By Pierre-Henry Deshayes, AFP
OSLO — How much does my neighbor, my colleague, the leader of my country or his wife earn? In Norway, a champion of transparency, that information is available to all, just a few clicks away. The fact that a billionaire could take over the White House without providing his tax returns, or that a French presidential election frontrunner could be rocked by revelations that he paid his family handsome sums for suspected phoney work, are inconceivable scenarios in this Scandinavian country. “In Norway, there’s a culture of openness on these issues, which makes it unlikely to get elected without being transparent about your tax situation and earnings,” the head of the Norwegian Tax Administration, Hans Christian Holte, said. Each year, the tax agency publishes key information on all taxpayers — including earnings, wealth, and tax payments — on its website. The thinking in this Protestant country is that there’s more incentive to chip in your “two cents” to the communal pot when you see that everyone else is doing the same. A media frenzy erupts every October, as newspapers publish lists of the richest or best-paid celebrities, sports stars and politicians. But Norwegians can also see how much their bosses, or their colleagues in the office, are earning. The practice dates back to the 19th century, when citizens could go to city hall or the local tax office to consult the tax lists. “The transparency translates into very high faith in the tax administration here,” Holte said. So high in fact that his agency won a prize in 2015 for having — believe it or not — the best reputation. “It also plays a role in discussions on societal and economic issues, like wage gaps between men and women or between different professions,” Holte added. The Nordic countries, known as fierce advocates of egalitarianism, traditionally top Transparency International’s ranking of least corrupt countries. In Sweden and Finland, it is also possible to obtain a person’s tax information by simply picking up the phone or going to the tax office, but not on the internet like in Norway.