From Washington 67 to Zoom 2020

To look out the windows, at the desolate streets at four o’clock on any Saturday afternoon has become a routine; something certainly exceptional, but which threatens to linger on. Within a short time frame, we will move from isolation to distancing, and little by little, at different paces, many of us will return to our working areas, although there is little probability that we will return to our working methods.

I do not know whether the upholders, come what may, of the need to maintain said “personal space” in the labor environment shall feel that they have achieved a Pyrrhic victory. After all, it is very probable that the famous one and a half meter will be with us for some time and that the hugs and kisses when meeting will be restrained, not so much because of a sensation of what is or not appropriate, but because objectively, they increase the risk of infection.

This will undoubtedly bring about, a reduction, hopefully temporary, of meetings, sessions, seminars, congresses, conventions and other stuff. Is it worth asking how many meeting rooms will be discarded in advance as obsolete? Let’s hope they will not be many. The concentration of intelligent people in the same place and at the same time, has always been a generating motor of decisive things that always set a before and an after, things which have allowed humanity to take magnitudinous leaps. It was thus in ancient Athens, in the Renaissance in Florence, la Belle Epoque in Paris, or presently, in Silicon Valley in California.

Somehow, said spirit has accompanied CIAT since its very creation. It precisely originated in a meeting, in Washington in 1967 and since then, year after year, it has maintained its General Assembly, hosted by fantastic cities of the continent. In every Assembly we have held our administrative meeting, of course, but it has fundamentally been the space for the exchange of opinions and experiences in the technical sessions, to inspire ourselves by the achievements of some and learning from the lessons learned, generously shared by others. In addition to those meetings there have been technical conferences, meetings of the working networks and mechanisms for sharing experiences and strengthening capacities, such as seminars and face-to-face courses. We have also maintained working spaces with colleagues from other organizations to facilitate and promote those exchanges beyond our borders.

Today, more than yesterday, undoubtedly, we precisely need to strengthen and facilitate those spaces, for the exchange, not only of experiences, but of new ideas. The challenges we have before us demand it. After all, paraphrasing A. V. Banerjee and Esther Dulfo “what is important is not only how many intelligent people work with you, but also, how many intelligent people compete with you or turn out to be close”[1].

Undoubtedly, many of those challenges will be on the side of tax policy. What to tax, who to tax, for what purposes?, becomes urgent rather than important. In different latitudes more and less orthodox proposals are being developed to face the problem with tax measures in the post-COVID-19. However, others will appear on the side of the tax administration which to the known aspects of facilitating and controlling, it will be necessary to add the skill for implementing the new policy measures in an environment wherein, at the same time, many taxpayers will require exceptional support and facilities. Governments will also require exceptional resources for facing the health crisis and the reconstruction of the economies, while some taxpayers, hopefully, the least, devote their effort and wits to evade their contribution through that other mutant virus called “tax noncompliance”. Thus, sharing experiences, exchanging ideas and openly collaborating, even though this must take place in other formats, becomes essential.

This is the way we have been working. In this period of isolation, we have maintained open communications with our member countries and with other organizations such as OECD and IOTA in order, for example, to facilitate the knowledge of the Tax Administration Responses to COVID-19: Measures Taken to Support Taxpayers / 2020 or the considerations regarding the Tax Administration Responses to COVID-19: Business continuity considerations / 2020; we disseminated the best efforts of several administrations to use the information on electronic invoicing in times of pandemic to fine tune efforts in the support to the taxpayers and citizens; in collaboration with our network of tutors we are offering a series of free training courses (Spanish, English and Portuguese) and on-line conferences, whose recording may be visualized through our channel in YouTube  in real time and subsequently; in May and June we will be developing another series of virtual conferences in English. Additionally, two books were published in English, in this period: “ICT as a Strategic Tool to Leapfrog the Efficiency of Tax Administrations” and the “Cocktail of measures for the control of harmful transfer pricing manipulation, focused within the context of low income and developing countries / 2019”.

By the way, this proposal of setting up courses and conferences in electronic media in a multiplatform optics will certainly become one of those things that will allow us to contribute to restoring the situation to normal.

Today, we sadly admit that almost all of us are in isolation and we are not, as we would have liked, holding the technical meetings of our General Assembly in the Dominican Republic. However, this April 30, for the first time in our history, the CIAT Executive Council will be holding a virtual meeting. The councilors and directors of the Executive Secretariat will be connected from more than ten countries. Also, we will shortly be holding the virtual administrative session with our member countries.

For some, it shall be resilience; for others, the obstinacy so that things may maintain some sense of normality; but for all, it is a call to continue cooperating, exchanging, sharing ideas and experiences, successes and failures. Today, we do not know in which webinar, virtual meeting or post we shall find the inspiring idea that will help us to do things better, find space so that this sort of destruction, although unavoidable, may turn out to be creative.

Best regards and good luck.

[1] From the book: “Good Economics for Hard Times”, 2019.

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Disclaimer. Readers are informed that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author's employer, organization, committee or other group the author might be associated with, nor to the Executive Secretariat of CIAT. The author is also responsible for the precision and accuracy of data and sources.

1 comment

  1. Socorro Velazquez Reply

    All good points and well taken. I agree with Antonio Seco (comment in the Spanish version of the blog) that technology will not replace the social interaction that these meetings provide. At some point, we will strike a balance; some meetings where members are physically present and others via virtual technology. I suspect that in human history there have been numerous events that have forced us to “think outside the box.” And possibly, as a result of necessity, creativity has allowed us to build better ways of doing things. This may be just that opportunity.

    I don’t see physically present meetings going away. But after experimenting the last few weeks with technology that affords virtual meetings, maybe we’ll have a way to communicate in a more “present” fashion when one can not make a meeting. Possibly, some will be completely virtual meetings, like the upcoming ones the blog describes, and others may be a mix of both models; afford the opportunity to be present for those members that were unable to travel and attend a meeting. From a “save the planet” perspective, maybe the virtual meetings may help reduce the carbon footprint.

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