It’s Global Tax Season: What Role for Citizens?

Written by Andrew Wainer, Director of Policy Research at Save the Children

Even as domestic tax reform is in the political limelight, there is growing attention to taxation in the developing world and the role of citizens in shaping tax policy.

This month Save the Children launched an initiative supporting citizen action in Kenya on domestic resource mobilization (DRM) – as taxation is referred to in the development community. The project is directed at the Kenyan national and county-level tax systems.

Working with local citizens, Save the Children is advocating for fair and transparent tax collection with the ultimate aim of supporting the Kenyan government’s ability to finance basic services for its most vulnerable communities.

DRM assistance typically comes in the form of technical support and capacity building provided by bilateral and multilateral donors directly to developing country revenue authorities or ministries of finance. This assistance, which often involves upgrading information technology and increasing tax officials’ professional competency, is critical.

But citizen engagement in DRM is also crucial to ensuring that tax policy is fair and reflects the popular will, not just the aims of special interests. Integrating the voices of regular citizens into DRM discussions strengthens citizens’ relationship with their government. Paying and spending tax resources is at the heart of the relationship between citizens and the state.

And engaging local citizens in DRM isn’t just good for transparency, it can also result in more effective DRM assistance, because taxation is inherently political.

As the World Bank states, “Even after the formal tax structure and tax administration are reformed, levels of tax collection can remain unchanged unless there is sustained political will….The political dimension is therefore of paramount importance in any kind of tax and revenue reform.”

While DRM is the most sustainable way to finance the Sustainable Development Goals, it must address both the administrative and the policy shortcomings that undermine the fairness of national and local tax systems. To address equity and fairness, DRM assistance should be inclusive of a range of citizen voices – not just technocratic experts – so that the concerns of vulnerable and marginalized groups are integrated into tax policy.

Supporting Citizen Engagement in DRM

In order to support citizen voices in developing world tax reform, we need better data on the quantity and quality of donor DRM assistance.

To this end, the OECD, through its Creditor Reporting System (CRS) foreign assistance database, created a sub-code for DRM assistance to measure its disbursement by bilateral and multilateral donors. This is a big step forward for measuring DRM assistance, and while the data includes significant limitations, it is now possible to ascertain the contours of donor DRM assistance to the developing world, including assistance that supports greater engagement of local citizens in tax conversations.

But in spite of the new data, the extent to which donors support DRM through empowering local citizen voices has not been extensively analyzed. Using the new DRM sub-code, we can begin to measure donors’ support for local citizens as a percentage of their overall DRM support.

The CRS includes a “channel” variable describing how foreign assistance is disseminated. Using the channel variable, it is possible to disaggregate donor DRM funding by using the “NGO and civil society” channel as a – useful, but imprecise – proxy for DRM assistance to local citizens. For the sake of context, the channel variable includes the following eight options for how donors channel foreign assistance to developing nations:

  • Public sector
  • NGO and civil society
  • Public private partnership
  • Multilateral organizations
  • Teaching institutions
  • Private sector institutions
  • Other
  • Not reported

Lack of Donor Emphasis on DRM Citizen Engagement

Overall, direct support to citizens within the DRM sub-code is quite low compared to other development sectors. In 2015, of the total $191 million in DRM assistance provided by all donors and reported through the CRS, only 3% ($6 million) was channeled to local civil society or NGOs. 

Contrast this with the level of direct support to citizens for all sectors: In 2015, 12% ($21 billion of the total $174 billion) of all foreign assistance was disbursed to local civil society or NGOs – four times greater than the percentage for DRM assistance alone.

US DRM Assistance

The United States was the second largest bilateral DRM donor overall in 2015 with $37 million in disbursements, but like the sector overall, the data indicates that the US could improve in terms of balancing its DRM portfolio with increased citizen engagement activities.

In 2015 the OECD did not record the United States providing any DRM assistance directly to local citizens or NGOs. This statistic is incomplete due to imprecise OECD capture of US DRM projects.  A more detailed investigation of the US DRM portfolio indicates that it has multiple project components dedicated to citizen engagement that do not appear in the OECD data. These projects include:

  • Work with local civil society in Uganda to educate citizens about the importance of local taxation,
  • Support for civic oversight and participation in municipal budgeting in Haiti, and
  • Funding of local civil society organizations to ensure transparency in the use of revenues from extractive operations the in the Philippines

Still, it’s clear that there is room for improvement. USAID Administrator Mark Green has emphasized the importance of US assistance for DRM to help nations finance their own development needs. But to ensure that DRM is inclusive and accountable – and sustainable – the US government and other bilateral and multilateral donors should do more to ensure that DRM assistance supports local citizens’ ability to join tax discussions and advocate for fair and equitable revenue collection.

 

PHOTOS: Hometown Heroes

How do you save the lives of children who would otherwise die of diseases like pneumonia, the number one killer of kids in the developing world? Get a hometown hero on your side.

 

Frontline Health Workers are saving lives every single day in places like Uganda and Kenya, where I traveled just a week or so ago, and in Nepal, Bangladesh and countries all over the world. These workers—predominantly women—are active in their own communities and often have just a basic primary school education. But they are there every day, in the places where kids and moms are dying and can be saved, using common sense and simple tools to save lives. They are given training on how to recognize and treat basic childhood illness like pneumonia and diarrhea that can kill kids if not treated quickly. They need only simple

Hunger Stalks the Children of Africa

I’m back now from my trip to Uganda and Kenya, but the images of the children there keep stealing into my thoughts. Pictures of a tiny boy, 14 months old but looking like 4 months, a fragile little girl with stick arms crying on a small cot, a mother cradling her sick 8-month-old son whose wide eyes follow us as we move from bed to bed in the stabilization center. Most have intravenous ports taped to a foot or a hand. We visited all these children in the center in Habaswein, a dusty town in the northeast part of Kenya some 200km from the Somali border. The sun bakes everything brown, but the stabilization center is mercifully cooler. Ten mothers and their children are there today, on clean but sparse beds arranged in rows, some recovering, most in dire need of help for severe malnutrition and medical complications like pneumonia or diarrhea.

 

I’ll be candid: this is a very tough trip.

 

Our delegation, which includes our Board Chair Anne Mulcahy, Board members Henry McGee and Bill Haber, as well as Henry’s wife and daughter, visit each bed as the head of Save the Children’s health programs here explains the condition of the children. It is hard to concentrate on anything but the kids, so small and thin, some crying, others lying listlessly in the heat. We meet a boy, 13-months-old who has just been brought to the center. He weighs under 7 kilos, or a little over 14lbs. His eyes are half closed and he only responds when his mother picks him up to move him on his tiny blanket. I try to remember when my own sons

Kenya: A Food Revolution in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp

Lane HartillLane Hartill, Director of Media and Communications

Dadaab, Kenya

October 19, 2011


The produce section at Ahmed’s shop is nothing short of impressive. 

Onions as big and red Christmas tree ornaments shine in the sun. Next to them, garlic the size of cats’ heads gaze up at customers. In the next bin, heaps of mangoes doze in the shade, waiting for their turn in a juice machine. On hot days, the juicer is a hit with people ready for smoothies ranging for guava to avocado.

But this is no swank gourmet store in Los Angeles.

It’s a shed in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. The aisles are sand alleys where shoppers weave between dozing donkeys and smoking garbage. 

Dadaab has been here for 20 years and has worn, lived-in feel to it. To cater to the 440,00 refugees living here, markets have sprung up where you can buy everything from slick cell phones to knock-off European perfumes. 

But most shoppers make a beeline for the basics: onions, potatoes, and eggs. It’s a selection many never had in Somalia, a country that’s been on a slow downward slide for years. Food choices, especially in the countryside, have become limited. Most Somalis grew up with only two options: camel meat and camel milk. In a country where, in some places, camels out number people, dinner for many means fried camel meat washed down with sussa, camel milk that is left in the shade to ferment. Some children drink nothing but camel milk for the first few years of their life.  

The food selection in Dadaab for many years wasn’t much better, a meager array of shriveled produce and canned goods. Most people relied on processed food from aid agencies. While it was welcome, it wasn’t satisfying all the nutritional needs of children. That led to frightening rates of malnutrition.

But now, thanks to Save the Children, there’s a food revolution happening in this unlikely place. With financing from the French Government, Save the Children started a program in which vouchers are given to parents with children between 6 and 12 months old to buy fresh food and vegetables from select vendors. Parents receive vouchers worth about $10 a month that they can redeem at 45 vendors throughout the camp. 

The idea? Don’t wait for children to become malnourished and then try to save them. Feed them the right foods during the critical months of their life.  

The project has led to healthier children, and parents are saving money. But maybe most surprising: It brought about an evolution of the Somali palette. And that has led to an increase in profits for businessmen.   

Just ask Noor, the quiet father of nine came to Dadaab in 1993. For years he lived on the food he received in the camp but wished for something else.

“We never liked it, but the circumstances forced us to eat it,” he says. 

In 2005, he opened a shop in the Ifo section of Dadaab camp. Most of his time was spent snoozing the day away, waiting  for customers. He only sold dry goods like salt, powdered milk and rice – the same things most everyone else sold. On an average day, he’d make $1 to $2 profit. 

Now, with the arrival of Save the Children’s fresh food voucher project, there’s a steady stream of shoppers squatting next to his vegetable bins, rifling through tomatoes, oranges and onions.

He goes through, for example, 110 pounds of potatoes and 45 pounds of onions every week. He now makes $10 a day and is using that money to send his son to private school. He’s also constructed a house in Dadaab and he’s expanded his shop. 

What if the voucher program was to stop? Noor shook his head. We would have “absolutely no business at all,” he said. 

The project goes beyond nutrition. For parents to qualify for vouchers, they must show proof that their children were immunized and had their growth monitored at a clinic. This simple strategy has meant more than 50,000 children have been vaccinated and their health is carefully monitored.

Save the Children follows up with parents in the program to make sure they understand nutrition messages. And what foods provide what nutrients. But many parents have never seen pineapples or parsley, and are baffled about how to prepare them. So Save the Children provides cooking demonstrations to moms whose children have qualified for the program. Think Emril Live or Rachel Ray, Dadaab style. 

The fresh food revolution in Dadaab has meant big changes for people like Ahmed Kalif. The former school teacher who speaks solid English has henna-orange hair and gentle demeanor. He points to the giant sacks of potatoes in the back of his shop. He’s become so successful, he says, that he now sells wholesale to other shop keepers in the market.  

“I have 200 customers a day who buy with vouchers,” he says, adding that they buy 150 pounds of potatoes a week and hundreds of eggs. 

One of them is Fatuma Abdi Yussuf, a customer who regularly visits Ahmed. She says the days of bland porridge are over. 

“The moment I bring this into the house,” she says, pointing to her bag of fruits and vegetables, “(the children) fight over it.”

Arfon Yussuf Abdi, a grandmother who frequents Ahmed’s shop, said she was worried because she knew her grandchildren weren’t getting the proper vitamins and minerals. 

But now that she has access to fresh kale—a vegetable with so many micronutrients, it seems like there’s a health food store in every leaf—her grandkids are much healthier. 

“If there was no voucher project,” she says, perusing some potatoes, “I wouldn’t be able to buy this.” 

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Mardya- The One Year Old Fighter

Pcrump

Penelope Crump, Web Writer

Dolo Ado, Ethiopia

August 24, 2011 


When I saw Mardya, my heart sank, then welled up and out to her. Mardya was little bigger than a newborn even though she had already had her first birthday.

The nurse told me she was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition. Despite her serious condition, Mardya was alert and reached for me with her with tiny, thin fingers.

Mardya’s mother died shortly after she was born, leaving her and her five brothers and sisters. Her father was devastated and has been doing his best to care for his six motherless children. All his cows died in the drought – bankrupting the entire family. The loss of the herd also cost Mardya her only source of food. With no mother to nurse her, no cows to milk and no work for her father, Mardya became malnourished.

Mardya_small_300Mardya is cradled by one of Save the Children's health workers
Photo Credit: Penelope Crump/Save the Children

Severely malnourished babies like Mardya risk death due to total organ failure and must receive rehydration, nutrients and medications. Mardya was immediately admitted to a emergency nutrition center. She was fed fortified milk at least 8 times a day with loving care by the wonderful health workers and community volunteers I met at the center. She also received specialized medical care and supplements. She quickly gained two pounds and was released.  

But just a few weeks later, Mardya caught a simple cold and it progressed to pneumonia. Thankfully, a Save the Children-trained health worker found out before it was too late. She was immediately brought back to the emergency center. 

Sadly, Mardya lost all the weight she gained. Pneumonia caused her to rapidly lose muscle and fat, and food at home was still scarce.

In addition to therapeutic feeding, Save the Children nutrition experts recognized that Mardya would need much more support. They identified a community volunteer, a family friend and neighbor, who would help care for Mardya. She will receive more frequent visits and check-ups until she fully recovers.

Part of my heart remains with Mardya and a piece of me wishes I could have stayed to take care of her myself, but I know she is in good hands with my trusted colleagues and new friends in Ethiopia.

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The 5 People You Meet In A Refugee Camp

Lane Hartill

Lane Hartill, Director of Media and Communications

Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya

August 23, 2011 


After a week in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, I realized something:  Aid workers work day and night.

I’d wander over to the office at night and someone would be leaning into their computer, face aglow.  There’s not a lot to do here in during down time. I asked a colleague what she did to unwind. “I listen to loud music,” she said flatly. Some retreat to quiet corners and Skype with family members far away. Others run around the perimeter of the United Nations compound, calves burning as they churn through the soft sand.

What did I do? I stretched out in my tent and made lists. I have one in front of me now. It’s all the people I met in Dadaab.

I’d  like you to meet five of them. Their stories are the jaw droppers you hear in the camp. But their spirit, drive and kindness are the qualities that you see in the camp but rarely read about.

  1. Hussein has resilience. I met the 13 year old Somali boy sitting outside of the Save the Children office. He’d recently arrived in the camp and was living with a sister. He tried out his limited English with me, then we fell into a conversation about airplanes based solely on sign language. It was clear that his sister was having a hard time supporting him. His T-shirt was badly stained and his pants didn’t fit.  He shined shoes in the market, a smart business move given the constant blowing dust and sand. He happily showed me a scar on his leg he got from thugs in Somalia. Despite his tough life, he was all smiles. Save the Children was helping him and he’d just received a new red T-shirt.
  2. Noor has perseverance. He’s the proud owner of the "Praise God" boutique in Ifo market, a spacious zinc shed with piles of tomatoes and onions on display. Not long ago, before he got involved in the Save the Children fresh food voucher project, Noor was struggling. Customers weren’t buying his paltry selection of dry goods. Even he admits, his selection stunk. He’d make around $2 profit on a good day. Not exactly enough money to feed nine children. But now, thanks to Save the Children, he makes $10 a day and customers flock to him for his potatoes, tomatoes and onions. Save the Children’s fresh food voucher projects has changed his life.
  3. Najib has a personality that won’t quit. I met him at the child friendly space in Hagadera. He was clearly the big man on campus despite the fact he didn’t weigh 40 pounds. He had a personality that filled the room and dance moves that would make Justin Timberlake jealous. And not an ounce of stage fright. He belted out Somali tunes, while strutting in front of a crowd of fans (kids sitting on the floor).  And just think: Not long ago, Najib arrived alone in the camp. The child friendly space has brought him out of his shell.  Najib, I could tell, has a bright future.
  4. Rose has patience. She runs Save the Children’s Dadaab operation. She’s makes decisions that affect the lives of thousands of refugees every day. These challenges would send weaker women running for the comforts of the city. But Rose is never crabby or flustered. She’s passing this cool demeanor on to her children. Consider this: Her 4-year-old daughter, who is cared for by a relative while Rose is in Dadaab, saw hungry Kenyans on TV and refused food. She had enough food, she declared, and wanted to give it to those in need. Rose convinced her people in need were being helped, that she needed to eat. She relented. One thing is clear: she has her mom’s heart.
  5. Ibrahim has heart. Ibrahim Adan, 48, is a wiry man who favors T-shirts and sarongs, the typical outfit for many Somali men. He grew up in Somalia and used to raise camels, goats and cattle. But the conflict drove him to Kenya in the early 1990s. He now sells chickens in the market in Dadaab.  But sit with Ibrahim for a while and you realize his real skill is parenting. And multitasking. One child swings in his sarong like a hammock, while Ibrahim disciplines another outside and answers questions from a guest. He’s been a foster parent for Save the Children for the last few years. He has five children of his own and four foster children.  Why does he foster kids?  Growing up in Somalia his parents were foster parents to 12 children. “Now I’m on the same path,” Ibrahim told me. “Whether you are a Christian or a Muslim,” he told me, “When you see someone suffering, you need to step in and help.”

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Adjusting to Life in a Refugee Camp

David Klauber

David Klauber, Save the Children Intern

Dolo Ado Refugee Transit Center, Ethiopia

August 19, 2011 


Magala Hafow, 34, has lived in Ethiopia for exactly 23 days.  She is one of the thousands of Somali refugees who have fled their home to seek food and safety in the refugee camps across the Ethiopian border. The journey from Somalia to Ethiopia often entails great peril for asylum seekers who must walk for days on end to reach the border with little food and water.  For Magala, this journey was particularly scary.  She is the mother of three boys, ages 4, 5, and 10, and is five months pregnant. While giving birth to her 5-year-old, she developed a severe eye problem, which has deteriorated to the extent that she cannot see well. She says that she is gradually going blind. 

But despite these tremendous obstacles, deciding to make the difficult journey from their home to Ethiopia was very simple. “We came here because I was scared for my children,” she says. “It was the only option we had. Because of the drought there is no food in Somalia; children were dying of hunger.  I just want to get food and medicine for my children.”  She describes witnessing the landscape around her small town, Kasa Hadere, transform into desert over the course of the past few months.  Her husband, a farmer, had become very ill and could not work and Magala’s sight had deteriorated to such a state that she could no longer work either.  

MRS._MAGALA_2_92453Magala and her sons.
Photo Credit: David Klauber/Save the Children

Though Magala and her family have now made it to Ethiopia, their journey remains unfinished.  She and her sons have been living in the temporary intake centers in Dolo Ado where asylum seekers are registered and granted official status as refugees.  The refugee camps, 30 miles away, have been so overburdened by the massive surge of arriving refugees that they can no longer accommodate any more people.  The construction of a new camp is underway but in the meantime Magala and her family must continue to live in the transit center where nearly 11,000 other refugees are waiting to be registered and relocated.

Recognizing the dire health status of arriving refugees such as Magala and her boys and the delays they face in reaching the refugee camps, Save the Children has initiated a feeding program in the refugee transit and registration centers.  The program provides two daily meals for all children aged 5 and younger. Magala explains how important this service is because the only other food offered to refugees at the center is difficult for her boys to eat.  “This is the only option we have now. My children are not able to eat the other food that is provided here because they are not used to it and makes them sick. So I take them here to Save Children’s tent where they can eat and also get milk.  I am so appreciative of the feeding program.  They have now started eating again and I am so relieved.” 

Magala still worries about her sons as she watches them struggle to adapt to such a new and harsh environment.  “The children are afraid. We were not from an urban area.  They are not used to being around so many people so they are having a very hard time mixing with the other children.  But I am hopeful that they will become more settled when we get to the refugee camps.”  Magala says that she is also feeling hope for her unborn child and the chance for new life in Ethiopia.  “I’m expecting I can get medicine for my eyes here and that my children can have food, milk, medicine, and schooling.  This is all I want.”

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Abdi’s New Life – Part 2

CAROLYN_MILES_HEAD_SHOT_062001 Carolyn Miles, President & CEO-elect

Hagadera Refugee Camp, Kenya

August 18, 2011


When we last left Carolyn, she had just met Abdi, a 13-year-old boy who travelled to Kenya alone

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On his first day in Hagadera, the day before we met him, Abdi was wandering in the market. "My husband found him crying and stopped to talk to him.  He told him he was alone and his parents had died" said the young woman named Nimo who lives here. "He brought him home to me and now we are caring for him".

I could not help but think how generous these people were.  They lived in a small mud and stick house with a simple open kitchen made of sticks and yet they were willing to take in this little lost boy who needed everything.  I asked Nimo to tell me a bit more about how she came to be in Hagedera camp.

"I came here several months ago from Somalia with my husband because there was so much war," she said sadly.  When I asked about her other children she told me that her first child, born in Somalia, had died from "disease" at 7-months.  Probably something that could be prevented but given the horrific state of healthcare in Somalia, likely the child never saw a doctor or healthworker at all.  I understood a little better why this young couple had wanted to take Abdi in.

As she spoke with us, Nimo kept glancing at Abdi to check that he was okay. She patted his knee to reassure him as we talked.  Nimo told us she wanted to take care of him and we asked what he needed.  "A mattress and supplies so he can go to school next month" she said.  These are things Save the Children will provide, along with the support we give to families who are willing to foster children while we look for their parents or relatives.  Since Abdi's parents are dead, we will search for realtives here in Kenya.

In the meantime, Save the Children staff will come back to visit Nimo, her husband and Abdi regularly to make sure the arrangement is really working and to provide parent and child counseling, help in enrolling him in school, and access to healthcare.

As we said goodbye, I hoped that Abdi would finally find a home where he would be safe in Hagedera.  We asked him if he had yet met any of the curious children peeking through the fence at us and he shook his head.  "He will soon play with them" said Nimo with a smile.  "When he is ready, he will make new friends here".

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Abdi’s New Life – Part 1

CAROLYN_MILES_HEAD_SHOT_062001 Carolyn Miles, President & CEO-elect

Hagadera Refugee Camp, Kenya

August 17, 2011


Today we traveled to one of the camps to meet with Abdi, a shy 13-year-old boy with bright dark eyes and a tough story with a happy ending. I thought how young and small he looked, remembering my own towering son at 13.  We sat outside on straw mats, huddled close to the mud wall for some shade from the afternoon sun and spoke wIth Abdi and the woman who lived here about his journey from Somalia and his new life in Kenya.

With his head hung, he told us that both his parents had died in Somalia, first his mother and then his father.  An uncle had taken him in and then in a desparate bid to get Abdi to a better life away from famine and civil war, had paid for him to travel alone for several days on a truck, packed with other Somalis, along bone-jarring roads.  He arrived at Hagadera camp on his own knowing not one single person.

We had met Abdi the day before at the registration center where Save the Children staff meet unaccompanied children and help get them food, supplies, clothing and most of all a foster family where they can stay while we try to trace parents or any relatives.

We got him what he needed and then staff started to work to find him a place to stay.

As we heard today from his kindly new care giver, it turns out Abdi thankfully had already started his new life with some luck

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