First national dialogue on fair taxation and stronger social contract for SDGs

Thursday, 13 June 2024 01:45 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


  • Govt. and UNDP host inaugural dialogue in light of ongoing economic recovery efforts; launch Sri Lanka’s first ‘Taxpayer Perception Study’

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Sri Lanka, in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance, Inland Revenue Department, University of Moratuwa, and the National Innovation Agency of Sri Lanka yesterday co-convened the first-ever National Tax Dialogue to address contemporary issues surrounding taxation and fiscal policies.

In light of the ongoing economic reforms and the need to bring in citizens’ perspectives, the National Dialogue drew attention to tax morale, social/fiscal contract, fairness in taxation, transparency and accountability of revenue institutions and digitalisation of public service delivery. The Dialogue launched research findings from the first ‘Taxpayer Perception Study’ in Sri Lanka, collaboratively conducted by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and UNDP in Sri Lanka. The nationally representative study revealed public perceptions on issues surrounding tax burden, evasion, trust in institutions, and experiences with revenue institutions which are particularly pertinent in the context of institutional reform.

By bringing together over 100 stakeholders representing diverse interests and perspectives including policymakers, legislators, bureaucrats, academia, professional bodies, private sector as well as civil society, the dialogue served as a platform for the exchange of opinions and sharing of insights across various awareness levels. The discussions led to a shared understanding of the importance of taxation for the achievement of SDGs and national development, and the need to enhance transparency and accountability in the use of tax revenue. The knowledge and insights generated through this dialogue will serve as a cornerstone for national policy-making institutions, providing valuable input for informed decision-making processes.

The event featured plenaries of global experts renowned for their exceptional expertise in the realm of taxation. Among them are Tax Justice Network Chief Executive Alex Cobham, Public Digital UK Strategy and Research Director Lauren Kahn, and Regional Program Specialist for Asia Pacific for UNDP Tax for SDGs Sudarshan Kasturirangan whose contributions enriched the discussions and provided invaluable perspectives on navigating the complexities of tax policies on a global scale.

Gracing the occasion, State Minister of Finance Shehan Semasinghe said: “Taxation equips States with resources to progressively achieve SDGs. These revenues represent public resources that need to be deployed with a view to optimising social returns. Considering this relationship, a national dialogue on taxation is a necessity and serves a constructive contribution to Sri Lanka’s democratic process.”

Commenting on the crucial role of innovation in taxation for enhancing the efficiency of revenue administration, the Inland Revenue Department Commissioner General W.A.S. Chandrasekara added “Embracing innovative tax solutions is imperative for modernising our revenue systems. By leveraging technology and fostering a culture of continuous improvement, we can enhance our efficiency, reduce compliance costs, and ultimately build a more resilient and responsive tax administration.”

UNDP in Sri Lanka, Resident Representative Azusa Kubota pointed out that “Sri Lanka’s economic crisis offers a historic opportunity to optimise the use of resources for SDG attainment. This entails concerted efforts to strengthen the linkages among planning, budgeting, monitoring and oversight and citizens’ engagement. Therefore, the National Tax Dialogue is timely to foster a whole-of-society understanding and commitment to improving tax morale for effective SDG attainment. The Dialogue assumes global significance, especially as the UN Secretary-General in February 2023 called for an ‘SDG Push’, a surge in investment of $ 500 billion annually in affordable long-term finance for developing countries.” 

Encouraging mutual collaboration and engagement in the tax system underscores Sri Lanka’s commitment to ensuring sustainable economic recovery and fostering a more inclusive and prosperous future by encouraging citizens to participate as partners in societal progress.