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World Bank exits event funded by tobacco companies

NEW DELHI: The World Bank has pulled out of the tax conference, which was to be co-organized by a consortium funded by several transnational tobacco companies.

Till Thursday, the bank’s name featured on the website of the 12th Annual Asia Pacific Tax Forum, which is to be held in New Delhi from May 5-7. The organizers of the event — Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) and International Tax and Investment Centre (ITIC) had thanked the bank for “supporting” the event with “technical contributions and the participation costs of several governments”.

However, on Friday, the World Bank said it has decided not to participate or financially support the event. “The 12th Annual Asia Pacific Tax Forum had sought technical and financial support from the World Bank. However, after careful consideration, the bank has decided not to participate/financially support the event,” the bank said in response to an email query sent by ToI on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the acknowledgement on tax event’s website has been taken off.

World Bank, popular for its anti-tobacco stand, had come into spotlight after its name featured among supporters of the event on the website of Asia Pacific Tax Forum. Bangalore-based Institute of Public Health (IPH) had also written to the bank requesting it to withdraw its support to the event.

The list of sponsors on the ITIC website includes four tobacco companies – Philip Morris International, Imperial Tobacco Ltd, British American Tobacco and JT International that was formerly Japanese Tobacco. ITIC’s Board of Directors also includes representatives from Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and JTI.

“ITIC materials that are publicly available and internal tobacco industry documents made public through US-based litigation settlements show that ITIC as part of the tobacco industry has worked for more than two decades to undermine tobacco control policies around the world. ITIC therefore has the core interest of the tobacco industry in its agenda and work,” IPH said in its letter to World Bank.

Minister of state for finance Jayant Sinha has also refused to participate in the event. Sinha’s name also featured earlier on the website among guests. However, names of several other key government officials continue to be there on the guest list of the event, including revenue secretary Shakti Kant Das, Central Board of Direct Taxes chairperson Anita Kapur and Central Board of Excise and Customs chairman Kaushal Srivasatava.

Public health activists have raised concern that participation of government officials in such an event may amount to violation of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), to which India is a signatory. FCTC acknowledges the influence of tobacco industry and its allies in tobacco control policymaking. Health ministry officials also approve of the concern

Article 5.3 of FCTC states, “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law”.

Though World Bank maintains it has decided not to participate in the event, names of executives of World Bank continue to feature on the agenda of the event.

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