19 June 2013

The G8 Verdicts: Devils, Details, Geeks and Whimpers

So the G8 summit is over, the documents are out and the verdicts are in. 

Verdicts include:

The UK Trades Union Congress: "yet another opportunty has been missed to finally get to grips with global tax avoidance and evasion"

The Taxpayers Alliance in the UK: "This summit was a distraction which was never going to address the root cause of British public disquiet over tax avoidance: our hideously complex tax code"

Of the 10 points in the G8 Declaration, the Spectator magazine says "it’s difficult to see how governments could really be measured against any of these criteria in a year’s time"

Larry Elliot at the Guardian said: "progress at the summit itself was virtually non-existent. A declaration of G8 principles was a windy document that committed the west's leading industrial nations to do little specific"

Sally Copely, the spokesperson for the IF campaign said: "Today’s G8 tax deal is a step in the right direction, but it also leaves major unfinished business"

Development Initiatives and Publish What You Fund were pleased with the focus on the International Aid Transparency Agreement "The G8 is finally delivering on aid transparency promises with all countries committing to full and timely implementation of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). This includes France, Italy and Japan, for the first time"

Murray Worthy of ActionAid, on tax said: “If all of these promises become reality this could have an enormous impact on tackling one of the greatest scandals of our time. But there is a long way to go and today all we have is a general statement of principles with no detail and no deadlines. ..  As always the devil will be in the detail, and there’s no detail here."

Kevin Watkins, new ODI Director, did not mince his words: "We were promised a bang, but this is a whimper. It is simply a wish list."

I don't know about you but I find it really difficult to assess G8's--esepcially this one--because:

1.  The devil really is in the details.  The 10 point Declaration is replete with "should" rather than "we will".  This is disappointing but perhaps it is unrealistic to have expected anything but.  The 24 page Communique does have more detail within it--some quite specific--and will provide grist for the various G8 Accountability mechanisms to grind out the truth.

2. The UK government made it really difficult for itself.  One T would have been a challenge, but 3?  Admittedly the Transparency and Tax T's are strongly linked, but Trade is a massive issue that surely deserves a singular focus.

3. Syria. There is usually a crisis or two that disrupts the nonemergency agenda, and Syria was it this time, but it is not so usual that the crisis involves G8 members so directly in the security space.  This must have taken a lot of energy away from the other agendas.

Ultimately, though, Lough Erne will best be judged a year from now and perhaps 5 years from now. 

Nevertheless Prime Minister Cameron deserves credit for getting Tax and Transparency onto the agenda.  But as one commentator said (I can't find the exact quote), the PM must not be seen to be the "geek doing the homework for the other kids". He has to show sustained leadership to get them to do their own.

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