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When Does Beneficial Ownership Transparency Improve Revenue Collection? Three Considerations for Developing Countries

By Wilson Prichard

Recent years have witnessed an accelerating push to expand access to information on the beneficial ownership of corporate entities. Those making the push seek to bring greater transparency to multinational tax strategies, identify personal tax-evading wealth held overseas and combat global networks of criminality and corruption. There is enormous potential for these efforts to contribute to improvements in tax collection in low-income countries. However, there are also significant reasons to worry that this potential may not be fully realized in practice.

There is an increasingly evident need for those involved in these debates to more systematically assess whether expected benefits are likely to be realized in practice. Without such as assessment, tax authorities in low-income countries — and their supporters — have a harder time gauging how much to invest priority resources in supporting, and advancing, these efforts, and related initiatives around Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) and Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS).

Each of these things may hold true. But there is growing reason to worry that, for low-income countries, they may not (including due to the failure of OECD countries to do their part in generating and sharing beneficial ownership data). The most urgent need is correspondingly for systematic, publicly available, research and data to assist low-income countries and their allies to assess the extent of likely benefits, cost, and timelines. In turn, in so far as the realization of these benefits is uncertain, or costly, it makes sense for those same actors to at least consider potential alternative paths forward and clarify the strategies most likely to serve the interests of low-income interests.

Wilson Prichard is an Associate Professor jointly appointed to the Department of Political Science and the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. He is also a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, and a Research Director of the International Centre for Tax and Development.

TAI donor members seek to support the development of more inclusive and equitable tax governance. Under our Taxation and Tax Governance work stream, we explore the potential of creating beneficial ownership registers in enhancing domestic resource mobilization and ending anonymous shell companies. This policy brief has been produced with support from TAI.

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