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Taxpayer Rights as Human Rights: Registration is open for the 6th International Conference on Taxpayer Rights

Posted on Sep. 21, 2021

Back in pre-pandemic days, the Center for Taxpayer Rights planned to hold its 5th International Conference on Taxpayer Rights (ICTR) at the University of Pretoria in South Africa in October 2020. We had a fascinating theme – Taxpayer Rights, Human Rights: Issues for Developing Countries. We’d pulled together a great group of panelists, the locations in Pretoria were terrific, there was lots of excitement.

And then COVID hit. We postponed the conference to October 2021, hoping we would be able to be there in-person. Unfortunately, that is not to be; the University is pretty much operating remotely, and travel is restricted on the African continent.

But we are not deterred – the Center is holding the 6th ICTR online, from 05 to 08 October, 2021. We will be having two panels a day, to accommodate all the different time zones. The Conference will kick off with a free online workshop on 05 October on The Role of Tax Clinics and Taxpayer Ombuds/Advocates in Protecting Taxpayer Rights. You can see the agenda here. And you can register for the conference here.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, this is not for me; I don’t practice tax law in a developing country. Here are a few reasons why you might want to attend this conference. First of all, I have to say that I have spent a lot of time over the last two decades meeting and working with different tax administrations; there are many things the US can learn from other tax agencies and systems, especially in terms of taxpayer service, technology, data use, and online accounts. Developing countries often aren’t weighted down with legacy systems that require Rube Goldberg-like workarounds. Every time I met with folks from another country’s tax agency, I learned something new about tax administration and also about my own country’s tax system vis a vis theirs. This information is helpful when trying to improve our own system.

But there is a more important reason to focus on the issues raised when thinking about taxpayer rights as human rights in the context of developing countries. Unlike developed countries, which have established tax systems and administrative structures, and a fairly high level of voluntary compliance, developed countries are … developing those things. They cannot take anything for granted. Most of them have emerged from colonial (read paternalistic/infantilizing) regimes. They are wrestling with pandemics, unemployment, droughts, civil war and strife. And they are trying to meet the basic needs of their population and provide them some human dignity.

Human dignity is at the heart of human rights.  And human dignity is the rationale behind government – that together we can meet the needs of the populace.  The United Nations has established 17 Sustainable Development Goals that governments should seek to achieve.  Governments must have funds to fulfill those goals and meet the needs of their people.  Developing countries often have young constitutions, with explicit recognition of human rights and the social contract between the government and its citizens.  Taxation is a key means for a state to fulfill that social contract.  These countries are wrestling with elemental principles that developed countries take for granted.  By taking them for granted, developed countries often forget why taxation exists – they forget first principles.

So, to that end, I encourage you to register for and attend the 6th International Conference on Taxpayer Rights. It should be fascinating and give cause for reflection about our own status as a “developed” country.

Here’s the link for more information about and to register for the conference.

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