• Just Systems, Real Change

    Posted by Micah

    18 October, 2013

    Tax justice for developing countries and empowered communities supported by good governance will help bring about lasting change for those facing poverty, writes Matthew Maury. 

    In the early 1990s I was living in Zambia, working with grassroots community development projects. During a trip to the capital city I got into a discussion with another expat that I bumped into. We covered the usual range of questions – who are you, where are you from, what are you doing in Zambia? I was quite surprised when he told me he was a tax accountant who had been sent to help teach the Zambia Revenue Authority how to improve their tax collection practices. Part of his work was to help the Zambian Government target international organisations who were not paying their fair share of taxes.

    There is a high correlation between an African government’s ability to collect tax and its ability to achieve the development targets laid out in the Millennium Development Goals.

    On a recent trip to India, I was encouraged to come face-to-face with impressive examples of developmental change. The changes I saw were not driven by a new agricultural technology or the discovery of a new wonder drug. Rather, they are being driven by a model of community engagement focused on supporting good governance systems that is transforming many communities around the world.The reality is quite easy for us to understand as we listen to our own politicians. Government services are dependent on tax revenue. If our government doesn’t have money, it can’t provide basic services like schools, roads, health care and a social welfare system.  

    Change needs to happen – and our voices and action can bring about that change.

    The practice of many companies who illegally and unethically avoid paying taxes in low income countries is spoken about in strong terms throughout the Bible – including verses in Amos 8 that speak of God’s abhorrence of dishonest systems that exploit the poor to benefit the rich.  Change needs to happen – and our voices and action can bring about that change. 

    My trip involved visiting the work TEAR Australia is supporting with our partner EFICOR (the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Commission on Relief) in flood-prone communities in Bihar.

    EFICOR’s approach has been to educate previously disadvantaged communities about their rights as Indian citizens, help foster community linkages with local government, and to train community members in the basics of grassroots advocacy so that they can hold government accountable to provide the services granted them under Indian law.

    This methodology while seemingly subtle is in fact a significant change in the role of our partners in India. Instead of building schools or setting up health care programs, EFICOR is empowering communities to access these services through government. This approach helps ensure long-term sustainability and isn’t dependent on non-government organisations or donor funds. It also shifts the power of development into the hands of the community.

    No story better illustrated what this shift looks like than that of a young man I met named Ashok*. Ashok was a participant in a meeting I had with members of a local community. As we sat together to discuss the impact of the TEAR-supported project, he stood up and, with a big smile, talked about what he had done to help develop his community. He told me about his advocacy work to get the government to re-open a local health clinic that had been closed in part due to corruption. Through his persistence in calling government to account for its responsibilities, the clinic was reopened and after the meeting Ashok very proudly took me to see it. 

    I found Ashok’s story inspiring – all the more so since he comes from a low caste family and so grew up with very little recognised voice or influence in his community.

    Ashok speaking about his advocacy work at a community meeting.Ashok speaking about his advocacy work at a community meeting.

    The success of this story is dependent on the Indian Government actually having the tax revenue to meet community needs. Companies who illegally avoid paying taxes in India are robbing communities like Ashok’s.  Good governance that leads to lasting developmental change requires changes at the top and the bottom of our economic systems – macro changes as well as grassroots interventions.  

    It is people like Ashok who make me passionate about the importance of tax justice. I would love to see a world full of Ashoks who can be empowered to bring lasting change to their communities. Communities where good governance and tax justice provide governments with the resources they need to take care of their people.

    Prayer points

    • Give thanks for Ashok and the changes he has helped bring about in this community.
    • Pray for our partner EFICOR and the communities they are working with, that they can continue to be strengthened and encouraged to advocate for their rights.

    Matthew Maury is TEAR Australia's National Director.

    This blog is originally from TEAR Australia's TEAR News, Issue 3, October 2013. Used with permission.