Credit Line: Hasan Mahmud and Asmaul Hosna
Supporting Editor: Martin Brehm Christensen

Standing in a crossroad

We stand in the middle one of the biggest and busiest crossroads in Dhaka city with crowed traffic all around us. We are able to induce the liable police officers to grant us 30 seconds to perform our tax power flash mob. The pressure is on, and we are ready to strike. The cars, the CNGs, the rickshaws and the busses are lined up in all four directions like Olympics like predators ready to attack.

The thought of predators makes me think of the Multinational Corporations (MNCs) targeted in our campaign. We Activistas, are part of ActionAid’s Tax Power Campaign fighting against foreign corporations who make a lot of profit in Bangladesh but pay very little in tax … a bit like predators eating their prey. Poor developing countries become the prey for these big companies who use their power to get around taxes. ActionAid Bangladesh has launched a 5 year long Tax Power campaign where we, the Activista Network of Bangladesh, have been active since the beginning. We want a more fair tax system where money is redistributed from the rich to the poor, from the corporations having millions in profit to people living in poverty not even having enough to eat.

Why we want tax justice

From all four sides we run to the middle of the junction and freeze in a circle. We instantly grab everyone’s attention. People poke their heads out of cars and buses and some comes closer to get a better view of what we in the red T-shirts are upto. We are each holding a placard with a message demanding tax justice and a fair taxation system. We present the problem of unfair taxation as it impacts people from different walks of life be it a businessman, a worker, a teacher etc.

The only background music is the hustle and bustle of traffic and the austere silence of the audience indulged in our act. After our 30 seconds, we are distributing our leaflets when someone asked, ‘Hey, brother, what are you guys doing here? Can I know more?’We have stirred up his curiosity and now it is time to deliver. Why do we want tax justice?

From street to debate table, outcry of youths during Tax Power Campaign was phenomenal

The unfair tax system in Bangladesh

The tax system in Bangladesh is regressive in nature because of its high concentration of indirect taxation rather than the direct tax. In 2012-13 FY, the contribution of VAT to the total tax revenue was 36.0% and income tax was 31.5%. Unfair tax practices of big national and multinational corporations is one of the major reasons of revenue loss which negatively impacts the revenue necessary to key public sectors.

Taxation is a powerful tool in the fight against poverty. In a developing country like Bangladesh, greater tax revenue will allow the government to redistribute resources to development sectors like education, health, social safety net, security and infrastructure.

What we want

Our campaign is an initiative to raise people’s awareness on what is happening to their money and act as a watchdog holding the government and corporations accountable to us citizens. What we want is:- Redistribution. We want to tax the MNCs and the big national corporations and use this tax revenue to provide public services in an efficient and gender responsive way- Transparency. We want to make the tax rules and workflow in the NBR more transparent in order to abate tax evasion, secure accountability and reduce corruption- Accountability.  We want to enhance the capacity of NBR to monitor the revenue performance of both national and multinational corporations- Participation. We want to engage ordinary citizens in the tax discourse and increase their participation and influence.

Activistas – a part of the campaign

As part of this campaign, Activistas have been in different districts to collect research data,  and conducted Focus Group Discussion (FGDs) both at university and community levels. At the community level most of the people believed that they are not paying tax because they are poor. At the university a similar lack in knowledge was noted. The cruel reality is that Bangladesh is losing a huge amount of revenue due to international tax dodging. The UNDP calculates that Bangladesh in 2008 lost 4,537 million USD (358,485 million Taka) which is about twice the amount Bangladesh received in Official Development Assistance (ODA) that same year (UNDP, 2011).

According to Global Financial Integrity (GFI) a total of US$14.059 billion have been siphoned off from Bangladesh from 2001-2011 through trade miss-invoicing, corruption, bribery and tax evasion. Consumptions tax imposes a heavy burden on the poor because the poor spend larger share of their income than those who are better off. This is totally unjust. The statistics show the discrimination in the taxation policy.Lower income people are paying a higher tax rate; in return they are not getting quality public services. Common people bear the burden of consumption taxes.

How tax relates to youngsters like you and me

So how does all these big numbers relate to youngsters like you and me? In Bangladesh more than 50% of the population is under 25 years old. We youth are victims of inadequate taxation in terms of lack of access to quality education, healthcare, and other public services. So, young people join our movement and create a collective demand to change the unfair tax system!! Activistas are a part of this movement – are you?Read more: