Professional Accountants: Taking the Lead on Ethics and Trust in Tax Systems
Kevin Dancey | February 4, 2020 |
Taxpayers everywhere want to be taxed fairly and efficiently. But many don’t see this happening.
Trust in tax systems has been waning globally. The growing world population and a deepening climate emergency will put additional strain on the world’s infrastructure and public services—and, as a result, tax revenues. At the same time, digitalization is driving the need for new tax policies that address the realities of the digital economy on a coordinated basis. But despite the need for global consensus, jurisdictions continue to take unilateral action.
People, markets, and entire economies need tax systems that are effective, transparent, and aligned with the needs of the 21st century. Achieving this must be a top priority for the G20 and the global accountancy profession.
Accountants have a unique advantage in doing this work: the G20 Public Trust in Tax survey conducted by ACCA, CA ANZ, and IFAC found that, across the globe, citizens continue to have the highest level of trust in professional tax accountants among all participants in tax systems. And while we aren’t the only participant influencing perceptions of trust, we have a great opportunity to build confidence and trust in tax systems throughout the world.
How do we accomplish this? A good step is to reinforce and clarify the role of ethics for professional tax accountants providing tax advice.
Professional accountants need to embody high ethical standards so that governments and the public trust them to act in the public interest. The ethical conduct of accountants reflects on the credibility of both the individual and the entire profession.
At the national level, Professional Accountancy Organizations (PAOs) have a responsibility to ensure that their members provide tax advice in the public interest and uphold the profession's reputation.
To support our member PAOs, IFAC has produced a Good Practice Guide for PAOs. Drawing on the five fundamental principles of the Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants, developed by the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA), the Good Practice Guide highlights the way accountants can apply the Code of Ethics to their tax work.
We know that tax systems can be very complex and uncertainty is a fact of life in practicing tax. It can be an enormous grey area.
The IESBA – in line with its Strategy and Work Plan 2019-2023 – has begun studying aggressive tax avoidance to see whether standard-setting or other actions are warranted.
At the global policy level, the OECD’s recommendation is to “require taxpayers to disclose their aggressive tax planning arrangements.” IFAC supports this recommendation for further transparency among both taxpayers and tax authorities. It would spur a fundamental shift toward enhanced cooperation and respect between these parties.
The data show that G20 citizens care deeply about good outcomes and transparency in tax systems. And the debate needs to move beyond ethics and transparency to consensus on smart tax policies as economies continue to become more interconnected in a digital world. Urgency on this issue is echoed by the OECD, among others.
While we can’t expect to resolve all of these issues overnight, professional accountants must engage in the debate. We must work ethically and transparently in tax systems with determination and our collective eye on long-term goals. We must advance global policy solutions that are fit for the future. And, as we move into the next decade, we must act to together.
I strongly encourage you to write to ConversationsWithPAOs@ifac.org to share your views on the profession’s role in this regard.
To hear more from Kevin Dancey on this subject, click video below: