Bishop Ingeborg Midttømme, from the Church of Norway, serves at the diocese of Møre, in the northwestern part of the Scandinavian country. She is also a board member of Norwegian Church Aid. Over the past years, she has been an active participant in international events that focus on the global agenda on sustainable development, such as the United Nations annual climate conferences.
On 29 January, Midttømme was one of the speakers at a symposium held at the United Nations headquarters in New York. She spoke about how churches have an important role with an ethical approach to encourage and hold politicians accountable for social spending, how they protect their people, protect human dignity and ensure that funds are well spent and uncover corruption.
“Without reducing inequality, eradication of poverty will be impossible. Inequality has a multitude of negative consequences; it excludes large populations from common goods and services that could secure their fundamental rights, development and welfare”, she said.
Most of the reflections of the day-long symposium on the role of religions in international affairs, co-organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and several partners, focused on the theme of financing for development, a process centered around supporting follow-up to the agreements and commitments related to the outcomes of major United Nations summits in the economic and social fields, including the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Bishop Midttømme is convinced that the goals can be reached if humanity really wants to reach them. Part of her argument is that governments need reliable national resources. “In order to finance the SDGs and reduce (economic) inequality, countries will have to mobilize most of the funds from their own resources”, she said.
“Numbers vary, but up towards 90% of the resources must be raised locally. This will not be easy, especially for low-income countries and fragile states”, added Midttømme.
To illustrate her point, she shared the experience of her home country and its conviction that the development of a society must have at its core social protection (health and education) and progressive taxation. “But people must see what their taxes are contributing to. They must see that by paying taxes you gain rights”, she stressed.
For Midttømme, a social protection “floor” should be available to all. We therefore call for redistribution through progressive taxation such as income tax, wealth taxes or financial transaction tax for the common good.
However, as the bishop stresses, not all countries will be able to raise enough taxes to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. Other ways of financing development must be looked for, such as the private sector. “However, governments should be wary of giving tax benefits to corporations to get them to invest by shrinking the tax base. They must enforce tax laws and prevent corruption and illicit capital flight”, she said.
Low-income countries and some lower-middle income countries will not be able to reach the Sustainable Development Goals without increased aid and concessional funding. Raising taxes will not be enough.
Bishop Midttømme advocated for a new and innovative financing, like financial transaction tax, carbon taxes and wealth tax: “A reliable international funding mechanism for social protection need to be put in place, especially for a social protection floor in the poorest countries”, she said.
“Social protection is recognized as a key instrument to end poverty and to give people access to opportunities for a self-determined life in dignity”, added the bishop.
“Faith-based organizations often themselves deliver health care and education and therefore have knowledge as well as local presence”, she said.
“We need political authority with moral authority. In our globalized economy, individual countries can’t control on their own the taxes that escape their fiscal system. Tax avoidance is by law legal but may lead to illegal tax evasion”, concluded Midttømme.
Read the full text of Bishop Midttømme's presentation
"WCC co-sponsored event at the UN focuses on ethical financing for development" - WCC news release 29 January 2019