Oddny and the Rohingya

Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Psalm 82:2-4

The psalmist’s cry was on Oddny Gumaer’s heart when she recounted the suffering of the Rohingya women she met in Malaysia recently.

The Rohingya women, men and children have fled from the brutalities of oppression and poverty in their homeland, Burma (Myanmar). Not only have they been persecuted and oppressed by their own government, but they have been left undefended by the rest of the world.

In Burma, the Rohingya, a minority group of a million people, are not eligible for full citizenship unless they can meet stringent requirements including tracing their family history in Myanmar back over 150 years. Violence in Rakine state where most Rohingya live has meant that nearly 200,000 are existing in squalid displaced persons camps. Escape across the border seems like a lifeline for the families.

But as undocumented refugees in Malaysia and Thailand, they are still hungry and desperately needy, with no rights to work, no adequate housing and no access to a doctor. Oddny tells me, “They are also fearful because they have no guarantees that they won’t get detained by the police, and either sent back to Burma, or trafficked.”

One young mother’s story has stayed with Oddny. At 19, barely more than a girl, Mawi was forced to work as a slave by the Burma Army. When they threatened to imprison her for reasons she wasn’t told, she ran away to Malaysia.

She has no legal papers, which makes her a target of the police as well as human traffickers. Pregnant and unemployed, Mawi was detained by Malaysian immigration police two years ago. A bribe got her out of prison.

Her son is now 2 years old and she is six months pregnant. Some months ago a car hit Mawi’s husband and son as they were crossing the road. The driver ran off, leaving her husband critically wounded on the road. He is now handicapped and may never be able to work again.

Mawi doesn’t know how her family is going to survive. Without a UN registration card she has no legal right to medical help, so she doesn’t know where and how she will deliver her baby. The family has no income at all and depends on their neighbours’ charity to survive. She is not able to work since she has no legal papers, and also because she will need to look after her two children. She is constantly afraid that she will get arrested. She is frequently hassled by hospital staff telling her that they still owe money for her husband’s treatment.

Oddny has met many women in similar situations but still, Mawi’s desperate need has left her feeling hopeless. She says,

“I found myself feeling desperate, angry and confused. Why wouldn’t God provide justice for them?”

“Why is it always the most vulnerable that keep getting the bad deals? Where are the ones who will speak for them? When will the world decide that every human is valuable, not just the ones with the loudest mouths and the fattest bank accounts? Where is the church?”

Oddny has channelled her desperate confusion into work among the victims of poverty and violence for 20 years. She is the founder and advocacy director of Partners Relief and Development.

She does not let despair conquer her but at the same time she wants more people to become advocates for the poor of Burma where half a million people have fled their homes and where only 4% of children in some areas are in school.

What EXPOSED has achieved

We wanted to go beyond “Is it legal?” to “Would God be pleased with my decisions?”

Brisbane has returned to the everyday as 3,000 media, 6,000 policemen and 20 world leaders exit. I was lucky enough to hear David Cameron and Tony Abbott at their press conferences and saw the Obama motorcade leave the conference.

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Thanks so much for following my blogs about the G20. The EXPOSED campaign landed in Australia after three years of prayer, coalition building, research and planning ideas.

What have we all achieved in that time?

I think I’d give the G20 7/10 and a B minus for effort.

Definitely worth the effort though because we represented the voices of ordinary people – church communities, small and medium size business people and development groups – who want to end the blight of unequal growth and selfish greed.

Information and education. We talked about the C word (corruption) in all sorts of contexts so that millions learned the extent, complexities and injustice of the problem around the world. 

We produced theological material and a report called Open for ServiceWe encouraged prayers of confession and prayer for leaders.

We sought out stories of transformation as we wanted to bring light and hope. Remember Biship Zac in Uganda, whistleblower Michelle Harding in South Africa and work across Nepal on integrity?

Our toolkits addressed corruption in the church and business. And the Global Call recognised that G20 governments needed to act.

Campaigning actions. EXPOSED has always been a call to churches, business and government to model integrity and transparency, that goes beyond “Is it legal?” to “Would God be pleased with my decisions?” We achieved *1000 vigils, *147,700 signatures on the Global Call in 176 nations, *hundreds of Selfies with a message for Australia’s Treasurer, *the Open Letter from 95 global Christian leaders representing a billion Christians, and *the world’s biggest mock tax haven event

Policy. As a global campaign calling for integrity in business and government we explained that funds could be freed for the poorest communities in the world if we dealt with corrupt and unethical practices. Extra funds from taxes could also be used to encourage business growth and employment opportunities in all nations.

We tried hard to make the policies accessible and to give real world examples from topical issues like corruption in sport, fashion and the oil industry in Nigeria.

Did we succeed in seeing policy change? The G20 committed to ongoing work to addressing all the policies at the heart of the Campaign – global tax dodging and corruption.

There’s still more steps to take but that is the beauty and curse of the G20 – small enough to have honest discussions but large enough for those discussions to end in general promises that need meaty detail at the national level.

G20 nations have agreed to share tax related information with each other and have established high level principles for ensuring that more is known about the true owners and beneficiaries of anonymous companies and trusts. In a bid to consider the interests of low-income countries, the G20 have also communicated plans to support the administrative skills and systems of developing countries’ tax systems through ‘capacity-building’.

So there have been definite steps towards the light of transparency.

Thanks for playing your part.

What do we really want the G20 to do?

Saturday – 1st day of the Summit

My last blog was mainly images, this one mainly words but they’re good, so bear with me.

EXPOSED has always been about a call to churches, business and government to model integrity and transparency, that goes beyond “Is it legal?” to “Would God be pleased with my decisions?”

18 months after we launched, and after….

*1000 vigils, *147,700 signatures on the Global Call, *hundreds of Selfies, an *Open Letter from 94 global Christian leaders representing a billion Christians, AND the *world’s biggest mock tax haven event…..

we are waiting to see how the G20 will take action on issues that affect us all – tax evasion and corruption.

Good governance is vital to all of us – business people, families, teachers, judges. And to do an effective job, governments need tax income.

But corruption robs us all of funds for public services. And the biggest form of ‘corrupt’ practice is tax evasion. Much of it is on the edge of legality but we all know it’s wrong. Australia’s Treasurer, Joe Hockey, calls it “theft” and Tim Costello, chair of the Brisbane C20 and CEO of World Vision, asked this week why tax havens are allowed to exist when they do so much harm.

And here’s how unethical practice affects the poor.

In Sierra Leone, they are fighting Ebola with few resources. But, according to OECD sherpa, Gabriela Ramos, (in the centre of the photo) six international companies operating there enjoy tax breaks that are equivalent to 800% of the country’s health budget.

In other words, aggressive tax deals (it’s called the race to the bottom) mean that Sierra Leone is missing out on trained health workers and health infrastructure which in turn has exacerbated their Ebola crisis.

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That is why we are in Brisbane (basking in 38° today!) with the signatures, the tax haven media stunt, overseas friends from the Philippines and France and the involvement of hundreds of locals. We take seriously the words of Job in Chapter 24,

There are those who move boundary stones;
    they pasture flocks they have stolen.
They drive away the orphan’s donkey
    and take the widow’s ox in pledge.
They thrust the needy from the path
    and force all the poor of the land into hiding. …..

[God] may let them rest in a feeling of security,
    but his eyes are on their ways.
For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone;
    they are brought low and gathered up like all others;
    they are cut off like heads of grain.

We want less greed and more good.

For those still reading, this is the ABC of what we are hoping will be included in the communique tomorrow:

Automatic information exchange of tax information between governments. This has been endorsed by all G20 nations to be implemented by 2018.

BEPS is corporations reporting openly who benefits from profits and payments so the real beneficiaries are known. It is also about stopping companies shifting profits and costs among subsidiaries to avoid tax. This will be going ahead under guidance from the OECD over the next 3 years and more and more multinationals are supporting this move.

Country by country reporting is companies reporting exactly where they make profits rather than supplying global figures. Developing countries may not have the where withal to comply if the deal is only ‘reciprocal’. The OECD has released a template that could be a global standard.

Please pray for the communique process. Pray for the will to see the rules applied for the benefit of all.

G20 in pictures

November 13th and the helicopters are buzzing, the police are swarming and Brisbane is waiting to be stung by motorcades and searches.

That’s the media view.

Here are some images from the last 2 days that tell my G20 story.

IMG_0031  C20. Buzz words: inclusive development

IMG_2984 Selfies. Buzz words: Shine the light

IMG_3047 Kms of fencing. Buzz word: security

IMG_3048 3,000 media. buzz words: growth, Putin, protest

IMG_3041 Police. Buzz word: everywhere!

IMG_3044 The weather. Buzz words: too darn hot!

Shape business for God and good

Yesterday was a great day at City Hall in the heart of Brisbane.    IMG_3028                  IMG_3031

An unusual bunch gathered – business people with a wide range of experience; academics, pastors, lawyers, policy analysts and G20 watchers.

We had a couple of things in common: a desire to encourage the best standards in business at every level following God’s values, so that the whole community can flourish; and we wanted to use the G20 presence in Brisbane as an opportunity to explore some of the global injustices that hold back enterprise and development.

When we started the EXPOSED campaign we wanted to engage business people who see their work as mission to take the lead in integrity and provide positive models for the community. We did not want to bash business (or the G20). We just want business to be as effective, honest and successful as possible.

Mats Tunehag from the Business As Mission think tank summed up the important economic role of business in one statistic, “SMEs (small and medium sized business) provide as much as 90% of a nation’s tax base.”

So the vexed question of multinationals aggressively avoiding tax through base erosion (shifting profits around the world to the places where tax is lowest eg 1% in Luxembourg) was immediately relevant to all the business guys at the meeting – they want to do the right thing and feel that complex rules hem them in; but rules are needed to control rampant greed and unethical behaviour.

Professor Graeme Cooper, taxation specialist from Sydney University told us that tax is beautiful because it’s complex and it’s too important to leave to the politicians alone. Yesterday we affirmed that and decided to take personal and communal action because tax affects us all and is vital to development.

The highlights of the day for me?

1. Graham Power telling his story of making the radical decision to step away from corrupt business practice, when God convicted him.

2. the total agreement from everyone that business is not just profit – it must pursue financial, intellectual, cultural, social and spiritual good.

3. the statement that we produced together setting out what we want to see and how. It’s being finalised today but paragraph 2 says,

“As Christian business people committed to integrity, the highest quality service and proper use of all resources, we applaud the plans of G20 to institute effective global rules on tax and business transparency.”

Thanks to the ‘unusual bunch’ for a great day.

G20 events underway – it’s good to be in the public square

November 9th

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Micah Challenge actions at the G20 have got off to a great start.

Reddacliffe Sq at the end of Queen St Mall became a mock tax haven, the world’s biggest mock tax haven in fact!

Because it was actually the first G20 ‘protest’ and because the team in Australia had done such a brilliant job, all the national TV stations were there plus AAP, radio stations and the Guardian online.We were on ALL evening news bulletins (national for 9,10, SBS and ABC), plus heaps of online news. I was on Channel 9 news for about 4 seconds!

The ‘tax heaven’ was very visual bright and humorous – but what the media were interested in was “protest” – would there be trouble?

If you believe the police and officials, the city is in for a torrid time – the big fences began going up yesterday – but our ‘protest’ set the tone for an event that was strong on facts, passion and positive asks, not just negativity.

I wanted to write to say Thank you for your prayers and support so far.

Please keep praying and talking – it has an effect



PS. There will be 9 different services in Brisbane today featuring God’s economic justice. Praise God

Tax scandals show why we should speak out

November 6th

TI billboard

A few days ago, Brisbane Airport banned a billboard that it deemed ‘too political’ because it referred to tax evasion’s dirty money. (The photo shows the offensive advert being held by Maggie Murphy from Transparency International)

Why is that controversial when billboards promoting rampant consumerism or sexual innuendo are deemed acceptable?

And why is it ‘too political’ to talk about tax corruption when it is politicians who have the responsibility to govern fairly for all? It’s a bit like saying the police should not talk about robberies.


And a huge story of tax evasion that broke today involving many major companies around the globe parking profits in Luxembourg where corporate tax rates are around 1% shows how important it is for people to know the secret economic deals that occur quite legally (and some that don’t).

The Financial Review used the example of IKEA in Australia, citing that in the past 12 years it had a turnover of A$4.76 billion but managed a profit of only $103m, because it shifts profits offshore to Luxembourg.

It is not just the companies that have been spotlighted. It is the accountants and auditors which promote such behaviour that should be held accountable.

And that is why we’re here in Brisbane. To shout about unjust scales that mean the richest actually contribute the least.

Find out what events are happening this coming week ahead of the G20. If you live within 100 kms of Brisbane – come!

PS. it took a team of 80 investigative journalists in 26 countries 6 months to piece together the web of transfer pricing and profit shifting by 1000 corporations – that is the positive power of media to unearth uncomfortable truth.

Put THAT on a billboard.