinationals put in place,’ he said.

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