The development of the Fair Tax Monitor was an organic process and numerous changes were made to improve the research framework and the methodology using the feedback from numerous consultations. In the process, we encountered various challenges that shaped the project’s final outcome. The challenges were mainly technical difficulties, issues with time limitation and problems in properly incorporating certain topics into the framework. We strive to overcome these issues in the future and we therefore welcome any suggestions and recommendations.

  1. Research process
    As in every research project, assumptions are made and they can turn out to be insufficient. Therefore, even though the country report was already in the final stages, adjustments had to be made. As a result, certain data and statements lack more detailed analyses, although they deserve to be explored further.

  2. Data availability
    Great difficulties were encountered in terms of data availability, especially when it comes to diseggregated data. The researchers writing the country report faced challenges with lengthy procedures in requesting the data available only upon request, as well as with the aggregated nature of the data, which hindered further analyses.

  3. Comparability
    The design and structure of tax systems differ from country to country, which makes it a challenge to compare and classify. This problem was anticipated and therefore we tried to prevent confusions in terminology in advance as we provided a glossary with potentially unclear expressions. However, certain differences where noticed only when the country reports were finalized.

  4. Gap between policies and practices
    When it comes to taxes, there is a significant gap between policies and their practical implementation. Thanks to the knowledge and experience of the researchers, certain differences were identified, incorporated into the methodology and reflected in the final scores. However, it was not possible to address all topics from the perspective of policy and practice, and therefore additional information accompanying the scores provide further insights in the cases where differences between theory and practice were identified.

  5. Benchmarking
    Finding the right benchmarks while developing the scoring methodology is very difficult, since there is a variety of opinion on what ‘fair’ taxation means. We opted for scoring the trend rather than finding a fixed benchmark evaluating the current state. This allows us to monitor the progress countries made.

  6. Public spending
    One of the main purposes of taxation is to collect revenue and to redistribute it among the population. It is therefore inseparably connected to the expenditure side of the budget. That is why the category ‘pro-poor government spending’ is included in the methodology and the research framework. We acknowledge that the depth is limited; however there are existing tools that assess government expenditures and this way duplicating work is avoided.

  7. Gender
    Another theme that needs to be improved in the research framework and methodology is gender. Gender justice[3] and the strengthening of the position and rights of women is one of the core values of Oxfam and TJN-A. However, we struggled with the question of how to add genuine and valuable gender components to the FTM.During our discussions around tax and gender we came to the conclusion that there are two issues at the root of our struggle. First of all the difficulty of defining what exactly constitutes a fair tax system from a gender perspective, and secondly designing the specific research questions and indicators that would be helpful in assessing this issue. With regards to defining a gender-fair tax system, we felt strongly influenced by the so-called “taxpayer neutral approach”. This approach is based on the belief that identity characteristics (gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, ethnicity, etc) should not play a role in designing tax policies. As such tax policies should only take financial positions into account (income, wealth) and not identity issues. The approach reflects a commitment to equality of opportunity and the desirability of an identity-blind society[4] as it upholds the principle of “equality before the law”. In this light, any suggestion that tax policy should treat men and women differently is directly contrary to the principle of equity.On the other hand, the taxpayer neutral approach carries a significant disadvantage. As it does not consider identity characteristics important, it also does not attempt to evaluate the potential unequal impact of tax measures based on demographic differences among taxpayers. The lived reality of many women around the world shows that tax policies often do carry both explicit and implicit negative biases. Explicit biases are often easy to identify as these tax provisions discriminate outright against women. Implicit biases are not made evident just by analyzing a tax code, but become apparent when analyzing the real impact of certain tax policies. It is thus crucial for policy makers, civil society organizations and (I)NGOs to understand that taxation can have a clear interaction with gender norms in a society. What is taxed in a society, and how, always reflects a multitude of social, political, ideological and philosophical choices and ideas.We therefore acknowledge the importance of doing research on the previously mentioned biases in the tax design and to make sure that a tax system disadvantages nobody. At this point, however, we do not think that the tax system should also be used to address the overall gender inequality that is present in society. We believe that the gender inequality that exists in a society, beyond a non-discriminating and non-biased tax system, should be further addressed through the expenditure side of the fiscal system, e.g. social protection programmes and targeted subsidies.With regards to this edition of the FTM, even though we are aware of the fact that the implicit biases built into the tax systems often disadvantage women (and other disadvantaged groups), the difficulty of formulating concrete indicators, the lack of disaggregated data and the lack of concrete research findings have led to an unsatisfactory coverage of this issue in the FTM’s research. We hope that our 2016 FTM work will enhance discussions on tax (research) and gender, and will help design improved gender indicators that can be included in the common research framework to be used in future editions.

Following these challenges, multiple efforts have been made to address them. Two face-2-face meetings have been held during the FTM process, as well as multiple skype-meetings with the international team of Oxfam and TJN-A - aimed at overcoming the challenges and improving our approach.

FTM Meeting 1 @Entebbe, Uganda - 6,7 and 8th of November 2017
The participants decided on adaptations and reformulations of the scoring questions, specifically adding substance to the gender analysis and explored ways to include “greening” of the tax system in the research methodology. Following the Entebbe workshop, a small group worked on the recommendations from the meeting and developed the final draft of the CRF and scoring methodology which countries are currently using to finalize their research. A number of issues coming out of the Entebbe workshop have been “parked” and will be taken up during the 2018 review taking place between April and October 2018.

FTM Meeting 2 @Den Haag, the Netherlands - 25, 26 and 27th of February 2019
The main purpose of this meeting was to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of FTM methodology (Common Research Framework) by incorporating the adaptations to the methodology resulting from the 2018 September Face-to-face meeting (F2F) and the following online consultations. Some specific areas of attention were translating research into advocacy, and writing country reports in a concise manner. At the same time we tackled the above mentioned challenges:

  • Per chapter we have added questions to address the gender bias. This way, gender discrimination in tax will be revealed in the scores of a country and its report.

  • We have also paid extra attention to the public spending chapter, and have added more scoring questions. As public spending is crucial for sustainable development we thought it deserved a more elaborate assessment.

  • We decided to add an extra document: a How-to-Guide for the researchers writing the country report. This way, he/she can be guided step-by-step along the way, and it enhances comparability of country reports.

  • We also decided to change the research process: instead of writing the country report first and then do the scoring – the researcher first attempts to fill in the scoring questions and after that he writes the country report. This way, the country report will be more complete and the scores are better supported in the country report. The improved common research framework and methodology that are now more gender sensitive, will be applied for 2019-2020 research.

  • We are currently working on a gender paper, that elaborately explores the gendered nature of  taxes. This should also be of help not only to the researchers writing the country report, but for many other policymakers outside the FTM.

By regularly revising our approach we hope to deliver high-quality country reports, while keeping it concise and comparable.