Friday, December 4, 2020

Botswana attacks France over tax haven blacklist

Minister of trade and Industry Vincent Seretse this week lashed out against France’s decision to include Botswana in the list of countries that do not cooperate in efforts to track down tax evasion. In a strongly worded statement by the Minister of Trade and Industry, Vincent Seretse, addressed to the 19th meeting of the African Caribbean Pacific ÔÇôEuropean Union, Botswana accused France of “going against the spirit of cooperation.” “The delegation of Botswana would like to share its concerns on the recent and unsolicited EU blacklisting as an uncooperative tax Jurisdiction by France,” reads Seretse’s statement. France is accusing Botswana and other countries of failing to help investigate foreign aid fraud, banning the use of their banks to help distribute development funds. But this week Seretse hit back saying “Botswana strongly contests the blacklisting in view of her cooperation with the Global Forum on Transparency Exchange of Information or Tax Purposes.” He said Botswana has in all respects been transparent and has continually responded to the Global Forum fair taxation requirements with the objective of being transparent and compliant in the exchange of tax information at all levels. “ Our commitment in response to transparency and in exchange of information has been evidenced by various engagements of our treaty partners to renegotiate our existing Tax Treaties or Protocols to amend existing Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements (DTAA) in place (that were considered non-compliant),” said Seretse. He reminded France that the exercise of reviewing “our domestic tax and banking laws to meet international standards including the OECD requirements started as far back as 2010.” Botswana, Seretse said, has worked on the deficiencies (including amending DTAAs) that she has with other countries that were not compliant. “We then requested for a Supplementary Report from the Global forum and the Report was discussed at the Global Forum Peer Review Group (PRG) meeting held in Malta in March 2014 where we succeeded and proceeded to Phase 2 Review. It should be noted that the PRG was chaired by a French national,” said Seretse.  It is therefore, he argued, comes as a great surprise that notwithstanding “all our efforts we find ourselves blacklisted.”   “This appears to go against the spirit of cooperation that we have nurtured over the years.  We remain steadfast that transparency assessment on tax matters be carried out strictly on the basis of the OECD standards,” said the minister. The French embassy in Gaborone this week was not in a position to comment on the matter. “There is no answer for now. If there is anything, we will get back to you,” the embassy said in response to Sunday Standard queries. Other countries on France’s tax haven list includes Panama, Brunei, Guatemala, Nauru, Niue and the Marshall Islands.  Botswana is likely to lose out on aid from the French Development Agency and OECD as a result of being blacklisted for aid fraud after failing to meet standards set by OECD. The country’s banks have also been banned from distributing aid money from the French Development Agency. France ranks third among Development Assistance Committee members in terms of its official development assistance (ODA) volume. The OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) is one of the key forums in which the major bilateral donors work together to increase the effectiveness of their common efforts to support sustainable development.  The DAC concentrates on how international development co-operation contributes to the capacity of developing countries to participate in the global economy and the capacity of people to overcome poverty and participate fully in their societies. The officials justified their blacklisting of Botswana and other countries by saying there was a lack of transparency in the countries on the list, adding that poor and developing countries were often the main victims of fraud. “The aim is primarily preventative, to put pressure on these countries by publicising this list to progress towards more transparency,” they said. Botswana is also accused of not having adequate international agreements under which information for tax purposes could be exchanged.

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